GC/GMEF 27 Seeks to Strengthen Science-Policy Interface
Paragraph 88 of the outcome document of Rio+20, “The Future We Want,” indicates a number of principles for UNEP to specify and implement in pursuit of strengthening its role as the leading global environmental authority. Sub-point (d) of this paragraph indicates that UNEP ought to “promote a strong science-policy interface, building on existing international instruments, assessments, panels and information networks…” The concept of a science-policy interface is relatively recent and largely undefined. However, the function of locating or contracting the best scientific research in order to inform the creation of effective policy is a function that strikes to the heart of UNEP’s mandate and is at the core of many of its existing activities.
However, gaps exist in the current landscape for interfacing science and policy. The infrastructure for environmental knowledge interacts with every level of analysis, from the local to the global. Some multilateral environmental agreements have their own subsidiary scientific and technical body, while others do not. The landscape of scientific knowledge on the state of the global environment is fragmented, often leading to difficulties for policy-makers seeking cutting edge science to inform their decisions.
Implementing sub-point (d) of paragraph 88 of the Rio+20 outcome document, then, requires overcoming a number of challenges within the global governance system. As such, implementation may take a number of different forms. One possibility is to create a new independent science-policy body subsidiary to UNEP that would coordinate the scientific research with policy demands. Such a body would be open to a variety of institutional forms in terms of its composition, mandate, and rules of procedure.
Discussions within the working group to implement paragraph 88 tended to focus on an alternative to the creation of a new body. Negotiators sought to strengthen existing institutional arrangements in order to fill gaps within the science-policy interface. In particular, UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process was held up by Switzerland, USA, the EU, Norway, and Brazil as an existing mechanism that may be able to coincide with ministerial meetings in the future. The interaction between the assessment and ministerial community would be a means to strengthen the science-policy interface.
The outcome of the 27th GC/GMEF is unlikely to be the last word on strengthening the science-policy interface. The international community will have its eye on new models for aiding interactions between the two communities, such as the recently established Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), as they can give hints about overcoming gaps in this important issue area.