Biodiversity knowledge politics

bnpx750A key underlying question in biodiversity management is how the Politicians and Scientists at global and national levels engage with the people on the ground. Biodiversity is everywhere and is affected by many stakeholder who are the ones that can make a difference. Furthermore most of these stakeholders have limited knowledge of science, they may be landowners, farmers, foresters  local villagers and nature volunteers. Yet many of them have significant lay-knowledge of the living world around them. How does the science knowledge engage with their understanding? And how does the political decision making at the top relate to the ability of people locally to contribute and manage environmental change in a way which is beneficial for people and nature?

In May 2012 a workshop in Cambridge discussed the formation of  IPBES – the Intergovernmental Science- Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and newly formed organisation intended to help advice scientific knowledge and advice to political leaders on biodiversity matters. The discussion on the this interface between lay, scientific and policy understanding resulted in a significant paper to Nature which attracted the Nature’s attention concluding in an editial that…

The international body set up to address the loss of biodiversity must take account of more than just science if it is to fulfill its mission.

Nature Editorial 23Aug12

 It went on to say…

Discussion of values, stakeholders, community partners and engagement — the language of the social sciences — can make some traditional scientists uncomfortable. So what does this approach mean in practical terms for the IPBES? On one level, as the Comment authors suggest, the answer could be as simple as broadening the criteria of what counts as admissible material — learning to value local knowledge and expertise. The challenge of protecting biodiversity from a cumulative death by thousands and thousands of cuts is surely a good place to test.


The commentary argued that, the international body set up to address the loss of biodiversity must take account of more than just science if it is to fulfill its mission. That on the one hand, the knowledge of traditional and ‘ordinary’ citizens might not meet scientific criteria or be amenable to standardization, but ignoring or misappropriating such experience, undermines the possibilities for innovation. For example the agricultural (green) revolution endangered the livelihoods of Andean hill farmers when the miracle crops did not deliver, and de-skilled them because it over-rode their local knowledge, which had led to sustainable yields for generations.

It points out that there is no single scientific definition of biodiversity, nor is there one that does justice to the many ways of living with and knowing nature that human cultures have developed and that one reason why climate policies have been hard to enact is the IPCC’s implicit assumption that the key actors will assent to top-down knowledge and that national and global institutions are synonymous with ‘the policy world’ which is not actually the case. Whilst legislation is essential, for global issues such as climate and biodiversity it is not sufficient. The comment piece argues that ending practices that destroy biodiversity — such as uncontrolled mono-crop agriculture or large-scale deforestation — requires diverse and locally appropriate actions. The IPBES must therefore forge productive and trusted connections between organized global knowledge and the many biodiversity actors operating at multiple levels and scales.

NATURE commentary Listen to the voices of experience. Authors: Esther Turnhout, Bob Bloomfield, Mike Hulme, Johannes Vogel, and Brian Wynne (Vol 488,23 08 2012)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s