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In recognition of our inability to halt damaging ecosystem change (1–4), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was asked in December 2010 to convene a meeting “to determine modalities and institutional arrangements” of a new assessment body, akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to track causes and consequences of anthropogenic ecosystem change (5). The “blueprint” for this body, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), lies in recommendations of an intergovernmental conference held in the Republic of Korea in June 2010: the Busan outcome (6). But it is a blueprint for governance rather than science. Using the experience from past assessments of global biodiversity and ecosystem services change (1, 7, 8) and from the IPCC (9–11), we ask what the policy-oriented charges in the Busan outcome imply for the science of the assessment process.