Sustainability Science

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 843–856 | Cite as

Local knowledge, global ambitions: IPBES and the advent of multi-scale models and scenarios

  • Noam ObermeisterEmail author
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Concepts, Methodology, and Knowledge Management for Sustainability Science


In 2016, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its first methodological assessment report on scenarios and models, identifying important gaps in the literature. IPBES has since then moved onto Phase 2, namely a commitment to build on the assessment findings to catalyse the development of the next generation of multi-scale models and scenarios for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Part of that commitment involves the inclusion of Indigenous and Local Knowledge (ILK) in those models and scenarios. IPBES is both an institution (with its governance structure, work programme, deliverables, and so on) and a network (with its member states, authors, stakeholders, and readership). Within that network, the methodological assessment report can be said to be ‘performative’, ergo playing a significant role in shaping engagement and research pathways in the years to come. Within the social sciences, this paper marks a first attempt at evaluating some of the potential challenges of Phase 2—with specific regard to the inclusion of ILK—and strives to generate more engagement from social scientists and humanities scholars on this issue. I combine in-depth expert interviews with document analysis and focus on the ideas of ‘scale translation’ and the translation of ILK into quantitative data—which I contend are likely to be the most contentious and arduous aspects of ‘integration’. I conclude that while IPBES is on track for leading the research community away from IPCC-type global, panoptic models and scenarios, a more honest and genuine dialogue between natural scientists, social scientists, and ILK holders is still required—so as to better communicate what may be (scientifically) feasible and (politically) acceptable.


Models Scenarios Biodiversity and ecosystem services IPBES Indigenous and local knowledge Transdisciplinarity 



I am first of all grateful to my interviewees for being so generous with their time and for engaging so enthusiastically. I would like to thank Dr. Seth Gustafson for excellent guidance and for his patience. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their extensive and constructive feedback. I would also like to thank Jonathan, Clara and Elliot for being thorough readers and for their insightful feedback. Finally, I would like to thank my friends and fellow UCL alumni for their ongoing support.


