Commission on Ecosystem Management


Ecosystem governance is an approach that merges different disciplines to explore ways that human can protect the environment and maintain activities in a sustainable manner.
Alpacas in paramo in Ecuador

Group Leader : Liette Vasseur
Co-leader : Tomas Zuklin
SC Focal Point : Liette Vasseur

What is Ecosystem Governance?

Healthy ecosystems provide the services that are essential for all life on Earth. However, because of human activities leading to land use changes and degradation, many of these ecosystems are not functioning to their optimal level. Understanding how ecosystems respond to global environmental challenges remains an important focus for the Commission for Ecosystem Management in order to develop solutions and strategies that can support the sustainability of social-ecological systems. Maintaining and restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services are necessary if we expect ecosystems to be resilient and support all life. 

Ecosystem governance is defined as “… the means by which society determines and acts on goals and priorities related to the management of natural resources, ... [including] … the rules, both formal and informal, that govern human behavior in decision-making processes as well as the decisions themselves.”  Ecosystem governance is an approach that merges different disciplines to explore ways that human can protect the environment and maintain activities in a sustainable manner. It is an inclusive approach that better connects the social system with the ecological system to improve conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem health for human well-being. It examines the actions that can be undertaken to move forward and contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The main objective of this Thematic Group is to examine what are the strategies that can promote ecosystem governance and lead to more sustainable use of the resources while conserve biodiversity and promoting ecosystem services. The Group contributes to the discussion through examining case studies and develops ideas and projects that can support the approach. 

It is also involved in the World Forum on Ecosystem Governance (WFEG), which is a partnership of various organizations such as the State Forestry Administration of China (SFA), International Union for the Conservation of Nature   and its Commission on Ecosystem Management (IUCN/ CEM), the Beijing Municipality, and the Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation (APFNet). The first WFEG was held in Yunhu Lake Resort, near Beijing, China in October 2015. It led to the publication of the Beijing Declaration. From this work a manuscript was published: Vasseur, L., D, Horning, M. Thornbush, E. Cohen-Shacham, A. Andrade, E. Barrow, S. Edwards, P. Wit, and M. Jones. 2017. Complex problems and unchallenged solutions: bringing ecosystem governance to the forefront of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Ambio doi:10.1007/s13280-017-0918-6

A second World Forum on Ecosystem Governance was held in November 2018 in Hangzhou, China. It was organized by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), IUCN and Hangzhou Municipal Government. It was followed by the preparation of the Hangzhou Declaration. 

The thematic group has continued its reflections and development of case studies on rural-urban linkages with a book coming up in 2020. The work has followed some of the key points that were brought up during the Concluding Remarks at the World Conservation Congress, September 2016, Hawaii. These key points when considering governance of ecosystems are:

  • Social and ecological systems are complex and non-linear;
  • The footprint of the system and accountability of the various actors;
  • Transformation of governance processes;
  • The need for transparency in engagement and trust building with the actors
  • Temporal and special scalability while being flexible and adaptable
  • Context specific, recognizing the different needs of developed vs. developing countries
  • Ensuring that “top-down” rules and regulations are informed and guided by “bottom-up” input;
  • Implementation of new governance processes, policies, and regulations will require new investments in capacity building; and
  • There is need to connect with and collaborate with international organizations like the WTO.

What CEM can do:

Recognizing that ecosystem governance is not optional but essential to ensure continued access to vital ecosystem services and increased human wellbeing, CEM should consider ways and means to:

  • Promote capacity building at ALL levels, from local to international,
  • Improve interdisciplinarity in its work on ecosystem governance, and 
  • Ensure that there is embedded in all work on ecosystem governance an appreciation for the importance of ecosystem services and recognition of the evolution and dynamics of systems and needs for change.

To come: Through a survey, we are now trying to also further examine how to refine the definition of ecosystem governance and extract principles that can be tested in the future through case studies.

Call for Case Studies:

In order to continue developing the concept of ecosystem governance and its properties/principles, we invited members to develop case studies that they believe can present issues related to ecosystem governance. We invite all types of case studies that are:

  • Successful and unsuccessful
  • Local to national
  • Long or short term
  • From different ecosystems
  • From developing and developed countries


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