The IPBES core glossary provides a standard definition for important terms of broad applicability to IPBES outputs. This core glossary does not replace the assessment-specific glossaries, but is complementary to them. It was developed by a glossary committee established for this purpose.

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Term Definition

The IPBES Bureau is a subsidiary body established by the Plenary which carries out the governance functions of the Platform. It is made up of representatives nominated from each of the United Nations regions, and is chaired by the Chair of IPBES.


Meat for human consumption derived from wild animals.

Bushmeat hunting

Bushmeat (or wild meat) hunting is a form of hunting that entails the harvesting of wild animals for food and for non-food purposes, including for medicinal use.

Adapted from definition of the Bushmeat Liaison Group under the Convention on Biological Diversity. See

The commercially undesirable species caught during a fishing process.

Calibration (of models)

The use of observations, or in some cases a reference model, during model development to ensure that the model output compares favourably with the properties of the system being modelled.


An economic policy instrument in which the State sets an overall environmental target (the cap) and assigns environmental impact allowances (or quotas) to actors that they can trade among each other.

Capacity-building (or development)

Defined by the United Nations Development Programme as “the process through which individuals, organisations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain their capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time”. IPBES promotes and facilitates capacity-building, to improve the capacity of countries to make informed policy decisions on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Carbon cycle

The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon is exchanged among the ecosystems of the Earth.

Carbon footprint

A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions, including carbon dioxide equivalents, that is directly and indirectly caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product.

Wiedmann and Minx 2008
Carbon sequestration

The long-term storage of carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean. Carbon sequestration occurs both naturally and as a result of anthropogenic activities and typically refers to the storage of carbon that has the immediate potential to become carbon dioxide gas.

Carbon storage

The biological process by which carbon in the form carbon dioxide is taken up from the atmosphere and incorporated through photosynthesis into different compartments of ecosystems, such as biomass, wood, or soil organic carbon. Also, the technological process of capturing waste carbon dioxide from industry or power generation, and storing it so that it will not enter the atmosphere.

Carbon-lock-in phase

Refers to the tendency for certain carbon-intensive technological systems to persist over time, ‘locking out’ lower-carbon alternatives, and owing to a combination of linked technical, economic, and institutional factors.

Erickson et al. 2015. Assessing carbon lock-in,
Carrying capacity

In ecology, the carrying capacity of a species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely. The term is also used more generally to refer to the upper limit of habitats, ecosystems, landscapes, waterscapes or seascapes to provide tangible and intangible goods and services (including aesthetic and spiritual services) in a sustainable way.

Catalogue of policy support tools and methodologies

The IPBES catalogue of policy support tools and methodologies is an evolving online resource with two main goals. The first goal is to enable decision makers to gain easy access to information on policy support tools and methodologies to better inform and assist the different phases of policy-making and implementation. The second goal is to allow a range of users to provide input to the catalogue and assess the usability of tools and methodologies in their specific contexts, including resources required and types of outputs that can be obtained, thus helping to identify and bridge gaps with respect to available tools and methodologies.


In the context of IPBES, the summary terms to describe the state of knowledge are the following:

  • Well established (Certainty term (q.v.)): comprehensive meta-analysis or other synthesis or multiple independent studies that agree.
  • Established but incomplete (Certainty term (q.v.)): general agreement although only a limited number of studies exist but no comprehensive synthesis and, or the studies that exist imprecisely address the question.
  • Unresolved (Certainty term (q.v.)):  multiple independent studies exist but conclusions do not agree.
  • Inconclusive (Certainty term (q.v.)): limited evidence, recognising major knowledge gaps.

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The IPBES Guide on the production of assessments.

Synthesis of organic compounds (as in living cells) by energy derived from inorganic chemical reactions.

Climate change

As defined in Article 1 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, "a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods".

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992

Process of management in which government shares power with resource users, with each given specific rights and responsibilities relating to information and decision-making.


In the context of the IPBES conceptual framework, this is the joint contribution by nature and anthropogenic assets in generating nature’s contributions to people.

Community-based natural resource management

Community-based natural resource management: an approach to natural resource management that involves the full participation of indigenous peoples’ and local communities and resource users in decision-making activities, and the incorporation of local institutions, customary practices, and knowledge systems in management, regulatory, and enforcement processes. Under this approach, community-based monitoring and information systems are initiatives by indigenous peoples and local community organisations to monitor their community’s well-being and the state of their territories and natural resources, applying a mix of traditional knowledge and innovative tools and approaches.

Conservation agriculture

Approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. It is characterized by three linked principles, namely: 1) continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance; 2) permanent organic soil cover; and 3) diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations. This covers a wide range of approaches from minimum till to permaculture/”mimicking nature”.

Consumer surplus

The difference between the total amount that consumers are willing and able to pay for a good or service (indicated by the demand curve) and the total amount that they actually do pay (i.e. the market price), or the difference between the consumers' willingness to pay for a commodity and the actual price (equilibrium price) they pay.

Correlative model

See "models".


A geographically defined area which allows species to move between landscapes, ecosystems and habitats, natural or modified, and ensures the maintenance of biodiversity and ecological and evolutionary processes.

Central American Commission for Environment and Development

A vision of reality that places the highest importance or emphasis in the universe or nature, as opposite to an anthropocentric vision, which strongly focuses on humankind as the most important element of existence.

Diaz et al. 2015. “The IPBES Conceptual Framework — Connecting Nature and People.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14: 1–16. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2014.11.002

A land cover/use category that includes areas used for the production of crops for harvest.

Cross-scale analysis

Cross-scale effects are the result of spatial and/or temporal processes interacting with other processes at another scale. These interactions create emergent effects that can be difficult to predict.


