Journal Article: Diversity and Consensus in IPBES

How can a diversity of perspectives be accommodated in scientific and political consensus on environmental issues? This paper adopts a science and technology studies (STS) approach to examine how the pursuit of consensus-based knowledge and diverse participation, as seemingly contradictory commitments, have been converted into practice in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).


Through a series of negotiations, these commitments have been translated into a set of situated practices that now dominate this expert panel. Consensus has been achieved through the pursuit of closure, in which meetings of expert and administrator groups produce texts, tables and images that stabilise ostensibly collective decisions. Within this framework, diverse perspectives have been accommodated through the production of typologies, such as lists of comparable options, which allow for the coexistence and commensurability of a range of knowledges and experts.

However there is a politics to typologies, which requires specific attention to how decisions are made (deliberation), who participates in them (participation), and the extent to which these participants are representative of broader knowledge and policy communities (representation). While the potential of typologies to accommodate consensus and diversity offers the hope of realising ‘unity in diversity’ for both environmental knowledge and policy, recognising the politics of their production is important for more equitable processes of environmental governance.

Journal Article

Montana, J. (2017). “Accommodating consensus and diversity in environmental knowledge production: Achieving closure through typologies in IPBES.” Environmental Science & Policy. 68: 20-27.

This research was conducted as part of PhD at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, and supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Journal Article: Engaging diverse experts in global environmental assessment

The need for interdisciplinary expert groups from different regions of the world to be involved in the fields of sustainability science and environmental change research is increasingly recognised. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) was established in 2012 as a science-policy interface and has gone beyond previous initiatives in its articulation of a clear commitment to inter- and transdisciplinary approaches that mandate a diversity of genders, disciplines and regional backgrounds within its expert groups.

Figure 4.2_01.JPG
IPBES 2015 Plenary Meeting. Photo: IISD

The first IPBES work programme, carried out between 2014 and 2018, has been supported by 17 expert groups, comprising over 1000 experts, who have been selected from over 2000 government and stakeholder nominations through formal procedures. In this paper, we present and critique the framework through which IPBES identifies and selects experts to participate in its processes. In addition, we synthesise and carry out a quantitative analysis on the expert nomination and selection data relating to the first assessment activities of IPBES.

Identifying that the balance of regions, genders, disciplines and knowledge systems represented within these expert groups is still disproportionally dominated by male natural scientists from the Global North, the paper makes recommendations of how to better engage knowledge holders from different disciplines and diverse knowledge systems in future iterations of the IPBES work programme.


Journal Article

Timpte, M., Montana, J., Reuter, K., Borie, M. and Apkes, J. (2017). “Engaging diverse experts in a global environmental assessment: participation in the first work programme of IPBES and opportunities for improvement.” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Research.

Working Paper: How IPBES Works

Mandated to “strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services”, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has a detailed set of intergovernmentally agreed functions, structures and processes that guide its first Work Program (2014-2018). This working paper sets out these institutional arrangements, noting that broader understanding of the IPBES mechanisms may assist wider participation, accountability, and scholarly analysis.

For example, the assessment function provides a series of opportunities for involvement with the process (see Figure 1.)


 Figure 1. The typical sequence of events of IPBES assessments and opportunities for government and non-government stakeholder involvement

The functions, structures and processes of the first IPBES Work Program, are inevitably complex, incomplete, and subject to interpretation. However, their framework provides a basis for establishing agreement – or disagreement – amongst IPBES administrators, participants and external analysts about what the Platform is and how it should operate.  If IPBES achieves similar international standing for biodiversity as the IPCC has for climate change, it will have increasing influence over international discussions about the governance of nature and its benefits to people. In light of this, it should be  remembered that knowledge is not a neutral input to decision making in environmental governance (Turnhout et al. 2016). As such, paying greater attention to the precise mechanisms of knowledge production can be understood as another significant part of the deliberative process (Miller 2007). In order to contribute to this process for biodiversity governance, this working paper draws attention to the institutional arrangements of IPBES with the purpose of facilitating broader participation, greater accountability, and more extensive scholarly analysis on the Platform.

Working paper

Montana, J. (2016). ‘How IPBES works: The functions, structures and processes of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’. C-EENRG Working Papers, 2016-2. pp.1-23. Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, University of Cambridge.

This research was conducted as part of PhD at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. This research was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.



Miller, C.A. 2007. “Democratization, international knowledge institutions and global governance.” Governance  no. 20 (2):325-357.

Turnhout, E., Dewulf, A., and Hulme, M. 2016. “What does policy-relevant global environmental knowledge do? The cases of climate and biodiversity.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability  no. 18:65-72.

