Commission on Sustainable Development Background Paper No. 21 Sixth Session 20 April - 1 May 1998 REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY PROCESSES ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Jan-Stefan Fritz 1/ (1/ This report was prepared for UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, United Nations Environment Programme, under contract, by Jan-Stefan Fritz, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom. The document contains the views expressed by the author acting in his individual capacity and may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or the United Nations Environment Programme.) I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. A fundamental part of reconciling human development with environmental protection involves better understanding the relations between the two. Scientists have played an indispensable role in advising policy makers and managers on the most current state of knowledge regarding these issues. In fact, the role of international scientific advisory processes is increasing. However, as the importance of scientific advice grows, so too must some important questions be answered. For example, is the best advice available for each purpose and is it delivered as effectively as possible? Does this advice reflect the concerns and needs of policy-makers? This report is a first step toward answering these questions. It compares many of the existing international scientific advisory processes and makes general observations on their work and character. The aim is to provide a basis for discussion about how to make scientific advice more effective in the future. 2. Based on the comparative analysis, several general observations can be made. First, what constitutes scientific advice varies greatly, depending on the circumstances. As a means to ensuring the usefulness of advice in each circumstance, both scientists and policy-makers have to make their expectations clearer to each other. Second, the emphasis should be on the 'intellectual independence' of scientific advice rather than its institutional separation. Some of the most successful scientific advisory processes are those that maintain close relations with policy-making. Thus, dialogue should be encouraged between scientists and policy-makers. Third, under certain circumstances scientific advisory processes can provide valuable opportunities for scientific capacity-building in the training of new international experts. The opportunities for this might be explored in future. Fourth, despite receiving so much attention, there still exists some duplication and many gaps in the work of scientific advisory bodies. Fifth, environmental observing has become less of a priority for scientific advisory bodies in recent years, and yet the data necessary for sound scientific advice are often lacking. At a time when the complexity of issues is increasing, efforts should be made to reverse this trend. Finally, though the internet is an invaluable source of information, there is as yet no mechanism for standardizing the amount and quality of information provided to make it an accessible and reliable source of scientific advice. II. INTRODUCTION 3. As Task-Manager for Chapter 35 of Agenda 21, which addresses the role of science, UNESCO has been responsible for regularly updating the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) on progress since 1992. In line with Agenda 21, UNESCO is targeting four main areas in its reports: a. strengthening the scientific basis for sustainable development; b. enhancing scientific understanding; c. improving long-term scientific assessment; and d. building scientific capacity and capability. 4. Among the major requirements needed to achieve progress in these areas are an increased awareness and effective structuring of international scientific advisory processes. Based on UNESCO's reports and the priorities of Agenda 21, several guiding principles for what is expected of scientific advice by policy-makers, can be identified for the purposes of this analysis: a. the advice must be delivered in manner comprehensible to 'non-scientists'; b. the process of formulating and proffering scientific advice must be flexible to evolve as the relevant problem areas do; c. scientific assessments must be interdisciplinary and inclusive reflecting both natural and social sciences as well as an understanding of technological developments and local or indigenous knowledge; d. scientific advice must be formulated on an interactive basis so that it meets the needs of policy-making; e. scientific advisory processes must be developed as long-term processes rather than being short-term and lacking follow-up; f. in order for advice to be globally appropriate and effective over the longer term, scientific education and activity, and the processes to draw on it for advisory purposes, must be geographically decentralized to involve the broadest number of individuals and groups possible; and g. the above processes must be mutually reinforcing so that, for example, flexible scientific advice always seeks to involve individuals on an interactive basis over the longer term. A. The advisory processes considered here 5. Only those bodies that contribute directly to international policy-making processes as mediated by international organizations are considered here. The focus is on those bodies in particular whose work involves or relates to the United Nations system. Thus science advisory bodies which are bilateral or regional are not considered. Moreover, other important contributions, such as national reports on Agenda 21 follow-up, are not included. Since this short report is intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive, certain important bodies which otherwise fit within the framework here, have not been discussed, such as the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). A more comprehensive review would be desirable in the future. 6. The following is a list of advisory processes considered here and described further in UNEP Technical Paper on the subject: a. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) (1955); b. Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (1969); c. Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (1969); d. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973); e. Scientific Council of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (1979); f. Assessment Panels of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987); g. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1988); h. Technical Working Group of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (1989); I. Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility (1991); j. Global Observing Systems - The Global Climate Observing System (1992), the Global Ocean Observing System (1993) and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (1996); k. Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992); l. Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992); m. Committee on Science and Technology of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (1994); n. Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (1994); o. Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (1997); p. Major environmental assessment reports of recent years. 7. Bearing in mind that information is more readily available for some bodies as for others, this report aims to provide points for discussion, rather than a definitive comparative analysis. II. COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS 8. The contribution of science to policy-making is often assumed to be a relatively straightforward matter. That is, scientists first collect data and information as a basis for making assessments. The assessments are passed on to policy-makers who then consider these in making decisions. In practice, however, there exist a great variety of international scientific advisory processes. Using illustrative examples, this analysis compares and contrasts the various purposes for which scientific advisory processes are established, who establishes them, who participates in them, and what is the nature of their outputs. The main themes emerging from the analysis are summarized in the form of general observations. A. The diversity of existing processes and what can be expected of them 9. In broad terms, advisory processes are established for several reasons. These can be grouped within four categories ranging from those that are intergovernmental policy-making processes drawing extensively on scientific information, to policy-relevant scientific initiatives which are not tied to intergovernmental negotiations. 