1. Endorses the description of the ecosystem approach and
operational guidance contained in sections A and C of the annex to the
present decision, recommends the application of the principles contained in
section B of the annex, as reflecting the present level of common
understanding, and encourages further conceptual elaboration, and practical
2. Calls upon Parties, other Governments, and international
organizations to apply, as appropriate, the ecosystem approach, giving
consideration to the principles and guidance contained in the annex to the
present decision, and to develop practical expressions of the approach for
national policies and legislation and for appropriate implementation
activities, with adaptation to local, national, and, as appropriate, regional
conditions, in particular in the context of activities developed within the
thematic areas of the Convention;
3. Invites Parties, other Governments and relevant bodies to
identify case-studies and implement pilot projects, and to organize, as
appropriate, regional, national and local workshops, and consultations aiming
to enhance awareness, share experiences, including through the clearing-house
mechanism, and strengthen regional, national and local capacities on the
4. Requests the Executive Secretary to collect, analyse and compare
the case-studies referred to in paragraph 3 above, and prepare a synthesis of
case-studies and lessons learned for presentation to the Subsidiary Body on
Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice prior to the seventh meeting
of the Conference of the Parties;
5. Requests the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and
Technological Advice, at a meeting prior to the seventh meeting of the
Conference of the Parties, to review the principles and guidelines of the
ecosystem approach, to prepare guidelines for its implementation, on the
basis of case-studies and lessons learned, and to review the incorporation of
the ecosystem approach into various programmes of work of the Convention;
6. Recognizes the need for support for capacity-building to
implement the ecosystem approach, and invites Parties, Governments and
relevant organizations to provide technical and financial support for this
7. Encourages Parties and Governments to promote regional
cooperation, for example through the establishment of joint declarations or
memoranda of understanding in applying the ecosystem approach across national
A. Description of the ecosystem approach
1. The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of
land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable
use in an equitable way. Thus, the application of the ecosystem approach
will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention:
conservation; sustainable use; and the fair and equitable sharing of the
benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
2. An ecosystem approach is based on the application of appropriate
scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization, which
encompass the essential structure, processes, functions and interactions
among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their
cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems.
3. This focus on structure, processes, functions and interactions is
consistent with the definition of "ecosystem" provided in Article 2 of the
Convention on Biological Diversity:
"'Ecosystem' means a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism
communities and their non-living environment interacting
as a functional unit."
This definition does not specify any particular spatial unit or scale, in
contrast to the Convention definition of "habitat". Thus, the term
"ecosystem" does not, necessarily, correspond to the terms "biome" or
"ecological zone", but can refer to any functioning unit at any scale.
Indeed, the scale of analysis and action should be determined by the problem
being addressed. It could, for example, be a grain of soil, a pond, a
forest, a biome or the entire biosphere.
4. The ecosystem approach requires adaptive management to deal with the
complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems and the absence of complete
knowledge or understanding of their functioning. Ecosystem processes are
often non-linear, and the outcome of such processes often shows time-lags.
The result is discontinuities, leading to surprise and uncertainty.
Management must be adaptive in order to be able to respond to such
uncertainties and contain elements of "learning-by-doing" or research
feedback. Measures may need to be taken even when some cause-and-effect
relationships are not yet fully established scientifically.
5. The ecosystem approach does not preclude other management and
conservation approaches, such as biosphere reserves, protected areas, and
single-species conservation programmes, as well as other approaches carried
out under existing national policy and legislative frameworks, but could,
rather, integrate all these approaches and other methodologies to deal with
complex situations. There is no single way to implement the ecosystem
approach, as it depends on local, provincial, national, regional or global
conditions. Indeed, there are many ways in which ecosystem approaches may be
used as the framework for delivering the objectives of the Convention in
B. Principles of the ecosystem approach
6. The following 12 principles are complementary and interlinked:
Principle 1: The objectives of management of land, water and living
resources are a matter of societal choice.
Rationale: Different sectors of society view ecosystems in terms of their
own economic, cultural and societal needs. Indigenous peoples
and other local communities living on the land are important
stakeholders and their rights and interests should be
recognized. Both cultural and biological diversity are
central components of the ecosystem approach, and management
should take this into account. Societal choices should be
expressed as clearly as possible. Ecosystems should be managed
for their intrinsic values and for the tangible or intangible
benefits for humans, in a fair and equitable way.
