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Background

Synopsis of workshops and other initiatives related to the ecosystem approach

The ecosystem approach has been discussed in a number of workshops and promoted through a range of initiatives which, together, provide a wide range of technical views and different geographical perspectives. The initiatives described below should be considered together with numerous other efforts being undertaken in this field at both the conceptual and at more practical levels:

Inter-Agency Ecosystem Management Task Force
United States, June 1995

Representatives from a wide range of United States federal agencies were mandated to adopt "a proactive approach to ensuring a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment through ecosystem management". The working group conducted a number of case-studies in the United States of America to examine experiences, identify barriers to implementing the ecosystem approach and ways of overcoming them. Recommendations were made to improve federal agency involvement in the ecosystem approach through, inter alia, improving agency coordination, partnerships with stakeholders, public communication, adaptive management strategies, and supporting the role of science. An outline framework for the ecosystem approach was developed as a guidance tool for agencies interested in adopting the approach.

"The scientific basis of ecosystem management towards the third millennium"
Sibthorp seminar, London, United Kingdom, June 1996

The Sibthorp (IUCN) seminar was designed to look critically at the findings of recent ecological research and consider implications for conservation practices. Ten principles for ecosystem management were distilled from the conclusions of the seminar. These were divided into:

  • Guiding principles: Management objectives are a matter of social choice; ecosystems must be managed in a human context; ecosystems must be managed within natural limits; management must recognize that change is inevitable; management must be undertaken at the appropriate scale and conservation use the full range of protected areas; and
  • Operational principles: Ecosystem management needs to think globally but act locally; it must seek to maintain or enhance ecosystem structure and functioning; decision-makers should use appropriate tools from science; managers must act with caution; a multidisciplinary approach is needed.

Discussion of the principles at the 1996 World Conservation Congress concluded that for their application they needed, inter alia: adaptation to more specific national and local conditions, adaptive management approaches, risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis, good communications to articulate social choices, management scales and time-frames sensitive to ecosystem dynamics, and mechanisms for keeping management options open.

Task Group on Ecosystem Approach and Ecosystem Science
Canada, September 1996

The Task Group highlighted key concepts of an ecosystem approach to management. These included using spatially meaningful frameworks in planning, recognizing that preserving natural systems and their inter-relationships is imperative, and adopting an integrated and holistic approach that also seeks cooperation and collaboration with stakeholders at all stages of the decision making process. In addition, the Task Group defined a four-step approach to management and, through the assessment of case-studies from Canada, summarized the challenges that face the ecosystem approach: community, institutional or organizational, and scientific challenges. It concluded that the approach requires new partnerships with stakeholders, and broadened perspectives of traditional and non-traditional partners. However, a flexible ecosystem approach can permit long-term solutions to complex environmental issues by engaging broadened perspectives of traditional and non-traditional partners.

The Keystone National Policy Dialogue on Ecosystem Management,
Keystone Centre, Colorado, United States, October 1996

Participants from resource management and regulatory agencies, tribal organizations, forest management, housing, agriculture, ranching, environment, politics, scientific, research and academia concluded that ecosystem management is "neither a panacea nor a magic solution" "but it can be a significant process capable of sometimes dramatic results that accommodate disparate values and interests". The policy recommendations for facilitating implementation included: use of market-based tools, streamlining government decision-making processes, reforming property tax laws, addressing statutory barriers and strengthening the science base.

Informal meeting at the third meeting of Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice
Montreal, Canada, September 1997

The Convention Secretariat organized an informal discussion on the ecosystem approach under the Convention. Participants agreed that a discussion within the process of the Convention was a priority, as there was a broad range of views about the meaning, scope and elements of the approach. Problems that needed further discussion were highlighted: terminology; types of ecosystems (natural versus man-modified); underlying theoretical assumptions; relation between ecosystem approach and ecosystem management; problems of methodology; the need for case-studies; and implications for the implementation of the Convention with special reference to modus operandi and the legal implications.

Workshop on the Ecosystem Approach
Lilongwe, Malawi, January 1998

The Workshop was sponsored by the Governments of the Netherlands and Malawi, and organized under the auspices of the Convention. The participants discussed what an ecosystem approach should be why an ecosystem approach should be taken to implement the Convention and what are the principles of an ecosystem approach. An ecosystem approach was considered as cutting across all the thematic areas of the Convention and could overcome the shortcomings and deficiencies of using classical nature conservation approaches as the sole tool for management of biological diversity. Twelve principles were identified as a basis for discussion of the "ecosystem approach". The workshop concluded that the principles had to be taken now from a conceptual realm and made operational, and that there were many issues involved in establishing management objectives when taking an ecosystem approach. Procedures and methodologies for arriving at balanced trade-offs were identified as urgent needs. The workshop report was submitted to the Conference of the Parties at its fourth meeting as document UNEP/CBD/COP/4/Inf.9

Workshop on an Ecosystem Approach to the Management of Inland Waters
Global Biodiversity Forum 10, Bratislava, Slovakia, May 1998

