Session zu Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften in IPBES auf der European Ecosystem Services Conference in Antwerpen, Belgien, September 2016

Aufbauend auf den bisherigen Workshops und Ergebnissen hat die deutsche IPBES Koordinierungsstelle gemeinsam mit ExpertInnen einen weiteren Austausch zu Perspektiven und Erfahrungen in Bezug auf die Rolle von Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften in IPBES initiiert. Den Rahmen hierfür bot die  European Ecosystem Services Conference 2016 in Antwerpen, Belgien.

Um die Gründe für die geringere Beteiligung von Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaftlern in IPBES weiter  zu diskutieren und die bisherigen Ergebnisse (Policy brief, Nature)  der internationalen Community vorzustellen, hat die Deutsche IPBES Koordinierungsstelle gemeinsam mit Experten eine Session zu diesem Thema auf der Ecosystem Services Conference 2016 (‘Helping nature to help us’, Universität Antwerpen, Belgien, vom 19.-23. September 2016) veranstaltet. Ziel der Session war es außerdem Anreize zur Mitwirkung auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen offenzulegen, sowie Herausforderungen und Möglichkeiten für eine aktivere Rolle der Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften in IPBES aufzuzeigen.
Das Interesse an der Session auch schon im Vorfeld der Veranstaltung bestätigt die Notwendigkeit, dieses Thema auch weiterhin zu bearbeiten. Gerade die Podiumsdiskussion zeigte eindrücklich, dass es vielfältige Perspektiven und Sichtweisen gibt und die angestrebte Einbindung von Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaftlern auch innerhalb von IPBES eine stärkere Auseinandersetzung mit diesem Thema bedeutet.

Das Programm für die Session finden Sie hier...

Da die Ergebnisse des Workshops dem internationalen Publikum zugängig sein sollen, erfolgt die Darstellung der Ergebnisse auf englisch.

Analysis of the session “Social Sciences and Humanities in IPBES”
Tuesday, 20 September, 14-15.30h
Organised by the German IPBES coordination office and held at the Ecosystem Services Conference 2016 EU ‘Helping nature to help us’ Antwerp University, Belgium, 19-23 September 2016

Session goal:

Further discuss the role of experts from the fields of the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and envisage ways forward in order to strengthen the contributions of these experts to IPBES. The session was also open to perspectives and experiences from other science-policy interfaces working at different levels of science-policy interactions (global to national).


IPBES aims to integrate different scientific disciplines and forms of knowledge (including indigenous and local knowledge) in its science-based assessments. However, a closer look at the disciplinary background of experts involved to date in IPBES (e.g. Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), Expert groups) revealed a marked disciplinary imbalance between experts from natural sciences and SSH. In order to analyze the reasons for the lower degree of participation from the fields of SSH, the German IPBES coordination office was asked by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in autumn 2014 to further analyse the reasons for this imbalance together with the scientific community.

In a first step, the German IPBES coordination office organized a workshop in November 2015 and invited experts from the fields of SSH from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to discuss the reasons for their low degree of participation in IPBES experts groups. In order to shed light on this issue experts involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were also invited to attend the workshop in order to identify possible overarching reasons for this disciplinary imbalance at science policy interfaces. The outcomes of these discussions were summarized by the participating scientists in a policy brief and a short communication published in the journal Nature. Though these initial critical discussions were very fruitful and led to strong recommendations targeting the multi-stakeholder community of the IPBES, it became obvious that diverse experiences and perspectives of experts opened new avenues of possible challenges and opportunities, which influence the role of SSH in IPBES and possibly at science policy-interfaces in general. Scientists attending the fourth Plenary of the IPBES in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (22 to 28 February 2016) presented the policy brief developed in the immediate aftermath of the November workshop to members of national delegations, to members of the IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) and the IPBES secretariat as well as to scientists and other stakeholders. This led to a first informal meeting of experts from different countries and UN regions in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the next step(s) emerging from the findings of scientists outlined in the policy brief.

In a second step, the German IPBES coordination office organized together with a group of international experts1 a session at the European Ecosystem Services Conference in Antwerp, Belgium (19-23 September 2016) to advance the discussions on the role of SSH in IPBES. The focus of the session was mainly on discussing reasons for the current status, expectations (including incentives), challenges and most importantly opportunities arising for scientists, for SSH disciplines in general and for IPBES from a stronger involvement of SSH in the IPBES process.

