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Consolidating the European Research Area on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BiodivERsA3 (Consolidating the European Research Area on biodiversity and ecosystem services)

Reporting period: 2015-02-01 to 2016-07-31

BiodivERsA is the network of organisations programming and funding research on biodiversity and nature-based solutions across European countries and territories.

Biodiversity is the Earth’s living heritage and is essential for the delivery of ecosystem services. It is as much an environmental issue as an economic, food-security, energy-security and political one. With adequate actions and a solid research basis, biodiversity and associated ecosystem services can become a toolbox for the resilience of human societies facing a changing, unsettled world. Biodiversity questions cross both boarders (e.g. alien invasive species) and disciplines (e.g. valuation of ecosystem services). They can thus be tackled more effectively by interdisciplinary collaboration between multi-national teams.

Biodiversity loss has become a major societal challenge, which is calling for scientific support to policy and management decisions and for a coordinated strategy to address the challenge at a European level. In order to address this challenge, adequate financial resources must be allocated to biodiversity research under EU and national programmes. However, in addition to the volume of investment in research, efficient transnational cooperation and joint actions are needed to integrate biodiversity science at the regional and international levels, which are often the relevant scales at which to address the issues at stake. Moreover, scientific support to European policies (including Community and member states) should rely on an open and coherently managed research framework, with coordinated priorities and programmes based on a continuously developed European research strategy.

Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme and gathering 32 organisations from 21 European countries, mainland and overseas, BiodivERsA aims at strengthening the cooperation between biodiversity research funding agencies, achieving resource efficiency and synergy and identifying and developing shared biodiversity research strategies. A main objective is to continue developing a coherent vision of research planning and use, and contribute to building a strong European research area on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The ultimate aim is to provide policy makers and other stakeholders with adequate knowledge, tools and practical solutions that address the dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystem services and explore innovative solutions for their conservation, sustainable management and use.

Building upon the two first phases of BiodivERsA cooperation (FP6, 2005-2010 and FP7, 2010-2014), BiodivERsA3 will achieve its ambition by fulfilling the following general objectives:
• Development of a strategic, multi-annual vision of the network’s priorities, based on ambitious mapping and foresight activities developed in collaboration with key initiatives in the field;
• Reinforcement and enlargement of the consortium and enhancement of its capacity to jointly support research on biodiversity and ecosystem services across Europe, including in overseas countries and territories and outermost regions, and reinforcement of the international dimension of BiodivERsA activities;
• Design and implementation of joint calls to better integrate research on biodiversity and ecosystem services across Europe;
• Development of a range of other joint activities, in particular alignment of national (and possibly infra-national) research programs for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and activities for promoting mobility and equal opportunities for researchers and reinforcing data sharing;
• Promotion of effective science-policy and science-society (including science-business) dialogue during the whole research process.
At the beginning of its third phase, the new governance and procedures to be used were set up. In particular, the BiodivERsA Advisory Board – composed of both scientific members and stakeholders – was set up and began to contribute to major activities of the network.

Specific activities to increase the capacity of new members to integrate the network and participate in joint activities were implemented, notably a workshop to discuss about the procedure used by BiodivERsA in joint calls with new partners. A 1st Staff exchange was organised to discuss and exchange good practices on (i) reporting modalities and interactions with funded projects and (ii) measure of quality and impact of research projects’ outputs. In addition, the network enlarged during the period, as three new partners have joined BiodivERsA (two as full members and one as associate member). BiodivERsA will continue to reflect on ways to further enlarge the network.

The mapping and foresight activities were initiated, notably to identify gaps and priorities for European research on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Partners from overseas regions (ORs) and outermost countries and territories (OCTs) organised a workshop dedicated to the identification of specific research gaps and needs in the overseas. The update of the BiodivERsA database was initiated.

These activities were used as an input for the development of the first BiodivERsA SRIA, which was adopted by the partners during a General Assembly in June 2016. The current version of the SRIA was submitted to an open consultation, and the feedbacks received will be taken into account to finalize the SRIA by late 2016.

During the first period, another major achievement of BiodivERsA was the launch and implementation of the 2015-2016 COFUND call “Understanding and managing biodiversity dynamics to improve ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem services in a global change context: the cases of soils and sediments (Theme 1), and land- river and sea-scapes (habitat connectivity, green and blue infrastructures, and naturing cities) (Theme 2)”. This call was a great success. Out of the 122 full proposals submitted, 26 research projects were shortlisted and will be funded for a total amount of 34 million euro in cash (51 million euro of total costs).
The 26 shortlisted projects are academically excellent projects, covering a wide range of disciplines (from social sciences to natural sciences), and addressing a range of pressing scientific and societal issues.

In parallel, BiodivERsA actively engaged with key other initiatives, notably with relevant JPIs, EKLIPSE, IPBES and the Belmont Forum. It also developed a joint mapping exercise with ALCUE-Net (the Latin America, Caribbean and European Union Network on Research and Innovation). BiodivERsA and ALCUE-Net jointly analysed the existing collaborations between the European Research Area and Latin America/Caribbean, which paved the way to the publication of a brochure and a paper.