Journal Article: Expert Representation in IPBES

In this contribution, we analyze how the principles of regional, gender, and disciplinary balance that were adopted by IPBES have been applied to the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP): the body of experts responsible for the scientific and technical functions of IPBES and embedded in its knowledge-making practices.

In doing so, we compare the selection of the interim MEP in 2013 with the new MEP in 2015 and find a small improvement in gender and disciplinary balance that varies across the United Nations regional groupings. According to the ambition of IPBES, there is significant room for improvement, but “opening-up” expertise in an intergovernmental setting proves challenging.


Figure 1. The interim and 2015 MEP showing experts in regional groupings that were proposed (both inside and outside circle) and selected (inside circle only). Coloring shows: (a) gender (color: women – green; men – yellow) and (b) academic discipline (color: natural sciences – green; economics – red; social sciences – blue; other – purple; white – no data available) based on most recent university training. Regional labels: Africa (African group); Asia (Asia-Pacific group); EE (Eastern European group); GRULAC (Latin American and Caribbean group); WEOG (Western Europe and Other group).


Journal Article

Montana, J. and Borie, M. (2015; equal contribution). ‘IPBES and biodiversity expertise: Regional, gender and disciplinary balance in the composition of the interim and 2015 Multidisciplinary Expert Panel‘. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12192

This research was conducted as part of PhD at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. This research was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Journal Article: Southern Sand Octopus

In September 2015, we reported on the Southern Sand Octopus’s remarkable ability to burrow into the sand using jets of water to fluidise the sediment – essentially creating quicksand – that it can then dive into. This behaviour has never been reported before in octopuses, but may be more common than we think.

The octopus is also unique in its ability to form a sub-surface mucous-lined burrow under the sand, where it resides during the day.

Kaurna Pic.jpg

This research was featured in the New Scientist, the Daily Telegraph, and other media outlets. You can view the New Scientist video below:


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Montana, J., Finn, J.K. and Norman, M.D. (2015). ‘Liquid sand burrowing and mucus utilisation as novel adaptations to a structurally-simple environment in Octopus kaurna Stranks, 1990’. Behaviour. DOI: 10.1163/1568539X-00003313

This research was conducted as part of an Honours degree in Zoology at the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Museum under the supervision of Dr Mark Norman and Dr Julian Finn. This research was covered by New Scientist and other media outlets.

Workshop: Productive research networks and the legacy of DIVERSITAS

DIVERSITAS has successfully endured over two decades, during which time some participants have remained the same and some have changed. As an early career researcher entering the DIVERSITAS community for the first time, I wanted to reflect on the way in which young researchers might engage with a global environmental research network such as DIVERSITAS or Future Earth.

Exploring this question in a discussion with Science Committee member, Belinda Reyers, we noted that the ability to put yourself forward and establish your own networks as a young researcher is now a key characteristic of success in global environmental change research. Although social capabilities would never replace the need to do fundamentally good research, it certainly goes hand in hand with making valuable contributions in this new era of problem-focused science.

The formation of networks in research is central to developing links between generations of researchers, however participants also recognised that a network approach can occasionally have its drawbacks. In particular, when a research network is seeking to reach out to and include new disciplines or geographic regions, it can be difficult to know where to look, because networks often rely on known contacts and communities. However, balancing a network approach with occasional open calls for participation is likely to help address this concern.

The opportunity to participate in the DIVERSITAS celebrations in response to one of these open calls was significant for me. It provided an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the nature of biodiversity research and my work in this area in the future. Looking ahead, the global challenges we face are likely to be complex. Persisting in the work of Future Earth, the legacy of DIVERSITAS is likely to be in its people, its culture and the establishment of a shared desire to work together: a powerful network equipped and ready to address these environmental change issues.

See our short video from this workshop below.

Filming Secrets Of Our Living Planet: The white rhino

This blog post was originally published on the BBC TV Blog.


It shouldn’t have been this wet. The 4 x 4 slid across the muddy track like it was an oil slick and slammed into the bank on the edge of the road, almost knocking us all out.

Water buffalo stood sodden and dripping with rain in the centre of the road, staring with a blank aggression as though they might charge at any moment but unable to decide if they could be bothered.

It’s week three into our filming trip to Kenya for the series Secrets Of Our Living Planet and we’ve come to one of the most famous stretches of grassland in the world, the East Africansavannahs, to capture some of the incredible connections between the animals here.