Principle 2: Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate
Rationale: Decentralized systems may lead to greater efficiency,
effectiveness and equity. Management should involve all
stakeholders and balance local interests with the wider public
interest. The closer management is to the ecosystem, the
greater the responsibility, ownership, accountability,
participation, and use of local knowledge.
Principle 3: Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or
potential) of their activities on adjacent and other
Rationale: Management interventions in ecosystems often have unknown or
unpredictable effects on other ecosystems; therefore, possible
impacts need careful consideration and analysis. This may
require new arrangements or ways of organization for
institutions involved in decision-making to make, if
necessary, appropriate compromises.
Principle 4: Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually
a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic
context. Any such ecosystem-management programme should:
(a) Reduce those market distortions that adversely affect
(b) Align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation
and sustainable use;
(c) Internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to
the extent feasible.
Rationale: The greatest threat to biological diversity lies in its
replacement by alternative systems of land use. This often
arises through market distortions, which undervalue natural
systems and populations and provide perverse incentives and
subsidies to favour the conversion of land to less diverse
Often those who benefit from conservation do not pay the costs
associated with conservation and, similarly, those who
generate environmental costs (e.g. pollution) escape
responsibility. Alignment of incentives allows those who
control the resource to benefit and ensures that those who
generate environmental costs will pay
Principle 5: Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order
to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of
the ecosystem approach.
Rationale: Ecosystem functioning and resilience depends on a dynamic
relationship within species, among species and between species
and their abiotic environment, as well as the physical and
chemical interactions within the environment. The
conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of these
interactions and processes is of greater significance for the
long-term maintenance of biological diversity than simply
protection of species.
Principle 6: Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their
Rationale: In considering the likelihood or ease of attaining the
management objectives, attention should be given to the
environmental conditions that limit natural productivity,
ecosystem structure, functioning and diversity. The limits to
ecosystem functioning may be affected to different degrees by
temporary, unpredictable or artificially maintained conditions
and, accordingly, management should be appropriately cautious.
Principle 7: The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate
spatial and temporal scales.
Rationale: The approach should be bounded by spatial and temporal scales
that are appropriate to the objectives. Boundaries for
management will be defined operationally by users, managers,
scientists and indigenous and local peoples. Connectivity
between areas should be promoted where necessary. The
ecosystem approach is based upon the hierarchical nature of
biological diversity characterized by the interaction and
integration of genes, species and ecosystems.
Principle 8: Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that
characterize ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem
management should be set for the long term.
Rationale: Ecosystem processes are characterized by varying temporal
scales and lag-effects. This inherently conflicts with the
tendency of humans to favour short-term gains and immediate
benefits over future ones.
Principle 9: Management must recognize that change is inevitable.
Rationale: Ecosystems change, including species composition and
population abundance. Hence, management should adapt to the
changes. Apart from their inherent dynamics of change,
ecosystems are beset by a complex of uncertainties and
potential "surprises" in the human, biological and
environmental realms. Traditional disturbance regimes may be
important for ecosystem structure and functioning, and may
need to be maintained or restored. The ecosystem approach
must utilize adaptive management in order to anticipate and
cater for such changes and events and should be cautious in
making any decision that may foreclose options, but, at the
same time, consider mitigating actions to cope with long-term
changes such as climate change
Principle 10: The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance
between, and integration of, conservation and use of
Rationale: Biological diversity is critical both for its intrinsic value
and because of the key role it plays in providing the
ecosystem and other services upon which we all ultimately
depend. There has been a tendency in the past to manage
components of biological diversity either as protected or non-protected.
There is a need for a shift to more flexible
situations, where conservation and use are seen in context and
the full range of measures is applied in a continuum from
strictly protected to human-made ecosystems.
Principle 11: The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant
information, including scientific and indigenous and local
knowledge, innovations and practices.
Rationale: Information from all sources is critical to arriving at
effective ecosystem management strategies. A much better
knowledge of ecosystem functions and the impact of human use
is desirable. All relevant information from any concerned
area should be shared with all stakeholders and actors, taking
into account, inter alia, any decision to be taken underArticle 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Assumptions behind proposed management decisions should be
made explicit and checked against available knowledge and
views of stakeholders.
