Building better science-policy interfaces for international environmental governance: assessing potential within the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

  • Thomas KoetzEmail author
  • Katharine N. Farrell
  • Peter Bridgewater
Original Paper


This article addresses implementation failure in international environmental governance by considering how different institutional configurations for linking scientific and policy-making processes may help to improve implementation of policies set out in international environmental agreements. While institutional arrangements for interfacing scientific and policy-making processes are emerging as key elements in the structure of international environmental governance, formal understanding regarding their effectiveness is still limited. In an effort to advance that understanding, we propose that science-policy interfaces can be understood as institutions and that implementation failures in international environmental governance may be attributed, in part, to institutional mismatches (sic. Young in Institutions and environmental change: Principal findings, applications, and research, MIT Press, Cambridge 2008) associated with poor design of these institutions. In order to investigate this proposition, we employ three analytical categories—credibility, relevance and legitimacy, drawn from Cash et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(14):8086–8091, (2003), to explore basic characteristics of the institutions proscribed under two approaches to institutional design, which we term linear and collaborative. We then proceed to take a closer look at institutional mismatches that may arise with the operationalisation of the soon to be established Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). We find that, while there are encouraging signs that institutions based on new agreements, such as the IPBES, have the potential to overcome many of the institutional mismatches we have identified, there remain substantial tensions between continuing reliance on the established linear approach and an emerging collaborative approach, which can be expected to continue undermining the credibility, relevance and legitimacy of these institutions, at least in the near future.


International environmental governance Biodiversity governance Institutional mismatches IPBES Science-policy interface 



Convention on Biological Diversity


International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity


Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment


Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice


United Nations


United Nations Environment Programme



For their valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper and other support we thank Sybille van den Hove, Joan Martinez-Alier, Clark Miller, Chad Monfreda, Richard Norgaard, Roger Pielke and two anonymous reviewers. We also thank all who contributed to this paper through informal discussions, especially Martin Sharman, Ivar Baste, Nicolas Kosoy, Jerry Harrison and Peter Herkenrath.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Koetz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katharine N. Farrell
    • 1
  • Peter Bridgewater
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA)Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)Cerdanyola del VallèsSpain
  2. 2.UK Joint Nature Conservation CommitteePeterboroughUK

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