Northern white rhinos in Kenya

Northern white rhinos in Kenya. (Photo: BBC/Adam White)


One of the greatest things about the reserves and conservancies of East Africa is simply the density of animals. In many cases there is no need to wait around to see a big, hairy and often deadly African animal because you’ll probably stumble upon one without even trying.

Elephants are on the roads, lions roar all night just metres from your tent and you can even walk into a one-tonne buffalo while on your way to breakfast – as I did one bleary-eyed morning last week.

So filming animals in this environment should be a breeze right?! Well, think again.

For Secrets Of Our Living Planet we were looking for remarkable relationships between animals, many of which have not been shown on TV before, and this more than anything requires planning, patience and a bit of luck.

Unfortunately today our luck began to run out, albeit briefly.

We were out to film the white rhino which has been reintroduced to Kenya and has a vital role to play in Africa’s grasslands.

Thanks to large mouths and hindgut digestion white rhinos can eat their way through a lot of tall dry poor-quality grass that many other African grazers can’t eat.

That allows the other smaller-mouthed antelopes to access the quality grass that grows up once the grass is cut short.

In many ways the rhino is like a giant lawnmower on the African savannah – keeping the grass short and sweet.

On our team was Steven, a rhino patrol officer who manages a team of watchmen – sentinels who follow and sometimes even sleep out with the white rhinos to monitor their movements.

Early one morning we followed the dust kicked up by Steven’s motorbike as he took us to the site of the latest rhino sighting.

Slowing on the approach so that the sound of the engine wouldn’t scare off our quarry the cameraman and I jumped out of the car onto the cracked earth.

The rhino was now in thick bush and we could no longer track it with the car. To film it we had to go in, but following an animal the size of a car and armed with a giant horn into the bush is not something to be taken lightly.

In such a situation your imagination might lead you to expect that you will soon be making a swift exit with a big animal on your tail.

However in reality there was only one way to find out.

Led by Steven, keeping low on the ground and trying to keep out of sight, we managed to film a group of three white rhinos.

However our swift exit came soon enough.

In a strange turn of events for dry season Africa the sky had turned black and it was pelting hail that chased us out of the bush and back into the cars.

Within minutes the roads became rivers and we slipped and skidded our way back to camp.

We hadn’t quite managed to film the white rhino behaviour that we wanted on that day. As with all natural history filmmaking many things are filmed that end up on the cutting room floor – and this was just one of those occasions.

It was a few days later that we filmed the scene that made the final cut, in our next and most remarkable encounter with the white rhino.

This time luck was on our side: the sun was shining and the rhinos were out on the open plains where they sometimes feed in the morning before retreating into the thicker bush in the heat of the day.

Jasper Montana was the researcher for Secrets Of Our Living Planet and location director of episode two, The Secret Of The Savannah.

Filming Human Planet: Life is all about packing cases

This blog post was originally published on the BBC Human Planet Blog


Metal pins are slowly spreading across the map of the world in our office – each one representing a trip, a recce, a shoot, and another sequence of Human Planet recorded onto what have now become many kilometres of magnetic video tape.   For each of us on the Human Planet team, each pin represents a different moment of time.

For those who went on location, it may be a life changing adventure, a harrowing experience, or a drop in the ocean.   For those left in Bristol or Cardiff, it might be a sigh of relief as the crew depart, a moment of pause in a quiet office, or a stressful planning process which lingers long after the crew depart, when phone calls from the Jungle require a mortally wounded shoot to be remotely stitched back together.

On many occasions the pin represents for me long days of getting a plethora of filming equipment squeezed into the smallest possible cases for transport to location.   So I was going to write a post about how the human desire to make order out of chaos can be summed up in the line ‘life is all about packing cases’ but I thought I’d just make a time-lapse video instead.


Packing cases for a shoot to Algeria – timelapse video coming soon

Only a handful of pins are left in the jar – who knows what each has in store.

Filming Human Planet: Mongolian Folk and Muddled Pop

This blog originally appeared on the BBC Human Planet Blog


On a grassy hillside overlooking the undulating hills of central Mongolia, I grasp a unique insight into someone else’s world.  In the valley below is the melee of a hundred charging horses kicking backlit dust into the still air.  From high above, the action is distant – played out by toy farm animals and miniature horse herders in colourful robes – but the horses’ thundering hooves and the herder’s pounding hearts are loud in my ears.  I am recording sound for a “Human Planet” sequence in the Mongolian steppe and have put radio mics on two of the young riders in the summer horse round-up.  In my left ear is Orlana, a 17 year old boy; full of bravado and a fierce rider;  in my right, Tungaa, a timid 16 year old; keen to give it all she’s got.  Orlana’s voice is clear, bold and commanding. Tungaa’s voice is soft and she sings as she rides – the traditional songs of Mongolian folklore and the occasional muddled verse of an American pop song form the repertoire of my private concert.  I shut my eyes, listen and smile.

