04 Jul 2023
Venue: International Environment House I & Online | Webex
This event, organized by the Geneva Science-Policy Interface in collaboration with the Geneva Environment Network, discussed the strengths and limits of global intergovernmental science-policy interfaces. The session, open to all stakeholders, was included in the programme of the University of Geneva Summer School on "Science-Policy Interfaces for Environmental Solutions: Learning to Span Boundaries".
About this Event
The triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are complex and intertwined, calling for active engagement between scientists and policy actors towards science-informed solutions.
This roundtable will discuss the strengths and limits of existing global intergovernmental science-policy interfaces: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It will also explore the stakes and challenges linked to this type of boundary organization notably for the creation of new interfaces such as the science-policy panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention.
The session was organized by the Geneva Science-Policy Interface in collaboration with the Geneva Environment Network, and was included in the programme of the University of Geneva Summer School on “Science-Policy Interfaces for Environmental Solutions: Learning to Span Boundaries”. It is open to all stakeholders.
About the Geneva Summer School
To tackle the triple planetary crisis, a great number of stakeholders need specific skills and capacities to navigate the science-policy interface related to environmental governance towards ecological transition. In this context, International Geneva is host to a rather unique ecosystem that creates opportunities for science to join the policy table and for policy to inform science on knowledge gaps, thus allowing to pair knowledge and action for the common good across a wide pool of expertise.
The Geneva Summer School on “Science-Policy Interfaces for Environmental Solutions: Learning to Span Boundaries“, offers an opportunity for early career researchers, policy professionals and civil society actors to:
- Explore how science-policy interfaces work in practice in the environmental field
- Learn about strategies, practices, and skills required to span the boundary between science and policy and apply these to the context(s) of participants
- Get practical advice and experience from actors working at the science-policy interface
- Network with experts and practitioners from the international Geneva ecosystem
Professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Central European University (CEU) | Vice Chair of IPCC’s Working Group III
Professor of Sociology of Science, at the Technical University of Munich | Author for IPBES Transformative Change Assessment
Professor of Environmental Chemistry at Masaryk University & Senior Scientist at ETH Zurich | Chair of the Board, International Panel on Chemical Pollution
Science-Policy Officer, Geneva Science-Policy Interface | Moderator
Mialy RANN | Science-Policy Officer, Geneva Science-Policy Interface | Moderator
- The Geneva Science-Policy Interface is an initiative of the University of Geneva created five years ago with the support of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs. Our mandate is to support collaboration between and among scientists and policymakers to have science-informed policy.
- The summer school is a part of one of our streams of activities (capacity-building and training activities), but we also have calls for projects and we produce some insights on science-policy dynamics.
- We have this session because global science-policy panels are key to the interface between science and policies. It’s important for students to understand more what those global panels because in the environmental field, it is flourishing. We have the IPCC, IPBES, the upcoming panel on chemicals, waste and pollution prevention, and on ocean sustainability.
- At this stage, it’s important to understand what we have gained from these panels thus far. Speakers today can explore the functioning and the impact of this panel, including what works and what works a bit less. We call scientists that are actively engaged at the interface between science and policy in our field boundary spanners.
Panel Discussion: What are the strengths of these panels?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ, Vice Chair of IPCC’s Working Group III and professor | Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy Central European University
- IPCC formed 30 years ago to consolidate and inform global climate change policy. Its scope has expanded over time, now covering a wide range of fields related to climate change. Its three working groups produce assessment reports every six to seven years, synthesizing and evaluating the science.
- The IPCC’s assessment reports have left a lasting impact, contributing to the establishment of the UN framework on climate change, shaping the Kyoto Protocol, highlighting the significance of adaptation, and gaining global acceptance for the two-degree Celsius limit. They also played a crucial role in the success of the Paris Agreement.
- In 2007, the expert group was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for its efforts in strengthening global climate literacy.
- The IPCC follows a comprehensive process of knowledge co-generation, involving scientists and some policymakers in scoping meetings to shape the reports’ questions.
- The outline of the reports is jointly formed by governments and authors, enhancing policymakers’ engagement and interest in the report’s content. The review processes are transparent and inclusive, inviting inputs from the entire scientific community to address biases and strengthen the reports’ credibility.
- The IPCC’s success lies in its ability to provide policy-relevant information without being prescriptive, based on voluntary contributions, balanced authorship, and strict funding and communication policies, maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of its scientific findings.