  1. Agrawal A (1995) Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Dev Change 26(3):413–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beck S, Mahony M (2017) The IPCC and the politics of anticipation. Nat Clim Change 7:311–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beck S, Maud B, Chilvers J, Esguerra A, Heubach K, Hulme M, Lidskog R, Lövbrand E, Marquard E, Miller CA, Nadim T, Neßhöver C, Settele J, Turnhout E, Vasileiadou E, Görg C (2014) Towards a reflexive turn in the governance of global environmental expertise: the cases of the IPCC and the IPBES. Gaia 23(2):80–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bogner A, Menz W (2009) The theory-generating expert interview: epistemological interest, forms of knowledge, interaction. In: Bogner A, Littig B, Menz W (eds) Interviewing experts. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 43–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bogner A, Littig B, Menz W (2009) Introduction: expert interviews—an introduction to a new methodological debate. In: Bogner A, Littig B, Menz W (eds) Interviewing experts. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borie M, Mahony M, Hulme M (2015) Somewhere between everywhere and nowhere: the institutional epistemologies of IPBES and the IPCC. Unpublished paper presented at the STEPS Annual Conference, Resource Politics, 7-9 September, University of Sussex, UKGoogle Scholar
  7. Brosius PJ (2006) What counts as local knowledge in global environmental assessments and conventions? In: Reid WV, Berkes F, Wilbanks TJ, Capistrano D (eds) Bridging scales and knowledge systems: concepts and applications in ecosystem assessment. A contribution to the millennium ecosystem assessment. Island Press, Washington, pp 129–144Google Scholar
  8. Crossman ND, Banerjee O, Brander L, Verburg P, Hauck J (2018) Global socio-economic impacts of future changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services: state of play and approaches for new modelling. Report prepared for WWF-UK.
  9. De Vries BJM, Petersen AC (2009) Conceptualizing sustainable development: an assessment methodology connecting values, knowledge, worldviews and scenarios. Ecol Econ 68:1006–1019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Filer C (2009) A bridge too far: the knowledge problem in the millennium ecosystem assessment. In: Carrier JG, West P (eds) Virtualism, governance and practice: vision and execution in environmental conservation. Berghahn Books, New York, pp 84–111Google Scholar
  11. Fujimura JH (2011) Technobiologicbpal imaginaries: how do systems biologists know nature? In: Goldman MJ, Nadasdy P, Turner MD (eds) Knowing nature: conversations at the intersection of political ecology and science studies. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 65–80Google Scholar
  12. Goldman MJ, Turner MD (2011) Introduction. In: Goldman MJ, Nadasdy P, Turner MD (eds) Knowing nature: conversations at the intersection of political ecology and science studies. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 1–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gustafsson KM, Lidskog R (2018) Organizing international experts: IPBES’s efforts to gain epistemic authority. Environ Sociol: 1–12Google Scholar
  14. Houde N (2007) The six faces of traditional ecological knowledge: challenges and opportunities for Canadian co-management arrangements. Ecol Soc 12(2):34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hulme M (2010) Problems with making and governing global kinds of knowledge. Global Environ Change 20:558–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. IPBES (2016a) The methodological assessment report on scenarios and models of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, BonnGoogle Scholar
  17. IPBES (2016b) Guide on production and integration of assessments from and across all scales. Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, BonnGoogle Scholar
  18. IPBES (2018) IPBES Core Glossary. Available from Accessed 14 Apr 2018
  19. Jabour J, Flachsland C (2017) 40 years of global environmental assessments: a retrospective analysis. Environ Sci Policy 77:193–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jasanoff S (2010) A new climate for society. Theory Cult Soc 27(2–3):1–21Google Scholar
  21. Klenk N, Meehan K (2015) Climate change and transdisciplinary science: problematizing the integration imperative. Environ Sci Policy 54:160–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kok MTJ, Kok K, Peterson GD, Hill R, Agard J, Carpenter SR (2017) Biodiversity and ecosystem services require IPBES to take novel approach to scenarios. Sustain Sci 12(1):177–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kovacs EK, Pataki G (2016) The participation of experts and knowledges in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Environ Sci Policy 57:131–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Latour B (1987) Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Open University Press, Milton KeynesGoogle Scholar
  25. Latour B (1999) Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  26. Liftin KT (1998) Satellites and sovereign knowledge: remote sensing of the global environment. In: Liftin KT (ed) The greening of sovereignty in world politics. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 193–222Google Scholar
  27. Lofmarck E, Lidskog R (2017) Bumping against the boundary: IPBES and the knowledge divide. Environ Sci Policy 69:22–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lundquist CJ, Pereira HM, Alkemade R, den Belder E, Carvalho Ribeiro S, Davies K, Greenaway A, Hauck J, Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen S, Kim H, King N, Lazarova T, Pereira L, Peterson G, Ravera F, van den Brink T, Argumedo A, Arida C, Armenteras D, Ausseil AG, Baptiste B, Belanger J, Bingham K, Bowden-Kerby A, Cao M, Carino J, van Damme PA, Devivo R, Dickson F, Dushimumuremyi JP, Ferrier S, Flores-Díaz A, Foley M, Garcia Marquez J, Giraldo-Perez P, Greenhaigh S, Hamilton DJ, Hardison P, Hicks G, Hughey K, Kahui-McConnell R, Karuri-Sebina G, De Kock M, Leadley P, Lemaitre F, Maltseva E, de Mattos Scaramuzza CA, Metwally M, Nelson W, Ngo H, Neumann C, Norrie C, Perry J, Quintana R, Rodriguez Osuna VE, Roehrl C, Seager J, Sharpe H, Shortland T, Shulbaeva P, Sumaila UR, Takahashi Y, Titeux N, Tiwari S, Trisos C, Ursache A, Wheatley A, Wilson D, Wood S, van Wyk E, Yue TX, Zulfikar D, Brake M, Leigh D, Lindgren-Streicher P (2017) Visions for nature and nature’s contributions to people for the 21st century. NIWA Science and Technology Series Report No. 83, NIWA: New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  29. Mahony M, Hulme M (2016) Epistemic geographies of climate change: science, space and politics. Prog Hum Geogr 42:1–30Google Scholar