Chu! Chu! The horse round-up

As I watch the riders charge around the horses like tunas attacking a bait ball, Orlana’s breathing quickens pace. ‘Chu! Chu!’ he shouts encouragingly. The horse tears forward through the herd. Orlana and Tungaa in many cultures would be considered to be just kids, but here in the grasslands of Mongolia, they are in control and are integral to keeping tradition alive.

Lassooing foal lores

In the global journey of the “Human Planet” series, the remarkable nature of the human condition will be revealed and as the teams come back from location I am continually fascinated by the amazingly diverse incarnations of the family unit around the world. It is often families that become the subject of our sequences and perhaps this is because, more broadly, it is the family unit that provides the framework for upholding tradition and passing knowledge from the elder to the youngster – the flow of knowledge that facilitates the successful relationship between man and nature in every environment.

Shure and her sisters

Shure and her sisters

The youngest in our Mongolian family is Shure, who is just four years old. We are filming her as part of our spin-off sister series called “Little Human Planet” aimed at pre-school children. As we watch her go about her life, she watches her older siblings and mother intently. Within a few years she will have her own horse and will charge out across the plains with a commanding ‘chu, chu!’ and from her lips will come the recognisable Mongolian folk songs of the past and the muddled pop songs of the future.

Filming Human Planet: It’s the world calling!

This blog originally appeared on the BBC Human Planet Blog


I am the technical assistant on Human Planet , which means that I am responsible for getting tons of filming kit out of the door and safely on location. Since I joined the series, it’s become normal for the Ethiopia team to telephone when I’m jumping on the train on a Friday night, Greenland to text me on a Saturday afternoon, or Mongolia to ring five times before 7am on a Sunday morning.  In fact, on weekends my mobile phone becomes a hot spot of international activity!  So it was no surprise when yet another international number popped up on my mobile screen at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon while I was on a trip to the Welsh countryside.

The phone line wasn’t very good – it had that one-second delay that makes you feel like you are being constantly interrupted by someone with the same voice as you – it was the Jungles team in the Central African Republic.  Their main camera had given in to the humidity of the jungle by developing an electrical fault and needed replacing.   I could see that my relaxing weekend in Wales was coming to an abrupt halt. Boy! Was I was right!

Two hours later I was back in our Bristol office.  Jo Manley, the production coordinator – talking away on two phone lines to two different continents as I entered the room – was already on the case.  Unfortunately, weekends are not the best time to arrange anything, let alone the complicated transport of expensive filming equipment from Bristol to the Bayaka tribe in the heart of Africa, but Jo had done an amazing job and had a replacement camera all ready to go.  ‘Jasper’, Jo said to me across the desk as I sat down, ‘How would you like to go to Cameroon tonight?’  With little time to consider, I said ‘Sure, no problem’and within six hours I was heading down the M4 to Heathrow Terminal 2.

Heathrow Airport. 4am
Heathrow Airport 4am

Once in Cameroon’s capital, Douala, I was to be met at the door of the plane by two of our local fixers, who would collect the camera from me and continue the two-day drive overland with the camera to our crew in the Central African jungle.  Having been relieved of the equipment, I would return on the next plane back to the UK.  Stepping out of the plane and into the thick humid air of the Cameroon capital, I looked around.   There was no sign of our fixers.

Before I knew it I was being ushered through Immigration and Customs. I was without a visa, had £30,000 worth of equipment, claimed to be meeting two men who were notably absent and with a return flight to the UK that departed in just three hours time, so I didn’t blame them for being a little cautious.  I was taken into the office of the Chief of Police and tried to explain myself in the most persuasive French I could muster.

After 30 slow minutes of interrogation, both our fixers arrived and took over the negotiations.  I was banished into the waiting room and as I sat nervously outside the office of the Chief of Police, looking at the shirtless men hanging out of cages just two metres away and the female official with an immigration records book of formidable proportions, I thought back to what I had originally planned for that Sunday afternoon: a jog around the park and a film with a friend.

The office door in front of me opened and the smile on our fixers’ faces told me I was free! Got back on my plane and next thing you know I’m back in the office – it’s Monday morning (I think)  – the start of another normal week on Human Planet.

Doula Airport. Cameroon
Douala Airport