Session Programme 

  • Dr. Julia Kloos, German IPBES Coordination Office, Introduction and overview of activities of the German IPBES Coordination Office on this topic.
  • Dr. Marie Stenseke, Professor in Human Geography at the Department of Economy and Society Gothenburg University, Sweden, and member of the IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) presented the present state of SSH representation in IPBES. In total, four members of the MEP and one member of the Bureau have a scientific background in the field of SSH. For the global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services (deliverable 2c) she reported that 30% of the authors have a background in SSH while 10% have an interdisciplinary background. An increasing number of SSH-scientists experts can be observed in some task forces and expert groups (for instance a dominance of SSH in the IPBES “values” taskforce and the “Indigenous and local knowledge” taskforce). Prof. Stenseke however underscored that significant underrepresentation of SSH-scientists still prevails in other IPBES deliverables2. She also highlighted potential contributions and opportunities for SSH to get involved – either as authors, reviewers of IPBES assessments or as external scientists critically evaluating IPBES (for instance in peer-reviewed publications).
  • Dr. Alice Vadrot, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge, summarized the current debate on SSH in IPBES and gave insight into the challenges to integrate SSH-scientists in IPBES processes. She analysed IPBES from a political ecology perspective and underscored the need to recognize the power structure within which IPBES operates including the definition and organisation of interactions between science and politics. Understanding the ‘Politics of Knowledge’ and disentangling mechanisms at play, and their critical impacts on the process of developing policy options and actions addressing biodiversity and ecosystem services at different scales are major entry points for integrating SSH knowledge into the IPBES work programme.
  • PD Dr. Jens Jetzkowitz, University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg and Professor (interim) at Chemnitz University of Technology, looked into key IPBES terms and concepts such as “Biodiversity” and “nature/society relations” (see IPBES conceptual framework3) to discuss them from an SSH perspective. Based on his finding that the operationalisation of these concepts does actually not reflect the state of knowledge in SSH, he presented research approaches from the field of Social Sciences in order to define and specify key IPBES concepts more clearly. These reflections advanced the understanding of the IPBES Conceptual Framework by indicating numerous new entry points for SSH knowledge into the IPBES process.
  • Brief summary of the panel discussion with Prof. Stenseke, Dr. Vadrot, Prof. Jetzkowitz and Prof. Markus Fischer, University of Bern, Switzerland, and co-chair of the IPBES regional assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia (IPBES deliverable 2b)
    • The presentations were all well received and the audience very much appreciated the presented perspectives on SSH in IPBES. Questions initially targeted the successful integration of economics and natural sciences in IPBES. Both disciplines are based on a similar scientific approach, which facilitates finding common ground between natural sciences and economics. Social sciences – in contrast – take a very different scientific approach – namely the perspective of social beings. Therefore truly integrating social sciences in IPBES requires an exchange about these different perspectives and their implications for IPBES.
    • An intense discussion within the panel evolved around the question whether the discussion on disciplinary imbalance may damage IPBES’s credibility and reputation. Some panelists feared that stressing the apparent lack of SSH-scientists in the scientific assessments through publications in the journal “Nature” may discredit the work of those scientists who are already actively enrolled in IPBES expert groups and highly committed to IPBES assessments, and the ongoing work within IPBES task forces. Additionally, balancing out among and within all scientific disciplines in an intergovernmental process such as IPBES might be neither realistic nor feasible as one panelist pointed out. Other panelists did not agree to this perspective but highlighted the specific perspectives that are still lacking in the IPBES work processes and which can be contributed by SSH-scientists. These panelists also emphasized the need for a transparent discussion involving all disciplines with regard to IPBES’ self-imposed targets of balancing and integrating different sources of knowledge which also includes different disciplines. Critically evaluating and constructively accompanying the IPBES scientific assessment processes from the start may in the longer run contribute to its credibility and reputation rather than ignoring or neglecting these issues.

Next steps

The panel discussion revealed that there is a need to continue the exchange of perspectives on the role of SSH in IPBES. As a major outcome of the ongoing efforts to strengthen the role of SSH in IPBES, which received strong organizational support by the German IPBES Coordination Office, IPBES itself now specifically asks for SSH expertise in its calls for nominations of experts. This has already resulted in an increase in applications in Germany, where more SSH-scientists express their interest to be nominated by the German Government to participate in IPBES assessments. But it still remains to be discussed, how to further define and integrate the necessary knowledge and perspectives held by SSH-scientists which are important for IPBES assessments, thereby complementing the work of the highly committed natural scientists, who are already strongly contributing to the IPBES work. In a next immediate step, the 5th IPBES national forum to be held on 9th of February 2017 in Bonn will serve as an opportunity to update the German IPBES community about the recent developments,
outcomes and activities on this topic. This can help to create new impulses for further activities on this topic.

1 Alice Vadrot, University of Cambridge - Centre for Science and Policy; Jens Jetzkowitz, University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg and Professor (interim) at Chemnitz University of Technology; Michael Kirk, Philipps-Universität Marburg; Lindsay C. Stringer, University of Leeds; Hans Keune, Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO); Eva Spehn, University of Basel.
2 For details on all deliverables of IPBES’ first work programme see:
3 Díaz et al. (2015) “The IPBES Conceptual Framework - connecting nature and people.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14: 1–16.