Last month CEED joined forces with CSIRO and the Belmont Forum project ‘ScenNet’ to explore ways that scenarios and models could be better used in setting and implementing conservation policy at national to global scales. (ScenNet is a global collaboration of researchers working on scenarios and models to support conservation assessment and decisions.)
Developing environmental policy at national-global scales is a complex task. Examples include the setting of Aichi Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or the negotiation of a trade agreement such as the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’ (and agreement that has significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystem services). There are many variables at play; literally millions of stakeholders, countless possible outcomes, and considerable uncertainty. One way of making the process more tractable, thorough and transparent is by using models to explore potential outcomes of decisions under a range of future scenarios. (An excellent recent example of the use of scenarios to explore future economic and environmental outcomes under different policy settings is CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook).
The potential role of biodiversity and ecosystem service models and scenarios in policy and decision-making was highlighted in a report recently ratified by the International Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). How to convert this potential into improved environmental decision-making was the topic of the workshop run by CEED, CSIRO and the Belmont Forum at Lorne on Victoria’s south coast.
Convened by Brendan Wintle (University of Melbourne) and Simon Ferrier (CSIRO), the week-long workshop focussed on how to increase the use and utility of biodiversity and ecosystem-service scenarios and models in decision making and agenda setting at geo-political scales.
“The workshop was prompted by our observation in the recent IPBES assessment that models and scenarios are commonly used to inform and support decisions at local scales, but almost never used in any kind of structured way in big decisions at national scales and above,” says Brendan Wintle.
“There is a lot of scientific literature on using modelling and scenarios in decision-making processes, but this work does not seem to have made its way into real world applications at national to global scales.”
The Lorne Workshop bought together 23 researchers and policy makers working in a variety of areas. There were conservation biologists, economists, social scientists, human geographers, policy scientists and mathematicians from both here in Australia and overseas, with speciality in marine and terrestrial environments. IUCN, CBD, IPBES and WCS representatives took part in the meeting, providing a strong global policy perspective.
“Having researchers from diverse backgrounds – geographically, institutionally as well as from different fields of research – generated many interesting perspectives,” says Natasha Cadenhead, one of the workshop coordinators from the University of Melbourne.
“I think we came up with some excellent ways of encouraging the uptake of models and scenarios.”
Image: (Karel Mokany and Simon Ferrier (CSIRO) discuss the finer points of scenarios and models with ScenNet members Paul Leadley, Rob Alkemade, and Cornelia Krug. (by Natasha Cadenhead)
A key premise of the workshop was that most decisions that impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services are not ostensibly ‘environmental decisions’, and often do not involve environmental professionals. A key outcome of the workshop was to develop a classification of the types of decisions made at the international level that most impact on biodiversity and the global institutions that mediate many of those decisions. Participants also developed case studies on how some of those big decisions could be better supported by scenarios and models.
A second key topic was an examination of the way scenarios and models can be used to set more meaningful international conservation targets, including the next round of CBD targets (the targets that will follow on from the Aichi Targets).
“The meeting was particularly refreshing in going beyond speculative scenario-building, which is academically fascinating but has rather little impact on actual decision-making,” says Thomas Brooks, IUCN’s Head of Science & Knowledge.
“The workshop explored new techniques like target-seeking scenarios, which start with goals agreed to by society (like the new Sustainable Development Goals), and then run models backwards to shed light on the combinations of decisions necessary to achieve these targets.”
The planned outputs of the working groups will be further refined at a CBD meeting in Montreal at the end of April with anticipated publication of these outputs throughout this year.