Relating to interactions between sectors (that is, the distinct parts of society, or of a nation's economy), such as how one sector affects another sector, or how a factor affects two or more sectors.

Customary law

Law consisting of commonly repeated customs, practices and beliefs that are accepted as legal requirements or obligatory rules of conduct.

Adapted from Akwe Kon Voluntary guidelines for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments regarding developments on sacred sites and on lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous or local communities

Breakdown of complex organic substances into simpler molecules or ions by physical, chemical and/or biological processes.


Human-induced conversion of forested land to nonforested land. Deforestation can be permanent, when this change is definitive, or temporary when this change is part of a cycle that includes natural or assisted regeneration.

Kyoto Protocol, Decision 16/CMP.1
Degraded land

Land in a state that results from persistent decline or loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services that cannot fully recover unaided.

Decision IPBES-3/1, annex VIII

Reduction of nitrates and nitrites to nitrogen by microorganisms.


Desertification means land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification does not refer to the natural expansion of existing deserts.

Direct driver

See "driver".


The transformation of information from coarser to finer spatial scales through statistical modelling or spatially nested linkage of structural models.


In the context of IPBES, drivers of change are all the factors that, directly or indirectly, cause changes in nature, anthropogenic assets, nature’s contributions to people and a good quality of life.

  • Direct drivers of change can be both natural and anthropogenic. Direct drivers have direct physical (mechanical, chemical, noise, light etc.) and behaviour-affecting impacts on nature. They include, inter alia, climate change, pollution, different types of land use change, invasive alien species and zoonoses, and exploitation.
  • Indirect drivers are drivers that operate diffusely by altering and influencing direct drivers, as well as other indirect drivers. They do not impact nature directly. Rather, they do it by affecting the level, direction or rate of direct drivers.
  • Interactions between indirect and direct drivers create different chains of relationship, attribution, and impacts, which may vary according to type, intensity, duration, and distance. These relationships can also lead to different types of spill-over effects.
  • Global indirect drivers include economic, demographic, governance, technological and cultural ones. Special attention is given, among indirect drivers, to the role of institutions (both formal and informal) and impacts of the patterns of production, supply and consumption on nature, nature’s contributions to people and good quality of life.

Drylands comprise arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. The term excludes hyper-arid areas, also known as deserts. Drylands are characterised by water scarcity and cover approximately 40 % of the world's terrestrial surface.

Dynamic downscaling

Downscaling based on mechanistic models, which may be more appropriate than statistical downscaling in systems where the relationship between coarse scale and fine scale dynamics are complex and non-linear, or observational data are insufficient.

Dynamic model

See "models".


A discipline which envisions building ecological data sets in the context of a "data life cycle" that encompasses all facets of data generation to knowledge creation, including planning, collection and organization of data, quality assurance and quality control, metadata creation, preservation, discovery, integration, and analysis and visualization.


A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that:
(a) Share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
(b) Share similar environmental conditions, and;
(c) Interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence (source: WWF). In contrast to biomes, an ecoregion is generally geographically specific, at a much finer scale. For example, the “East African Montane Forest” eco-region of Kenya (WWF eco-region classification) is a geographically specific and coherent example of the globally occurring “tropical and subtropical forest” biome.

Ecological (or socio-ecological) breakpoint or threshold

The point at which a relatively small change in external conditions causes a rapid change in an ecosystem. When an ecological threshold has been passed, the ecosystem may no longer be able to return to its state by means of its inherent resilience.
Ecological community

An assemblage or association of populations of two or more different species occupying the same geographical area and in a particular time.

Ecological footprint

A measure of the amount of biologically productive land and water required to support the demands of a population or productive activity. Ecological footprints can be calculated at any scale: for an activity, a person, a community, a city, a region, a nation or humanity as a whole.

Ecological infrastructure

Ecological infrastructure refers to the natural or semi-natural structural elements of ecosystems and landscapes that are important in delivering ecosystem services. It is similar to 'green infrastructure', a term sometimes applied in a more urban context. The ecological infrastructure needed to support pollinators and improve pollination services includes patches of semi-natural habitats, including hedgerows, grassland and forest, distributed throughout productive agricultural landscapes, providing nesting and floral resources. Larger areas of natural habitat are also ecological infrastructure, although these do not directly support agricultural pollination in areas more than a few kilometers away from pollinator-dependent crops.

Economic and financial instruments

Economic and financial instruments can be used to change people’s behavior towards desired policy objectives. Instruments typically encompass a wide range of designs and implementation approaches. They include traditional fiscal instruments, including for example subsidies, taxes, charges and fiscal transfers. Additionally, instruments such as tradable pollution permits or tradable land development rights rely on the creation of new markets. Further instruments represent conditional and voluntary incentive schemes such as payments for ecosystem services. All these can in principle be used to correct for policy or/and market failures and reinstate full-cost pricing. They aim at reflecting social costs or benefits of the conservation and use of biodiversity and ecosystem services of a public good nature (“getting the price right”). Financial instruments, in contrast, are often extra-budgetary and can be financed from domestic sources or foreign aid, external borrowing, debt for nature swaps, etc. Economic instruments do not necessarily imply that commodification of environmental functions is promoted. Generally, they are meant to change behavior of individuals (e.g., consumers and producers) and public actors (e.g., local and regional governments).


A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.

Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
Ecosystem degradation

A long-term reduction in an ecosystem’s structure, functionality, or capacity to provide benefits to people.

Ecosystem function

The flow of energy and materials through the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. It includes many processes such as biomass production, trophic transfer through plants and animals, nutrient cycling, water dynamics and heat transfer.

Adapted from