Finally, BiodivERsA initiated a number of science-society and science-policy interfacing activities. It notably organised a clustering workshop with researchers from BiodivERsA funded projects, policy makers and stakeholders to promote the development of policy briefs based on clustered results from several BiodivERsA projects addressing current policy needs; it defined the methodology to be used for the production of a new series of policy briefs and selected the professional knowledge broker who will develop these policy briefs.
BiodivERsA was also granted the status of observer at the IPBES and attended the 4th IPBES plenary in Kuala Lumpur. In support to the IPBES, a number of syntheses of research results from BiodivERsA-funded projects were prepared and provided to experts and technical support units of the on-going regional assessments of IPBES where relevant, and in particular for the Europe and Central Asia assessment. This assessment’s Technical Support Unit acknowledged BiodivERsA’s approach to providing results to IPBES and cited the network as an example of best practice on the occasion of the PESC-3 meeting.
At the heart of the ERA concept is the coordination of national research programmes, allowing to integrate research at the European scale, promote synergies between research teams and institutions as well as to avoid wasteful overlaps in research carried out at a national level. BiodivERsA partners, through their active cooperation and through the significant outputs of the project, demonstrate that they have a strong impact on such aspects for research on biodiversity, ecosystem services and nature-based solutions.

Reinforced governance and enlargement
With two Vice Chairs, an Advisory Board including top scientists and diverse stakeholders, and inclusion of overseas partners in its Executive Board, BiodivERsA has upgraded its governance according to the renewed ambition of the network. Enlargement to three additional European countries reinforces BiodivERsA geographical coverage and capacity to build the ERA on biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

Development of a common vision and shared strategy for research on biodiversity
With the adoption of its first Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA), BiodivERsA has succeeded in defining a common, renewed and forward-looking vision as well as shared priorities in the field of biodiversity, ecosystem services and nature-based solutions. This will contribute to overcoming the fragmentation within this research field and to improve the ERA. The SRIA frames the domain covered by BiodivERsA, and identifies the main challenges that BiodivERsA aims to tackle as well as the type of research BiodivERsA will support in the future.

Promotion of excellent, trans-national and multidisciplinary research
A major impact of the network is that it offers a recurrent and significant funding source to integrate biodiversity research programmes across countries in Europe. In 2015, BiodivERsA3 launched a major COFUND Call, allowing the funding of 26 excellent research projects for a total amount of 34 million euro in cash.

Through its activity, BiodivERsA promotes excellent scientific research, as highlighted in the brochure on the outputs of the 2008 funded projects, published in 2015. The results of the funded projects demonstrate that addressing questions at a trans-boundary level is highly relevant to many research questions in the field, and gathering specific expertise from scientific teams from country to country allows the constitution of high-quality and efficient research consortia.
BiodivERsA has already impacted the biodiversity research field at the European level by providing a funding source for medium-sized projects (typically 5 to 7 partners from 3 to 5 countries for ca. 1 million euro). Involved researchers indicate that this format favours excellent and effective interdisciplinarity and a high quality integration of natural and social sciences in the research implementation and results.

Promotion of stakeholder engagement and the use of new knowledge to tackle societal challenges
Another major impact of BiodivERsA is the delivery of new knowledge useful for and used by society. Biodiversity is a research field with high stakes for human societies, which are in constant interaction with it and benefit from numerous services it provides. However, the provision of services linked to the state of biodiversity is fragile in the face of growing anthropogenic pressures. BiodivERsA partners are thus committed to funding research highly relevant to society, in addition to its quality and scientific excellence. This is clearly demonstrated by the topics selected for the 2015-2016 BiodivERsA COFUND call (especially the theme “green and blue infrastructures, and greening cities”). Besides, specific criteria on societal/policy relevance and the quality of stakeholder engagement were used to evaluate the proposals submitted under the 2015-2016 Call (in addition to the scientific excellence criteria).
The BiodivERsA stakeholder engagement handbook developed under BiodivERsA2 is a key product that encourages deeper and better-designed stakeholder engagement within BiodivERsA-funded projects and beyond. Also, projects funded during the two first phases of BiodivERsA are now providing significant results for application by society. Along with significant academic results, these are highlighted in the brochure on the outputs of the 2008 funded projects (published in 2015), which also demonstrates the lack of trade-off between scientific excellence of the outputs and the level of production of society/policy-relevant outputs and/or of stakeholder engagement for these projects.
In parallel, the knowledge brokerage activities developed to disseminate the main results of BiodivERsA projects, in particular at the European level, are effectively promoting the impact of funded research. Several series of policy briefs based on results of BiodivERsA-funded projects will be published, reinforcing the impact of the BiodivERsA’s activities on policy making. Finally, relevant outputs of the these projects were synthetized to feed the IPBES assessment for Europe and Central Asia, ultimately aiming to improve evidence-based decision making.

Engaging with other key initiatives at the European and international level
BiodivERsA liaises continuously with other key bodies of the ERA, in particular several relevant JPIs, as with key international players like the Belmont Forum. The quality of the interactions is clearly player-dependent, but BiodivERsA will go on developing such interactions since biodiversity is at the cross-roads of many sectors, and promoting research on biodiversity and nature-based solutions requires to engage a wide range of actors. Following the successful collaboration with the JPI FACCE, an encouraging step towards this aim is the collaboration with the Belmont Forum to discuss on a possible joint call between the two initiatives. BiodivERsA also collaborated with the ALCUE-NET project for mapping the current research collaboration on biodiversity between ERA and the Latin American and Caribbean region. This demonstrates BiodivERsA’s capacity to articulate itself with key bodies of the ERA in a perspective of shared interests.