Silke BECK | Professor of Sociology of Science, at the Technical University of Munich | Author for IPBES Transformative Change Assessment
- The absence of an International Panel of experts for biodiversity raised questions among biologists and ecologists in the early 2000s. The success of the IPCC, though not directly replicable due to the dynamic nature of science policy interfaces, was remarkable and intriguing for the field of biodiversity and ecosystems.
- The key idea behind IPBES creation in 2012 was to design a new science-policy interface on those subjects, bringing together diverse experts from ecological, natural, and social sciences, including diverse stakeholders. The key aspect was also to move beyond assessments to address a broader range of functions, actors, and decision-making scales.
- With a mission to provide knowledge for decision-making, IPBES is currently working on its second work program hand-in-hand with various international organizations, government contributions, and decision-making powers. The panel often moves beyond assessments and engages in policy support and capacity building, and identifies knowledge gaps for future development.
- IPBES draws its strengths from the successful IPCC model while incorporating innovative approaches that embrace other voices and new conceptual frameworks. Notably, IPBES did a great job to involve communities around the globe, particularly in recognizing local knowledge and working with Indigenous people.
Martin SCHERINGER | Professor of Environmental Chemistry at Masaryk University & Senior Scientist at ETH Zurich | Chair of the Board, International Panel on Chemical Pollution
- The IPCP, International Panel on Chemical Pollution, is a global network of academic scientists working on chemical pollution issues from various disciplines, established as an NGO in 2008.
- Initially, it was a small club of individuals considering that pollution problems were not recognized in many parts of the UN policies and countries’ governments.
- The idea of an intergovernmental panel gained momentum five years ago. The Swiss government tasked the IPCP with mapping and analyzing existing science-policy interface bodies in the chemicals and waste domain.
- The IPCP ran a successful sign-on campaign, gathering support from scientists worldwide (85+ countries). In 2022, a meeting resulted in the resolution to establish the panel.
This panel was formed to address the following reasons:
- Underprotective chemical assessments in all jurisdictions, which results in an underestimation of the impact of chemicals on human health and the environment.
- Insufficient visibility and inclusion of chemical pollution in international and national environmental policies.
- The necessity for a structured interaction between science and policymaking to bridge the gap that often leads to misleading information and doubt about facts concerning critical issues.
The existing success of this Panel includes:
- Setting up the operating principles.
- Building the panel’s reputation.
- Providing input that led to impactful decisions.
Panel Discussion: What have been the limits and challenges of this panel? How were these addressed?
- Working in a large intergovernmental body based on consensus can lead to addressing only the largest common denominators, leaving out extreme scenarios with low likelihood but high implications.
- Institutional change within the IPCC is challenging, but it may also be seen as a strength if the current system is successful.
- Integrating likelihood and uncertainty in addressing climate change events is essential but challenging.
- Communication has become more complex with various social media platforms, and responding to comments and questions poses a significant challenge.
- Ensuring sufficient inclusivity to involve perspectives from the Global South and to incorporate the voices of youth and early-career scientists is an ongoing effort.
- Conflicts of interest: the panel requires everyone to annually disclose detailed conflict of interest information, which is then published openly and transparently. Balancing the diverse interests and stakeholders can be challenging in this process.
- The panel faces a tradeoff between achieving scientific excellence and policy relevance. Speaking with one voice helps produce more salient knowledge but may lead to common denominator solutions, overlooking diverse views, particularly from indigenous and local knowledge.
- Overcoming inequitable structures limiting participation from indigenous people requires efforts to bring them in and engage with diverse stakeholders more ethically and equitably. The same applies to other categories such as gender and geopolitics.
There is no simple solution, but progress can be made through inclusive and ethical engagement.
- The panel faces challenges related to “paralysis by analysis”, which we can describe as the fear of making an error due to the diverse and fragmented nature of data and information sources. It can hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of the process but is inherent to the work of the panel.
- Handling conflicts of interest, particularly with the chemical industry, is a significant concern, requiring strict and effective conflict-of-interest policies and transparency.
- Another challenge is ensuring that scientific outcomes maintain their scientific complexity and validity on the policy side and that assessments are not prescriptive but still policy-relevant.
Panel Discussion: Balancing policy relevance vs policy-prescription
- The panel aims to be policy-relevant by providing assessments and knowledge to inform policy decisions without being prescriptive in dictating specific government actions.
- Importance of acknowledging conflicts of interest, differentiating between personal biases and industry conflicts of interest in discussions
- There is no consensus on whether the panel should address transformative change or remain neutral, and balancing the interests of various stakeholders and governments is difficult.
