In Annex A to its decision V/6 COP 5 of the CBD has defined the Ecosystem Approach as ‘a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Thus, the application of the Ecosystem Approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention.’ In paragraph 2 of Annex A it is recognized that ‘humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems.’ This is particularly true in the cultivated landscapes of Central Europe where centuries of cultivation heavily influenced nearly every ecosystem from the coast to the high mountains and where even core zones of protected areas are not without any anthropogenic influence due to long-distance effects.
The Ecosystem Approach of the CBD as adopted by COP 5 lists 12 principles to be considered in attempts to manage biological diversity, each principle enriched by an explaining rationale.The description of the Ecosystem Approach reads as follows:
- The Ecosystem Approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Thus, the application of the Ecosystem Approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention: conservation; sustainable use; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
- An Ecosystem Approach is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization, which encompass the essential structure, processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems.
- This focus on structure, processes, functions and interactions is consistent with the definition of ‘ecosystem’ provided in Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity:
- ‘Ecosystem’ means a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.’
- This definition does not specify any particular spatial unit or scale, in contrast to the Convention definition of ‘habitat’. Thus, the term ‘ecosystem’ does not, necessarily, correspond to the terms ‘biome’ or ‘ecological zone’, but can refer to any functioning unit at any scale. Indeed, the scale of analysis and action should be determined by the problem being addressed. It could, for example, be a grain of soil, a pond, a forest, a biome or the entire biosphere.
- The Ecosystem Approach requires adaptive management to deal with the complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems and the absence of complete knowledge or understanding of their functioning. Ecosystem processes are often non-linear, and the outcome of such processes often shows time-lags. The result is discontinuities, leading to surprise and uncertainty. Management must be adaptive in order to be able to respond to such uncertainties and contain elements of ‘learning-by-doing’ or research feedback. Measures may need to be taken even when some cause-and-effect relationships are not yet fully established scientifically.
- The Ecosystem Approach does not preclude other management and conservation approaches, such as biosphere reserves, protected areas, and single-species conservation programmes, as well as other approaches carried out under existing national policy and legislative frameworks, but could, rather, integrate all these approaches and other methodologies to deal with complex situations. There is no single way to implement the Ecosystem Approach, as it depends on local, provincial, national, regional or global conditions. Indeed, there are many ways in which Ecosystem Approaches may be used as the framework for delivering the objectives of the Convention in practice.
Principle 1: The objectives of management of land, water and living resources are a matter of societal choice.
Principle 2: Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level.
Principle 3: Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
Principle 4: Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management programme should:
- (a) Reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity;
- (b) Align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use;
- (c) Internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible.
Principle 5: Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach.
Principle 6: Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
Principle 7: The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
Principle 8: Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterize ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term.
Principle 9: Management must recognize that change is inevitable.
Principle 10: The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance between, and integration of, conservation and use of biological diversity.
Principle 11: The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices.
Principle 12: The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.