By Guy Pe'er, Carolyn Lundquist, Martin Dieterich, & Bengt-Gunnar Johnsson, posted on January 20, 2013

IPBES Needs Support of Learned Societies

The first plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) can be considered a pivotal change in the global interface between conservation science and policy, where knowledge can be better integrated into policies that determine Earth’s fate. 
To ensure the success of this platform, IPBES will have to deal with the demanding challenge of integrating a vast range of scales and topics, from local to global. This will require building effective cooperation with knowledge holders, including experts from research and educational institutions, conservation organizations, indigenous peoples, government agencies, business and industry representatives, and scientific societies.
To help IPBES overcome these challenges, learned societies should carefully think how they can increase their involvement in science-policy interfaces, and make their knowledge more readily available to policy-makers.
The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), one of the world’s largest international organizations of conservation professionals, recognizes the importance of providing decision makers with objective and reliable knowledge, attempts to structure some of its activities to serve for the purpose. SCB calls on both IPBES and learned societies to consider what can be done to ensure best cooperation.
  1. Learned societies should support responsive, responsible, and efficient mechanisms to enhance engagement of their members in policy. SCB has recently launched and empowered policy committees, an ad hoc IPBES committee, local chapters, and policy task forces.  

    IPBES should recognize and welcome important knowledge holders and integrate them into IPBES structure and processes as much as possible.
  2. Conservation threats prevail across scales, and case-studies that appear to be of local or regional interest may contain important lessons for other parts of the world - and are relevant for IPBES. 

    SCB strives to strengthen its regional sections and local chapters to address topics from global to local, and encourages greater policy contributions. 

    IPBES should similarly seek to build from small-scale case-studies to a larger-scale overview of threats and solutions. IPBES should build structural capacity to support such a multi-scale approach and cooperate with learned societies of various regions, sizes and scales. 
  3. Gaps in knowledge, complex patterns and even contradictory evidences will always exist, especially in the context of environmental sciences. Policy decisions, however, must be made despite contradictions, controversies, and uncertainties. 

    SCB recommends scientists and learned societies to take a “precautionary approach” in action and avoid a “cautionary silence”. Cautionary silence means avoiding involvement due to uncertainty; the precautionary approach, however, means avoiding the risks of uninformed actions while explicitly acknowledging gaps in knowledge. 

    IPBES should also incorporate the precautionary approach in its analyses and recommendations. To ensure its success, room must be found for expression of concurring or minority opinions, alongside careful recognition and quantification of uncertainty wherever possible, to support a truly transparent and inclusive discussion process. 
  4. SCB is mapping its knowledge to ensure that experts are more readily accessible. IPBES should use such “knowledge hubs” when seeking to identify experts or when attempting to ratify their election. 

Finally, SCB calls on IPBES to put aside regional or national interests in ensuring that IPBES builds on the best available knowledge, experts and decision processes and urges a balance between the ranges of expertise, coverage of regions and scales, and of course, gender. 

For further reading on how SCB reflects on IPBES processes, see:
Pe'er, G., McNeely, J. A., Dieterich, M., Jonsson, B. G., Selva, N., Fitzgerald, J. M. and Nesshöver, C. (2013) IPBES: Opportunities and Challenges for SCB and Other Learned Societies. Conservation Biology 27: 1-3.
Contact persons: 
Guy Pe’er (Germany) (+49)-341-235-1643; guy.peer (at)  
Carolyn Lundquist (New Zealand) (+64)-7-859-1866; c.lundquist (at)
Martin Dieterich (Germany) (+49)-711-45923530; Martin.Dieterich (at)
Bengt-Gunnar Jonsson (Sweden) (+46)-60 148941; Bengt-gunnar.Jonsson (at)