Towards a conceptual framework for IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services)

Comments on the “Background document to support the development of a Conceptual Framework to guide the delivery of IPBES”

 [ click on the link at top right to download our "bioGENESIS" submission]

edited versiion:

The ongoing activities of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Intersessional Process include an invitation for comments on various documents arising from the Intersessional Process ( ). Our submission provides comments on the document “Background document to support the development of a Conceptual Framework to guide the delivery of IPBES” (Background document; see also IPBES/1/INF/9). This submission has been prepared by bioGENESIS (see authors list at end and see  for background).

We applaud the efforts, emerging from the IPBES Panama meeting (UNEP/IPBES.MI/2/9), to prepare a draft conceptual framework document “informed by the review of assessments and drawing on existing conceptual frameworks”. We agree that an IPBES conceptual framework could be valuable in standardizing assessment approaches, and unifying the core activities of IPBES. We agree that a key contribution would be agreement on “common definitions” and “common terminology and concepts”.

Overall, the document covers important considerations about possible conceptual frameworks and how they might work. It makes sense (pg6, l15) that a conceptual framework should emerge from co-design with stakeholders and experts from various disciplines. However, section 3 (“What might be the key building blocks for an IPBES conceptual framework?”), then seems premature, and overly-constraining, in putting forward elements of a conceptual framework. We are concerned that this does not capture some of the useful aspects found in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) and other existing frameworks, and may reflect only the perspectives of the “informal group of experts” at the initial workshop.

Our two main concerns are these:

1) It should be made clearer (e.g. in Fig 1) that biodiversity provides direct links to human well-being, not only through intrinsic values, but also through option values;

2) The document portrays “biodiversity” primarily as something that is needed for ecosystem services (e.g., “Ecosystem services are produced by biodiversity…”). In fact, typically components of biodiversity (not variation/variety per se) support or produce a given service. We feel that any useful conceptual framework will enable distinctions between the benefits from “variety” and the benefits from individual components of biodiversity. This is important, for example, because conservation focused on individual components may not ensure conservation of biodiversity.


The Biodiversity Synthesis of the MA  concluded “Biodiversity loss is important in its own right because biodiversity has cultural values, because many people ascribe intrinsic value to biodiversity, and because it represents unexplored options for the future (option values)”. The MA described option value as: “the value individuals place on keeping biodiversity for future generations”. Option values from biodiversity include possible future benefits from known and unknown elements/services (as distinct from the option value sometimes associated with a given ecosystem service).

The Response Options – Biodiversity chapter of the MA further discussed the MA conceptual framework and its integration of biodiversity option values and ecosystem services – importantly referring to trade-offs and synergies among these.
The IPBES catalogue of assessments includes reference to several related conceptual frameworks that include biodiversity option values:


The BioRap Biodiversity Assessment and Planning Study for Papua New Guinea

Phylogeny and the sustainable use of biodiversity: an assessment based on the Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands  

The Batemans Bay regional trade-offs studies 

The catalogue entry includes the re-visited Batemans Bay regional trade-offs study:
Faith Daniel P. (2014) Ecosystem services can promote conservation over conversion and protect local biodiversity, but these local win-wins can be a regional disaster. Australian Zoologist Online pp1-10. DOI 10.7882/AZ.2014.031


For additional background on biodiversity option values (and how a focus on ecosystem services sometimes neglects these) see: .

In this context, Key Message 6 and Fig. 1 in the IPBES document would benefit from clarifications:

The document says: “Key Message 6: Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning might be explicitly included in the Conceptual Framework because they play multiple roles in underpinning the quality, quantity and resilience of ecosystem services, in providing the raw material for adapting to change, as well as in providing direct benefits and having particular meanings to people."

Reference here to “direct benefits” is good (though the link is only made to intrinsic value, and direct links are missing from Fig. 1). In order to clarify direct benefits, an improved Fig.1 might have “biodiversity” as a separate box on the right, and a separate box on the left could represent the intrinsic and option values from biodiversity.

For clarity and generality, it seems best not to combine “biodiversity” and “ecosystem functioning” in Fig.1. Despite the caveats provided in the text, the combining of the two in the present figure could reinforce narrow interpretations of biodiversity as only something that supports ecosystem services.

Further clarifications also are needed in the definitions provided in the next two paragraphs of Key Message 6:

“Biodiversity is the variety of life at all levels from genes, through populations, communities and species to ecosystems and biomes. It includes not just the diversity of the biological components, but also their structures, functions and the interactions between them.
The term biodiversity has been defined and used in a variety of ways by the scientific community and by a multitude of decision makers. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) states that (CBD, Article 2 Convention Text): "Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems." This definition is broad and inclusive compared to some common understandings of the term.”

Those two paragraphs capture the core idea of biodiversity as living variation. The last sentence of that first paragraph could be deleted, avoiding possible confusions if structures, functions and the interactions are included within the definition of biodiversity.

We recognise that the choice of definitions is difficult, but provision of the basic definition of “biodiversity”, along with basic definitions of “option values”, “ecosystem services” and “ecosystem functioning” will be essential for a useful conceptual framework.

Authors list

Daniel P Faith, Australian Museum, Australia
Co-chair of bioGENESIS
Andrew Hendry, McGill Univ., Quebec, Canada
Co-chair of bioGENESIS
Elena Conti, Univ. Zürich, Switzerland
Joel L. Cracraft, AMNH, New York, USA
Keith Crandall, Cancer Research Center, Provo, USA
Michael J. Donoghue, Yale University, New Haven, USA
Felix Forest, Kew Gardens, London, UK
Geeta R, Botany Department, University of Delhi, Delhi, India
Carlos Jaramillo, Smithonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama
Kazuhiro Kogure, University of Tokyo, Japan
Lúcia Garcez Lohmann, IBUSP, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Susana Magallón, UNAM, Mexico
Makiko Mimura, Kyushu University, Japan
Anne-Helene Prieur-Richard, DIVERSITAS, c/o MNHN, France
Campbell Webb, Arnold Arboretum, Bogor, Indonesia
Rafael Zardoya, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Spain 
and Melodie McGeoch, Monash University and member of Aus ad hoc IPBES science group

Dr Dan Faith , Senior Principal Research Scientist email:danfaith8[at]
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