How to bring IPBES to life: stakeholder engagement and capacity-building

Wednesday November 11, 2015

by Katja Heubach (Germany, GESA 2011 alumna)

Katja is a post-doctoral researcher with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ. Her current major focus lies on how to engage scientists and other knowledge holders in biodiversity-related science-policy interfaces, such as Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 

This article follows Daniel Suarez’s blog post titled “How Much Is That Tiger in the Jungle? Epistemic Struggle in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”.

 

During the first author meeting of the IPBES Regional Assessment Africa, August 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa.

During the first author meeting of the IPBES Regional Assessment Africa, August 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa.

IPBES is also a major focus within the scope of my work with the German Network-Forum for Biodiversity Research (NeFo), located at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ in Leipzig, Germany. NeFo is a national platform with long-term experience in engaging scientists and other knowledge holders in national and international policy processes in the biodiversity arena that acts as interface between scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders. NeFo has been involved in the IPBES developments from the outset.

 

Drafting a stakeholder engagement strategy

I started to work with the IPBES three years ago. One of my core work areas concerns the stakeholder engagement in IPBES. Having emerged from a multi-stakeholder process, and having learnt from the IPCC that appropriate stakeholder involvement is key to credibility, legitimacy and relevance of the results of such a process, IPBES, at its first plenary, decided to formalise stakeholder engagement through a strategy. It invited IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and ICSU (International Council for Science) to start a drafting process towards such a strategy, on the basis of a thorough discussion on the perspectives and interests of a range of stakeholders, including scientists, indigenous and local communities, the private sector, representatives from administration and policy, amongst others.

What has been a tough and demanding exercise over the course of two years – not only due to the stakeholder diversity, but also owing to some IPBES member states blocking the strategy’s adoption – finally came to a positive conclusion in early 2015. At its third plenary, IPBES adopted a proper stakeholder engagement strategy regarding the implementation of IPBES’ first work programme 2014-2018.

 

What stakeholder engagement in IPBES looks like

But what does stakeholder engagement in IPBES look like in practice? What kind of skills and capacities would scientists and other knowledge holders need to develop to effectively take part in the IPBES? To think about these questions first of all requires a thorough understanding of the IPBES process.

IPBES-2 Stakeholder Days, which take place prior to the negotiations.

Stakeholder Days during IPBES-2, which take place prior to negotiations.

However, the IPBES process generally appears blurred to outsiders and often is thought too complex. While this is widely recognized by the IPBES and, accordingly, was emphasized in the stakeholder engagement strategy, the IPBES secretariat so far has failed to develop basic, clear and easy-to-grasp information material tailored to the needs of its different audiences.

This is where a range of external institutions take on the responsibility to meet the information and other capacity-building needs of interested stakeholders – and where my second core work area in NeFo starts: with capacity building. Through national and international workshops and trainings we inform stakeholders about current developments within IPBES and related processes, identify entry points for individual engagement in the IPBES work programme and beyond, and help to clarify the often confusing nomination processes.

 

Addressing regions under-represented in IPBES

Alongside the national level, we particularly focus on the Pan-European level, including countries from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, two regions still under-represented in IPBES. In 2013, we launched a series of annual pan-European IPBES Stakeholder Consultations (PESC). Moreover, NeFo has been involved in the organisation of IPBES Stakeholder Days prior to IPBES-2 and IPBES-3, together with ICSU and IUCN. After IPBES-2, we initiated the “IPBES Engagement Network“, an online forum providing up-to-date information on IPBES calls and developments, and nudging related discussions.

As my personal research focus lies on African countries, I am particularly interested in the African regional assessment of IPBES and related capacity-building activities. The latter is currently under development, in close collaboration with African and European partners from science and practice. As Lead Author in the African assessment I got the opportunity to link my scientific knowledge with my interest and expertise in capacity building for IPBES, as well as my interest on how to include different knowledge systems into the assessment process, particularly indigenous and local knowledge.

 

Young scientists in IPBES

NeFo also has a special emphasis on supporting early career scientists and other young knowledge holders. In 2014, we co-founded the Biodiversity Science-Policy Interfaces Network for early career scientists (BSPIN) which aims to equip them to engage in IPBES and understand its developments. The idea for this network arose during the second IPBES meeting in Turkey where a significant part of the current BSPIN members had met. Today, the network comprises more than 80 young scholars from both the natural and social sciences, and spanning five continents (North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Our next international meeting will take place prior to the fourth plenary of IPBES, to be held from 22 to 28 February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 

The Ecosystem Services Approach: merely looking at the economic side of nature?

In his previous blog, Dan very nicely recapped the history of the ecosystem services approach in international science, and related science-policy interfaces and conventions, strongly pointing to the fact that it is basically an economic concept.

However, that might be too simple a reflection. What definitely is true is that the foundation of the ecosystem services approach is an anthropogenic one, i.e. its lens is that of humans obtaining benefits from nature. But this does not necessarily mean to put a price tag on nature, i.e. to speak of ecosystem services solely in economic terms. Given the many different (if not indefinite) values people assign to these benefits – which are as different as the many rationales and ways by which people actually arrive at these values – economic valuation alone would be insufficient to capture the richness of these values. Moreover, it would cut us short on the various arguments for nature conservation which are deeply embedded in our different cultures and related places. The concept of biocultural diversity also is reflected in this diversity of values.

Thus, I would argue not to narrow down the ecosystem services approach to economic valuation alone but rather use it to gather as many values and underlying rationales for conservation as possible – while simultaneously benefitting from its power as a communication tool easy to understand by both policy makers and the public. For scientists, the ecosystem services approach further is a quite straightforward way for classifying, structuring and reformulating ecological functions and biophysical processes as units of human well-being – and, thus, making visible to policy makers and the public how their research relates to international biodiversity governance.

In such a manner, science-policy interfaces such as the IPBES can considerably contribute to both the achievement of the biodiversity targets of the CBD and those recently agreed on within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process.

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