Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-4hhp2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-27T03:31:40.244Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Engaging with the science and politics of biodiversity futures: a literature review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Carina Wyborn*
Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN Conservation Centre, Switzerland Institute for Water Futures, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Elena Louder
School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, USA
Mike Harfoot
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK
Samantha Hill
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK
Author for Correspondence: Dr Carina Wyborn, Email:


Future global environmental change will have a significant impact on biodiversity through the intersecting forces of climate change, urbanization, human population growth, overexploitation, and pollution. This presents a fundamental challenge to conservation approaches, which seek to conserve past or current assemblages of species or ecosystems in situ. This review canvases diverse approaches to biodiversity futures, including social science scholarship on the Anthropocene and futures thinking alongside models and scenarios from the biophysical science community. It argues that charting biodiversity futures requires processes that must include broad sections of academia and the conservation community to ask what desirable futures look like, and for whom. These efforts confront political and philosophical questions about levels of acceptable loss, and how trade-offs can be made in ways that address the injustices in the distribution of costs and benefits across and within human and non-human life forms. As such, this review proposes that charting biodiversity futures is inherently normative and political. Drawing on diverse scholarship united under a banner of ‘futures thinking’ this review presents an array of methods, approaches and concepts that provide a foundation from which to consider research and decision-making that enables action in the context of contested and uncertain biodiversity futures.

Subject Review
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Foundation for Environmental Conservation

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Abrahms, B, DiPietro, D, Graffis, A, Hollander, A (2017) Managing biodiversity under climate change: challenges, frameworks, and tools for adaptation. Biodiversity and Conservation 26: 22772293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Allain, S, Plumecocq, G, Leenhardt, D (2020) Linking deliberative evaluation with integrated assessment and modelling: a methodological framework and its application to agricultural water management. Futures 120: 102566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amer, M, Daim, TU, Jetter, A (2013) A review of scenario planning. Futures 46: 2340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bai, X, van der Leeuw, S, O’Brien, K, Berkhout, F, Biermann, F, Brondizio, ES, Cudennec, C et al. (2016) Plausible and desirable futures in the Anthropocene: a new research agenda. Global Environmental Change 39: 351362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beck, S, Mahony, M (2017) The IPCC and the politics of anticipation. Nature Climate Change 7: 311313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bengston, DN (2019) Futures research methods and applications in natural resources. Society and Natural Resources 32: 10991113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boulding, E, Boulding, K (1995) The Future: Images and Processes. London, UK: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Boyd, E, Nykvist, B, Borgström, S, Stacewicz, IA (2015) Anticipatory governance for social-ecological resilience. Ambio 44: 149161.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Castree, N (2014) The Anthropocene and geography I: the back story. Geography Compass 8: 436449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Colloff, MJ, Martín-López, B, Lavorel, S, Locatelli, B, Gorddard, R, Longaretti, PY, Walters, G et al. (2017) An integrative research framework for enabling transformative adaptation. Environmental Science & Policy 68: 8796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cook, CN, Inayatullah, S, Burgman, MA, Sutherland, WJ, Wintle, BA (2014) Strategic foresight: how planning for the unpredictable can improve environmental decision-making. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 29: 531541.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Couix, N, Hazard, L (2013) When the future of biodiversity depends on researchers’ and stakeholders’ thought-styles. Futures 53: 1321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cross, MS, Zavaleta, ES, Bachelet, D, Brooks, ML, Enquist, CF, Fleishman, E, Graumlich, LJ et al. (2012) The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework: a tool for incorporating climate change into natural resource management. Environmental Management 50: 341351.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Crutzen, PJ (2002) Geology of Mankind. 415:23.Google ScholarPubMed
Dolez, A, Granjou, C, Louvel, S (2019) On the plurality of environmental regimes of anticipation: insights from forest science and management. Science & Technology Studies 32: 7896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dooley, K, Gupta, A (2017) Governing by expertise: the contested politics of (accounting for) land-based mitigation in a new climate agreement. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 17: 483500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duncan, R (2017) Rescaling knowledge and governance and enrolling the future in New Zealand: a co-production analysis of Canterbury’s water management reforms to regulate diffuse pollution. Society and Natural Resources 30: 436452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dunlop, M, Brown, PR (2008) Implications of Climate Change for Australia’s National Reserve System: A Preliminary Assessment. Report to the Department of Climate Change.Google Scholar