  30. Meuser M, Nagel U (2009) The expert interview and changes in knowledge production. In: Bogner A, Littig B, Menz W (eds) Interviewing experts. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 17–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Miller CA (2007) Democratization, international knowledge institutions, and global governance. Governance 20(2):325–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Montana J (2016) How IPBES works: the functions, structures and processes of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. C-EENRG Working Papers 2016-2, Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, University of Cambridge, pp 1–23Google Scholar
  33. Montana J (2017) Accommodating consensus and diversity in environmental knowledge production: achieving closure through typologies in IPBES. Environ Sci Policy 68:20–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Obermeister N (2017) From dichotomy to duality: addressing interdisciplinary epistemological barriers to inclusive knowledge governance in global environmental assessments. Environ Sci Policy 68:80–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oteros-Rozas E, Martín-López B, Daw T, Bohensky EL, Butler J, Hill R, Martin-Ortega J, Quinlan A, Ravera F, Ruiz- Mallén I, Thyresson M, Mistry J, Palomo I, Peterson GD, Plieninger T, Waylen KA, Beach D, Bohnet IC, Hamann M, Hanspach J, Hubacek K, Lavorel S, Vilardy S (2015) Participatory scenario planning in place-based social-ecological research: insights and experiences from 23 case studies. Ecol Soc 20(4):32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pascual U, Balvanera P, Díaz S, Pataki G, Roth E, Stenseke M, Watson RT, Başak Dessane E, Islar M, Kelemen E, Maris V, Quaas M, Subramanian SM, Wittmer H, Adlan A, Ahn S, Al-Hafedh YS, Amankwah E, Asah ST, Berry P, Bilgin A, Breslow SJ, Bullock C, Cáceres D, Daly-Hassen H, Figueroa E, Golden CD, Gómez-Baggethun E, González-Jiménez D, Houdet J, Keune H, Kumar R, Ma K, May PH, Mead A, O’Farrell P, Pandit R, Pengue W, Pichis-Madruga R, Popa F, Preston S, Pacheco-Balanza D, Saarikoski H, Strassburg BB, van den Belt M, Verma M, Wickson F, Yagi N (2017) Valuing nature’s contributions to people: the IPBES approach. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 26–27:7–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pearce W, Mahony M, Raman S (2018) Science advice for global challenges: learning from trade-offs in the IPCC. Environ Sci Policy 80:125–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Peterson GD, Harmackova ZV, Meacham M, Queiroz C, Jiménez Aceituno A, Kuiper JJ, Malmborg K, Sitas NE, Bennett EM (2018) Welcoming different perspectives in IPBES: “Nature’s contributions to people” and “Ecosystem services”. Ecol Soc 23(1):39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosa IMD, Pereira HM, Ferrier S, Alkemade R, Acosta LA, Akcakaya R, den Belder E, Fazel AM, Fujimori S, Harfoot M, Harhash KA, Harrison PA, Hauck J, Hendriks RJJ, Hernández G, Jetz W, Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen SI, Kim H, King N, Kok MTJ, Kolomytsev GO, Lazarova T, Leadley P, Lundquist CJ, Márquez JG, Meyer C, Navarro LM, Nesshöver C, Ngo HT, Ninan KN, Palomo MG, Pereira LM, Peterson GD, Pichs R, Popp A, Purvis A, Ravera F, Rondinini C, Sathyapalan J, Schipper AM, Seppelt R, Settele J, Sitas N, van Vuuren D (2017) Multiscale scenarios for nature futures. Nat Ecol Evol 1:1416–1419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Shapin S (1998) Placing the view from nowhere: historical and sociological problems in the location of science. Trans Inst Br Geogrphers NS 23(1):5–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Star SL, Griesemer J (1989) Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Soc Stud Sci 19:387–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stenseke M (2016) The intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services and the challenge of integrating social sciences and humanities. Bull Geogr Soc Econ Ser 33:119–129Google Scholar
  43. Stenseke M, Larigauderie A (2017) The role, importance and challenges of social sciences and humanities in the work of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES). Innov Eur J Soc Sci Res 31:S10–S14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sutherland WJ, Gardner TA, Haider LJ, Dicks LV (2013) How can local and traditional knowledge be effectively incorporated into international assessments? Oryx 48(1):1–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tengo M, Hill R, Malmer P, Raymond CM, Spierenburg M, Danielsen F, Elmqvist T, Folke C (2017) Weaving knowledge systems in IPBES, CBD and beyond—lessons learned for sustainability. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 26–27:17–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thaman R, Lyver P, Mpande R, Perez E, Cariño J, Takeuchi K (eds) (2013) The contribution of indigenous and local knowledge systems to IPBES: building synergies with science. UNESCO, IPBES Expert Meeting Report, UNESCO/UNU, Paris, pp 1–84Google Scholar
  47. Turnhout E, Stuiver M, Klostermann J, Harms B, Leeuwis C (2013) New roles of science in society: different repertoires of knowledge brokering. Sci Public Policy 40:354–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Turnhout E, Dewulf A, Hulme M (2016) What does policy-relevant global environmental knowledge do? The cases of climate and biodiversity. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 18:65–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. UNEP (2013) Consideration of initial elements: recognizing indigenous and local knowledge and building synergies with science. Information document 5 (Annex), plenary of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services, First Session, pp 1–6Google Scholar
  50. Vadrot ABM, Rankovic A, Lapeyre R, Aubert P-M, Laurans Y (2018) Why are social sciences and humanities needed in the works of IPBES? A systematic review of the literature. Innov Eur J Soc Sci Res 31(sup1):S78–S100CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LondonUK

Personalised recommendations