Principle 12: The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of
society and scientific disciplines.
Rationale: Most problems of biological-diversity management are complex,
with many interactions, side-effects and implications, and
therefore should involve the necessary expertise and
stakeholders at the local, national, regional and
international level, as appropriate.
C. Operational guidance for application of the ecosystem approach
7. In applying the 12 principles of the ecosystem approach, the following
five points are proposed as operational guidance.
1. Focus on the functional relationships and processes within
8. The many components of biodiversity control the stores and flows of
energy, water and nutrients within ecosystems, and provide resistance to
major perturbations. A much better knowledge of ecosystem functions and
structure, and the roles of the components of biological diversity in
ecosystems, is required, especially to understand: (i) ecosystem resilience
and the effects of biodiversity loss (species and genetic levels) and habitat
fragmentation; (ii) underlying causes of biodiversity loss; and (iii)
determinants of local biological diversity in management decisions.
Functional biodiversity in ecosystems provides many goods and services of
economic and social importance. While there is a need to accelerate efforts
to gain new knowledge about functional biodiversity, ecosystem management has
to be carried out even in the absence of such knowledge. The ecosystem
approach can facilitate practical management by ecosystem managers (whether
local communities or national policy makers).
2. Enhance benefit-sharing
9. Benefits that flow from the array of functions provided by biological
diversity at the ecosystem level provide the basis of human environmental
security and sustainability. The ecosystem approach seeks that the benefits
derived from these functions are maintained or restored. In particular,
these functions should benefit the stakeholders responsible for their
production and management. This requires, inter alia: capacity-building,
especially at the level of local communities managing biological diversity in
ecosystems; the proper valuation of ecosystem goods and services; the removal
of perverse incentives that devalue ecosystem goods and services; and,
consistent with the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity,
where appropriate, their replacement with local incentives for good
3. Use adaptive management practices
10. Ecosystem processes and functions are complex and variable. Their
level of uncertainty is increased by the interaction with social constructs,
which need to be better understood. Therefore, ecosystem management must
involve a learning process, which helps to adapt methodologies and practices
to the ways in which these systems are being managed and monitored.
Implementation programmes should be designed to adjust to the unexpected,
rather than to act on the basis of a belief in certainties. Ecosystem
management needs to recognize the diversity of social and cultural factors
affecting natural-resource use. Similarly, there is a need for flexibility
in policy-making and implementation. Long-term, inflexible decisions are
likely to be inadequate or even destructive. Ecosystem management should be
envisaged as a long-term experiment that builds on its results as it
progresses. This "learning-by-doing" will also serve as an important source
of information to gain knowledge of how best to monitor the results of
management and evaluate whether established goals are being attained. In
this respect, it would be desirable to establish or strengthen capacities of
Parties for monitoring.
4. Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate for the
issue being addressed, with decentralization to lowest level,
11. As noted in section A above, an ecosystem is a functioning unit that
can operate at any scale, depending upon the problem or issue being
addressed. This understanding should define the appropriate level for
management decisions and actions. Often, this approach will imply
decentralization to the level of local communities. Effective
decentralization requires proper empowerment, which implies that the
stakeholder both has the opportunity to assume responsibility and the
capacity to carry out the appropriate action, and needs to be supported by
enabling policy and legislative frameworks. Where common property resources
are involved, the most appropriate scale for management decisions and actions
would necessarily be large enough to encompass the effects of practices by
all the relevant stakeholders. Appropriate institutions would be required
for such decision-making and, where necessary, for conflict resolution. Some
problems and issues may require action at still higher levels, through, for
example, transboundary cooperation, or even cooperation at global levels.
5. Ensure intersectoral cooperation
12. As the primary framework of action to be taken under the Convention,
the ecosystem approach should be fully taken into account in developing and
reviewing national biodiversity strategies and action plans. There is also a
need to integrate the ecosystem approach into agriculture, fisheries,
forestry and other production systems that have an effect on biodiversity.
Management of natural resources, according to the ecosystem approach, calls
for increased intersectoral communication and cooperation at a range of
levels (government ministries, management agencies, etc.). This might be
promoted through, for example, the formation of inter-ministerial bodies
within the Government or the creation of networks for sharing information and