Esguerra, A (2019) Future objects: tracing the socio-material politics of anticipation. Sustainability Science 14: 963971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Granjou, C, Walker, J, Salazar, JF (2017) The politics of anticipation: on knowing and governing environmental futures. Futures 92: 511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guston, DH (2014) Understanding ‘anticipatory governance’. Social Studies of Science 44: 218242.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hagerman, SM, Satterfield, T (2014) Agreed but not preferred: expert views on taboo options for biodiversity conservation, given climate change. Ecological Applications 24: 548559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hamann, M, Biggs, R, Pereira, L, Preiser, R, Hichert, T, Blanchard, R, Warrington-Coetzee, H et al. (2020) Scenarios of good Anthropocenes in southern Africa. Futures 118: 102526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hasegawa, Y, Okabe, K, Taki, H (2018) A scenario approach for ecosystem-service changes. Futures 96: 2331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hirsch, SL (2019) Anticipatory practices: shifting baselines and environmental imaginaries of ecological restoration in the Columbia River Basin. Nature and Space 3: 4057.Google Scholar
Holmes, G (2015) What do we talk about when we talk about biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene? Environment and Society 6: 87108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hulme, M (2010) Cosmopolitan climates: hybridity, foresight and meaning. Theory, Culture & Society 27: 267276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inayatullah, S (1990) Deconstructing and reconstructing the future: predictive, cultural and critical epistemologies. Futures 22: 115141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inayatullah, S. (2002) Reductionism or layered complexity? The futures of futures studies. Futures 34: 295302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inayatullah, S (2008) Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming. Foresight 14: 118 f.Google Scholar
IPBES (2016) The Methodological Assessment Report on Scenarios and Models of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Summary for Policymakers. Bonn, Germany.Google Scholar
IPBES (2019) Summary for Policy Makers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Bonn, Germany.Google Scholar
Jasanoff, S (2004) Ordering knowledge, ordering society. In: States of Knowledge, ed. Jasanoff, S., pp. 1345. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jasanoff, S (2015) Future imperfect: science, technology and the imaginations of modernity. In: Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of the Future, pp. 133. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jasanoff, S, Kim, SH (2009) Containing the atom: sociotechnical Imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva 47: 119146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kelly, R, Sirr, L, Ratcliffe, J (2004) Futures thinking to acheive sustainable development at local level in Ireland. Foresight 6: 8090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kerkhoff, L Van, Múnera, C, Dudley, N, Guevara, O, Wyborn, C, Figueroa, C, Dunlop, M. et al. (2018) Towards future-oriented conservation: managing protected areas in an era of climate change. Ambio 48: 699731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kim, H, Rosa, IMD, Alkemade, R, Leadley, P, Hurtt, G, Popp, A, Van Vuuren, DP et al. (2018) A protocol for an intercomparison of biodiversity and ecosystem services models using harmonized land-use and climate scenarios. Geoscientific Model Development 11: 45374562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lehoux, P, Miller, FA, Williams-Jones, B (2020) Technological forecasting and social change anticipatory governance and moral imagination: methodological insights from a scenario-based public deliberation study. Technological Forecasting & Social Change 151: 119800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lorimer, J (2012) Multinatural geographies for the Anthropocene. Progress in Human Geography 36: 593612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lorimer, J (2017) The Anthropo-scene: a guide for the perplexed. Social Studies of Science 47: 117142.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lorimer, J, Sandom, C, Jepson, P, Doughty, CE, Barua, M, Kirby, K (2015) Rewilding: science, practice, and politics. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 40: 3962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lövbrand, E, Beck, S, Chilvers, J, Forsyth, T, Hedrén, J, Hulme, M, Lidskog, R, Vasileiadou, E (2015) Who speaks for the future of Earth? How critical social science can extend the conversation on the Anthropocene. Global Environmental Change 32: 211218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mace, GM, Barrett, M, Burgess, ND, Cornell, SE, Freeman, R, Grooten, M, Purvis, A (2018) Aiming higher to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. Nature Sustainability 1: 448451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Malm, A, Hornborg, A (2014) The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative. Anthropocene Review 1: 6269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Di Marco, M, Harwood, TD, Hoskins, AJ, Ware, C, Hill, SLL, Ferrier, S (2019) Projecting impacts of global climate and land-use scenarios on plant biodiversity using compositional-turnover modelling. Global Change Biology 25: 27632788.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mathews, AS, Barnes, J (2016) Prognosis: visions of environmental futures. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22: 926.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mawdsley, J (2011) Design of conservation strategies for climate adaptation. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 2: 498515.Google Scholar
