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BESAFE explores effectiveness of biodiversity arguments to improve policy making

The BESAFE project recently presented its findings on the effectiveness of arguments for biodiversity protection at its final conference, held in cooperation with the BIOMOT project.
BESAFE explores effectiveness of biodiversity arguments to improve policy making
For the past four years, the BESAFE project team has been working to help expand our understanding of alternative ways of arguing for biodiversity to improve policy at all levels. At the project’s final conference – co-organised with the BIOMOT project earlier this month –, the team presented the results of its case study research including two policy briefs on arguments for biodiversity. The BESAFE tool which contains project results and background information on biodiversity was also presented.

Exploring how arguments for biodiversity are used and their effectiveness has been at the heart of the BESAFE project since it began in 2011. As Rob Bugter, BESAFE coordinator noted at the conference, ‘Our angle has been to find out what type of argument is most effective and which argument works better, where and when, with the aim of getting policy makers to take action for biodiversity.’ In particular, the team was mindful of policymakers in areas other than biodiversity – areas which may have a huge impact on the environment but where awareness of the issues might not be so keen.

In order to explore these ‘arguments for our future environment’, the BESAFE team embarked upon a series of case studies to examine the effectiveness (and potential effectiveness) of arguments at different policy stages, at different government levels and among different stakeholders.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Pekka Jokinen, a project member from the University of Eastern Finland, touched on some of the findings: ‘A comparison between actors indicates only a small diversity of arguments are used – in particular politicians use the smallest variety of arguments. Also we found that arguments change over time. For example, in the 1990s the precautionary principle was being underlined but now the concept of ecosystem services and values for society are beginning to dominate.’

Indeed since the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, ecosystem services – the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems – have become a powerful argument for protecting the environment. However not all ecologists support this line, with some insistent that nature should be protected for its intrinsic value. Dr. Paula Harrison, a project team member from the University of Oxford, discussed the project’s findings on how the ecosystem services argument is being used: ’63 % of all the arguments in our review of papers concerned ecosystem services – and the links between ecosystem services and biodiversity protection are found to be mainly positive… Ecosystem services do not solve all problems but they can show the economic and social value of biodiversity protection, and they can be effectively combined with arguments on the intrinsic value of nature.’

The team has analysed its findings and compiled them into policy briefs – including ‘What kind of information on ecosystem services is relevant for decision making, and how can we incorporate it in the decision making process?’ and ‘How have we advanced our understanding of the links between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services?’ and a literature review titled ‘Arguments for biodiversity’.

The ‘What works in arguing for biodiversity policy brief’ was presented at the conference, as was the beta version of the BESAFE tool. The tool is planned as a user-friendly application where stakeholders can browse project results and background information to help them to help them to improve biodiversity argumentation.

The need for progress on biodiversity protection is clear, as project coordinator Rob Bugter noted, ‘We are not doing enough to prevent biodiversity loss. Progress needs to be made outside of Natura 2000 by involving society and emphasising ecosystem services and economic value. And some of the work needs to be done in convincing people at the implementation phase at local and regional level.’

Bugter concluded by offering a summary of some of the key recommendations that emerged from BESAFE’s research: ‘We need to foster bottom up initiatives and tailor arguments and awareness-raising to the particular audience. Packages of positive arguments are also effective and it’s important to respect and address the complete support base. Finally, ecosystem services and other conservation arguments don’t have to be in conflict – they can actually enhance each other.’
The BESAFE project concludes at the end of August when the project team will also release the final version of its tool to the public.

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Source: Based on event coverage at the joint BESAFE and BIOMOT final conference.

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