- Both IPCC and IPBES are addressing the topic of transformation, recognizing the need for fundamental changes on a global scale due to scientific evidence indicating complex and interconnected challenges. While the concept of transformative change is under debate, both organizations have conducted assessments to understand its implications.
- Science policy interfaces should focus on finding solutions and be open to different ways of thinking. This means being ready to adapt to unexpected changes and considering various types of knowledge in their assessments.
- Disagreed with the idea that everyone has conflicts of interest, asserting that biases are different from industry conflicts of interest.
Q: What do you think could be the structural revolution at IPCC to make it more inclusive?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: States that she never said IPCC is not inclusive enough. The issues are rooted in a more general problem: economic culture, publication culture, and capacity issues. We need to cooperate and address these problems together.
Q: How can does three panels collaborate and communicate integrated in holistic messages and also avoiding the misuse of science?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: On the agenda, we do want a stronger cooperation. Fine line where you focus your attention. As everyone is voluntary, it is less attention on the focus work. We also need science cooperating more, sufficient integration between these different fields of science.
Martin SCHERINGER: Closer integration of scientific research is needed, particularly in the areas of biodiversity and chemical pollution. The scientific level of integration is crucial for effective science policy interfaces. Open communication, listening, and effort are necessary to establish these interfaces between disciplines.
Silke BECK: It is crucial to find a balanced approach when considering the idea of a “super panel” that includes multiple advisory bodies like IPBES and IPCC. Deepening expertise in specific areas is essential to create robust scientific assessments. Instead of a single super panel, I propose a nested network and a well-structured system where different bodies can interact and cooperate. This way, we can address linkages and trade-offs effectively. The existing frameworks, such as the United Nations, the UN General Assembly, and the Sustainable Development Goals, can be leveraged to assess interlinkages and ensure a coherent system.
Q: What was the mechanism for the joint establishment of the IPCC by WMO and UNEP?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: The mechanism for the joint establishment of the IPCC by WMO and UNEP was not discussed in detail, but stronger collaboration between different UN bodies is on the agenda for the future.
Q: Are the authors of the reports remunerated? Who nominates and selects the authors?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: None of the authors are remunerated, and it is the governments who nominate authors, while the selection process is done by the Bureau. IPBES processes are similar.
Q: How can AI and new technologies be leveraged to improve the performance of these panels and accelerate the assessment process?
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: AI, IT and digitalization can be beneficial, and exploring their potential is on the agenda of IPCC for the future.
Martin SCHERINGER: AI can be used for efficiency and streamlining, but human intelligence remains at the bottleneck as it requires human judgment and experience.
Silke BECK: AI can be used in various ways, but it should be used responsibly, and it cannot replace human intelligence entirely.
Question: How can early career researchers and policy actors be involved in these panels?
Silke BECK: Early career researchers can get involved by applying for fellowship programs, internships at the secretariats or technical support units, conducting research on relevant topics, and publishing in leading journals. There are also stakeholder workshops and opportunities for non-scientific actors to participate.
Martin SCHERINGER: Early career researchers can volunteer and offer support to coordinating lead authors, but involvement requires extra effort and time as it involves understanding policy processes.
Diana ÜRGE-VORSATZ: Early career scientists can volunteer in various capacities, from chapter scientists, members to authors themselves, and it is an outstanding opportunity for those who are enthusiastic and committed. Young academic organizations can also become observers to the IPCC.
- Science-Policy Interfaces for Environmental Solutions: Learning to Span Boundaries | Geneva Summer School
- Developing a Global Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Pollution Prevention
- Strengthening The Science-Policy Interface In International Chemicals Governance: A Mapping and Gap Analysis | IPCP | 2019
- Towards an Intergovernmental Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) | Martin Scheringer | 2007
- We need a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste. Major gaps in current efforts limit policy responses | Zhanyun Wang, Rolf Altenburger, Thomas Backhaus, Adrian Covaci, Miriam L. Diamond, Joan O. Grimalt, Rainer Lohmann, Andreas Schäffer, Martin Scheringer | 2021
- Participation and inclusiveness in the Intergovernmental Science–Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services | I. Díaz-Reviriego, E. Turnhout & S. Beck | 2019
- Science-Policy Interface: Beyond Assessments | Mike Hulme , Martin Mahony, Silke Beck, et al. | 2011
- Six Recommendations for Early Career Professionals to Join Work at the Science–Policy Interface: Collective Experience from Academic, Governmental, and NGO Scientists | Mengjiao Wang, Christopher Green, and Zhanyun Wang | 2022
- IPBES Fellowship Programme