A major success factor is political backing accompanied by the willingness to act, the study shows.

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is an environmental management approach which has been evolving ever since the late 1970s, as a contrast to more sector-based and issue-specific management. EBM takes into account the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, focusing on the system’s tolerance limits, its geographical scope and how, by applying a more ‘holistic’ methodology, we can help to preserve the ecosystem’s structure and function.

Christian PrioThe concept has gained increasing recognition, with many countries, Norway among them, arguing for greater use of EBM. But how well has EBM worked in practice?

A thorough mapping

Experts from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Oslo Metropolitan University (Oslo-Met), and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) – all affiliated with the CIENS research centre – have now systematized the extensive international research conducted on ecosystem-based management.

Access the report: NINA Report: Ecosystem-based management - miracle or mirage?

We found many studies on knowledge/ support tools that can help to facilitate ecosystem-based management. However, fewer studies focused on actual implementation of ecosystem-based management’, explains Øystein Aas, scientist at NINA and head of the research project.

FNI Senior Policy Analyst Christian Prip agrees that many countries still have a long way to go when it comes practical implementation – even though EBM has been internationally acknowledged for decades. Prip continues: 'So why is environmental management still so fragmented many places? What does it take to get more holistic approaches applied to the management of our ecosystems? These questions deserve further scrutiny,’ said Prip.

Different, yet similar

What about the ‘best practice’ cases – are there general lessons to be learned? Two relatively successful examples cited in the report are Norway’s water management system (as laid down in accordance with the EU Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC) and the marine management plans for the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. These cases differ greatly as regards institutional, administrative and legal aspects. However, they share an important similarity: the political will and leadership to help transform knowledge and plans into action.

The review of literature shows that we need to know more about the factors and conditions that can help trigger and promote political will and leadership,’ notes Aas.

New method in environmental research

The report’s literature synthesis was conducted on the basis of quantitative and verifiable methods more common in medical research than in the context of environmental research, at least in Norway. However, the research team found this systematic approach invaluable for their work. Initial searches resulted in 11,755 individual publications issued between January 2005 and May 2019. After having screened and sorted these, the researchers were left with 1071 publications, which were then classified and studied in depth.

Aas emphasizes that the combination of strong archival expertise and a team of researchers from relevant disciplines has been crucial to solving the project assignment, which was commissioned by the Research Council of Norway on behalf of the Norwegian environmental authorities.

Related reading: What we know about ecosystem-based management, and how Norway can succeed (in Norwegian)