Miller, R (2007) Futures literacy: a hybrid strategic scenario method. Futures 39: 341362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Newbold, T (2018) Future effects of climate and land-use change on terrestrial vertebrate community diversity under different scenarios. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285: 20180792.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
O’Neill, BC, Kriegler, E, Riahi, K, Ebi, KL, Hallegatte, S, Carter, TR, Mathur, R et al. (2014) A new scenario framework for climate change research: the concept of shared socioeconomic pathways. Climatic Change 122: 387400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pelletier, F, Coltman, DW (2018) Will human influences on evolutionary dynamics in the wild pervade the Anthropocene?. BMC Biology 16: 7.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pereira, L, Hichert, T, Hamann, M, Preiser, R, Biggs, R (2018) Using futures methods to create transformative spaces: visions of a good anthropocene in Southern Africa. Ecology and Society 23.Google Scholar
Pereira, L, Sitas, N, Ravera, F, Jimenez-Aceituno, A, Merrie, A (2019) Building capacities for transformative change towards sustainability: imagination in intergovernmental science-policy scenario processes. Elem Sci Anth 7: 35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Prober, SM, Doerr, VAJ, Broadhurst, LM, Williams, KJ, Dickson, F (2019) Shifting the conservation paradigm: a synthesis of options for renovating nature under climate change. Ecological Monographs 89: 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Prober, SM, Williams, KJ, Broadhurst, LM, Doerr, VAJ (2017) Nature conservation and ecological restoration in a changing climate: what are we aiming for? Rangeland Journal 39: 477486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rhisiart, M, Miller, R, Brooks, S (2015) Technological forecasting & social change learning to use the future: developing foresight capabilities through scenario processes. Technological Forecasting & Social Change 101: 124133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robbins, P, Moore, SA (2013) Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene. Cultural Geographieseographies 20: 319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosa, IMD, Pereira, HM, Ferrier, S, Alkemade, R, Acosta, LA, Akcakaya, HR, Den Belder, E et al. (2017) Multiscale scenarios for nature futures. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1: 14161419.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Serrao-Neumann, S, Harman, BP, Choy, DL (2013) The role of anticipatory governance in local climate adaptation: observations from Australia. Planning and Practice Research 28: 440462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sharpe, B, Hodgson, A, Leicester, G, Lyon, A, Fazey, I (2016) Three horizons: a pathways practice for transformation. Ecology and Society 21: 47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shin, Y-J, Arneth, A, Chowdury, RR, Midgley, GF (2019) Plausible futures of nature, its contributions to people and their good quality of life. In: Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Bonn, Germany.Google Scholar
Slaughter, RA (2020) Farewell alternative futures?. Futures 121: 102496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Staudinger, MD, Grimm, NB, Staudt, A, Carter, SL, Chapin, FS, Kareiva, P, Ruckelshaus, M et al. (2013) Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services Technical Input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment.Google Scholar
Stein, BA, Staudt, A, Cross, MS, Dubois, NS, Enquist, C, Griffis, R, Hansen, LJ et al. (2013) Preparing for and managing change: climate adaptation for biodiversity and ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 502510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stirling, A (2008) ‘Opening up’ and ‘closing down’: power, participation, and pluralism in the social appraisal of technology. Science, Technology & Human Values 33: 262294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sutherland, WJ, Dias, MP, Dicks, LV, Doran, H, Entwistle, AC, Fleishman, E, Gibbons, DW et al. (2020) A horizon scan of emerging global biological conservation issues for 2020. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 35: 8190.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wapner, P (2014) The changing nature of nature: environmental politics in the Anthropocene. Global Environmental Politics 14: 1035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wilson, KA, Law, EA (2016) Ethics of conservation triage. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 4: 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wyborn, C, van Kerkhoff, L, Dunlop, M, Dudley, N, Guevara, O (2016) Future oriented conservation: knowledge governance, uncertainty and learning. Biodiversity and Conservation 25: 14011408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yung, L, Louder, E, Gallagher, LA, Jones, K, Wyborn, C (2019) How methods for navigating uncertainty connect science and policy at the water-energy-food nexus. Frontiers in Environmental Science 7.Google Scholar