The Workshop organized as part of the tenth Global Biodiversity Forum agreed the following summary statement: "Ecosystems adapt and evolve. Applying the ecosystem approach means your management framework should too". The Malawi principles were endorsed by the workshop. Priority issues were identified and included: a need for clear guidelines for the implementation of the ecosystem approach by Parties; the strong role of adaptive management in implementation; the need to practice the precautionary approach in management; the value of collating case-study experience in the implementation of the ecosystem approach; the need to review, revise and implement policy, legal and economic mechanisms to ensure they support the ecosystem approach at national and regional levels; the importance of transparency and involvement of stakeholders in the ecosystem approach; the need for cross-sectoral cooperation and capacity-building to enable Parties implement the ecosystem approach.

"The ecosystem approach - What does it mean for European ecosystems?"
Isle of Vilm, Germany, November 1998.

The workshop discussed the relevance of the Malawi principles and their possible implementation in a European context with a strong emphasis on case-studies relevant to the implementation of the ecosystem approach in Europe. The participants supported the results of the Malawi Workshop and further expressed a need for clarity in terminology and definition surrounding the ecosystem approach; the need for further guidance on implementation of the ecosystem approach; and that the ecosystem approach must be able to cope with the highly diverse environmental and social conditions found in Europe. The participants also proposed a set of priority actions for implementation of the ecosystem approach to key target audiences.

Discussions in the Ecosystem Conservation Group

The Ecosystem Conservation Group, which is convened by UNEP and brings together the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) has recently been re-established. It provides an avenue through which science and technology relating to ecosystem conservation can be brought together in the design of policies, strategies and programmes. It has considered, for example, the management of large ecosystems with reference to marine and coastal environments.

Workshop on Integrated Planning At Different Scales: Policy and Practice
Perth, Scotland, April 1999

The workshop focused on ecosystem approaches from different countries and identified generic issues that might be best addressed at the international level. It was concluded that the following was needed in order to make the implementation of the ecosystem approach work: integration of policy across all sectors and all administrative levels; changes in institutional cultures; more creative use of tools and mechanisms; and removal of perverse incentives and market distortions.

"An ecosystem approach under the CBD"
IUCN-CEM (Commission on Ecology and Management) technical meeting, Costa Rica, May 1999

The meeting addressed the relevance of the Malawi principles from a regional and global perspective. The participants concluded that when choosing management objectives for the ecosystem approach there is a need for mechanisms to align national and local objectives, clarification of policy at national and local levels and education and capacity building to ensure choices. The participants also stressed the importance of pilot projects in demonstrating the value of the approach and the feedback of scientific research to stakeholders.

Norway/United Nations Conference on the Ecosystem Approach for the Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity
Trondheim, Norway, September 1999

The Trondheim Conference focused on research and development that contributes to an improved understanding of the Malawi principles, with the aim of integrating them in everyday management practices. There was broad consensus at the meeting that given spatial and temporal complexity of biodiversity and the human use of systems, the ecosystem approach including adaptive management is the most appropriate framework to achieve the optimum balance of the Conventions objectives. Key recommendations of the Trondheim conference included, inter alia: implementation programmes should be designed to adjust to the unexpected, rather than to act on the basis of a belief in certainties; the development of capacity in the ecosystem approach, adaptive management, monitoring, information, and participatory management is a matter of high priority; as global trade accelerates there needs to be continuing monitoring and discussion on potential adverse impacts on biological diversity and ecosystem properties; cost-effective ways of mitigating adverse impacts need to be developed; ecosystem management needs to recognize the diversity of social and cultural factors affecting natural resource use; there is a need to develop accepted methodologies for the valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services; there is a need to integrate the ecosystem approach into agriculture, fisheries, forestry and other production systems that have effects on biodiversity. The report of the Trondheim meeting will be available at the fifth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice.

CBD Liaison Group
Paris, September 1999

A liaison group meeting of experts convened by the Secretariat with the generous support of the Governments of France and the United Kingdom, as well as UNEP, and held at headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris, in September 1999. The liaison group developed proposed actions aimed at implementing each principle and other guidance on such an approach (see report).

Meeting on the further elaboration and guidelines for implementation of the ecosystem approach
Montreal, Canada, 7 - 11 July 2003

An Expert Meeting undertaken pursuant to decisions V/6, VI/12 and VI/22, and with generous financial support from the Government of the Netherlands. The Expert Meeting on the Ecosystem Approach undertook the following tasks:

  1. Review the analysis of case-studies and lessons learned on the ecosystem approach;
  2. Develop proposals for the refinement of the principles and operational guidance of the ecosystem approach on the basis of case-studies and lessons learned, including indicators and strategies for the integration of the ecosystem approach into the programmes of work of the Convention; and
  3. Clarify the conceptual basis of the ecosystem approach in relation to the concept of sustainable forest management and develop proposals for their integration. (See report)

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme