Building a better science-policy interface

Supporting the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services



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The Challenge

Science–policy interfaces are critical in shaping environmental governance. However, the most effective means of connecting science with policy is debatable. Most international environmental conventions have their own scientific advisory bodies, and science has delivered many assessments, syntheses and reviews to inform the conventions' implementation. And yet, science and other forms of knowledge are not used effectively in policymaking; and policymakers do not always effectively inform scientists about their needs for scientific knowledge.

Growing awareness of the importance of effective interfaces between science and policy has triggered a range of initiatives. In the area of biodiversity governance this led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2012.

However, the establishment of IPBES was only the first step. Processes need to be developed for its effective implementation and to deliver its work programme. Science–policy interfaces are complex; understanding what they are and how they work, where and why they fail, and how to improve them, is a significant challenge for IPBES as it implements its first work programme for the period 2014-2018. 

Our solution & impact

Over many years, UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre has built significant expertise and developed long-standing experience at the boundary between science and policy in the context of biodiversity governance. We work with many international processes, and have played a significant role in a wide range of international assessments of biodiversity such as the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and the fourth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook. 

From 2008 onward, UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre worked closely with colleagues in other parts of UNEP to prepare and run five intergovernmental, multi-stakeholder meetings that led to the establishment of IPBES. Since the establishment of IPBES we have directly supported both the interim and permanent IPBES Secretariats.

Our most significant contributions have been:

  • Preparation of a gap analysis in 2009. This was requested by governments participating in IPBES to facilitate discussions on improving and strengthening the science–policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This document still provides a comprehensive analysis of the institutional landscape and key issues.
  • Technical support for development of the IPBES Work Programme. We supported the IPBES Bureau and Multidisciplinary Expert Panel in developing and writing the work programme, and worked with the Secretariat to facilitate discussions during the second IPBES Plenary meeting.
  • Development of the Catalogue of assessments on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This was called for by IPBES as a source of information on assessments, from the global to the sub-national scales, and was developed with the close involvement of the Sub-Global Assessment Network. We host the technical support unit for policy support tools, one of the main tasks of which has been to support the further development of theIPBES policy support portal, including its Catalogue of policy support tools and methodologies. Also, we have played a key role in facilitating the process for the development of IPBES core glossary
  • Expert workshops on IPBES and capacity building. We worked with the Governments of Norway, Brazil and Malaysia to convene two workshops, and continue to provide inputs to the IPBES Task Force on Capacity Building.
  • Support countries in the development and implementation of national ecosystem assessments. With the support of IKI, we are currently working with Cameroon, Colombia, Ethiopia and Viet Nam in developing their capacities for them to undertake their assessments. 

Expertise & Team

UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre brings a unique combination of scientific and technical expertise, understanding of assessment processes, and experience in political processes and international environmental governance. This allows us to provide technical advice, facilitate intergovernmental processes and bridge science and policy arenas. This work is led by Jerry Harrison, Head of Convention and Policy Support Programme, and is carried out by Claire Brown, Neil Burgess and Daniela Guarás. 

Jerry   staff profile photo

Jerry Harrison

Head of Programme

Claire brown

Claire Brown

Senior Programme Officer

Partners & Donors

UN Environment has provided funding for UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre contributions as part of the interim Secretariat. The Norwegian Environment Agency provided support for the capacity-building workshops.