1. Science-based policy-making processes 10. These processes are created specifically to enable governments to build a basic policy consensus in order to facilitate negotiations in an issue area. In that process, they do tend to draw on scientific knowledge as background information. Although many participants may be scientists, they are appointed by governments usually to represent government positions. 11. Examples of such processes include the Intergovernmental Forums on Chemical Safety and on Forests. Each was established as a meeting of government representatives. The IFF is seeking to build a policy consensus on the sustainable development of all kinds of forest, possibly towards initiating negotiations on a convention on forests. The IFCS is working primarily on individual issues such as persistent organic pollutants within its broader scope. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was also established as a body of this type, but its work now more closely fits into the assessment category. 2. Assessment processes 12. Assessment processes are also scientific processes. Through the assessment process, the global scientific community is mobilized to establish the current peer-reviewed scientific knowledge on a specific issue, including an identification of major gaps in scientific knowledge. Participants are almost exclusively scientists acting in their capacity as experts, rather than government representatives. They prepare reports on the state of the environment and sustainable development or some specific sector, often on an interdisciplinary basis. While most assessment processes are geared towards assisting policy-making or implementation, they are independent from treaty bodies and intergovernmental negotiations. 13. Perhaps the most prominent example of an assessment process is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was established under the auspices of WMO and UNEP, and composed of government representatives, to assess the state of knowledge on climate change on an ongoing basis. While IPCC provides assessment reports, technical papers and other advice to signatories of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is otherwise an entirely separately constituted body. Over time, the IPCC has grown to involve many hundreds of experts. The subsidiary processes of the biodiversity and desertification conventions have looked to IPCC as a model for assessments to be undertaken in their own fields. 14. Some conventions have mandated assessments, such as under the Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. The Parties implemented the assessment process through a Scientific Assessment Panel and an Environmental Effects Assessment Panel. The Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1994 was the product of 295 scientists from the developed and developing world who contributed to its preparation and review; 230 scientists prepared the report and 147 scientists participated in the peer review process. It assessed the status of the ozone layer, UV-B radiation, causes of ozone depletion and examined options to reverse the depletion. 15. The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) is another example of an assessment process. GESAMP is a joint initiative of eight United Nations organizations. Members are appointed in their individual capacity by each of the sponsors. The group's aim is to prepare marine environmental assessments and frame these in policy-relevant terms. 16. Increasingly, major assessment reports are being published by intergovernmental organizations, based on processes compiling scientific data and knowledge. Prominent examples of such reports include UNEP's Global Biodiversity Assessment, Global Environment Outlook-1, and World Atlas of Desertification; the UN Division of Sustainable Development's Critical Trends; IPCC's Climate Change 1995; FAO's Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; and the International Maritime Organization's Global Waste Survey. The Freshwater Resources Assessment was prepared by the Subcommittee on Freshwater Resources of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, in cooperation with the Stockholm Environment Institute. The World Resources 1996-1997 report was principally written by an NGO, the World Resources Institute, in cooperation with UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank. These assessments vary in scope and depth, ranging from large-scale assessments involving over 1000 people (for example, the Global Environment Outlook and the Global Biodiversity Assessment) to small groups working in consultation with selected individuals. Given the increasing number of such assessments, it seems important, for future reference, to study the cost-effectiveness of the various methods used in producing these reports. 17. Lastly, the international scientific community, through non-governmental organizations, has also initiated assessment processes that are policy relevant. Among the most prominent examples of such a process is the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of the International Council of Scientific Unions. SCOPE sometimes involves policy-makers in its projects, though its activities are never tied to intergovernmental negotiations. 3. Scientific and technical advisory bodies 18. These are scientific processes established with very specific mandates to prepare technical guidelines or other specific outputs. Most often, scientific and technical advisory bodies are created by parties to treaties to provide scientific and technical information needed for intergovernmental negotiations and implementation of conventions. 19. Most, though not all, treaty-related scientific and technical subsidiary bodies fall within this category. This includes the subsidiary bodies of the conventions on climate change, trade in hazardous materials, ozone depletion, as well as endangered and migratory species. The parties to each treaty appoint representatives to participate in meetings of these bodies, normally in their individual expert capacity, though sometimes also to specifically represent government policy. In all cases, with the exception of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the parties established a formal standing body. In the case of CITES, the member states did not establish any separate body, choosing instead to rely on what is provided by national governments (each of which established scientific authorities in accordance with CITES) and, in particular, existing NGOs like the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. 20. Another example is the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Since the GEF review of 1994, STAP has been an independent advisory body with a secretariat at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi. It is notable for having developed a highly organized institutional structure for providing GEF with advice on scientific and technical matters as well as for reviewing proposals for funding. 4. Environmental observing systems 21. In addition to the three categories above which aim to review and synthesize scientific information, environmental observing systems draw on scientific advice to collect, collate and disseminate data and information. Although in the past some observation programmes principally addressed scientific concerns, this has begun to change since advisory processes falling into the previous categories increasingly require, on an ongoing basis, timely information on the state of the environment. 22. Perhaps the most prominent global environmental observing processes are the Global Observing Systems, designed by extensive networks of scientific panels and working groups and implemented under the guidance of steering committees of scientific experts. Three systems exist addressing climate (GCOS), oceans (GOOS) and land (GTOS). Although each system was established by different groups of sponsoring organizations, they are now closely coordinating their work. Together, they aim to provide information on the state of the environment with focus on both current and emerging policy concerns. The Global Ocean Observing System has even created an Intergovernmental Committee to enhance the policy relevance of its work. 5. The need to establish clear expectations 23. The fact that there exists a diversity of scientific advisory processes, raises the issue of the type of advice that is expected in different circumstances. These expectations are not always addressed in clear terms. 24. In 1990, the then Chair of IPCC, Bert Bolin, argued that the expectations of scientific advice had to be clarified. He advised policy-makers that if requests were to be made of IPCC, then they should distinguish between what could be provided quickly, usually based on what was gleaned from existing reports, and more complex questions involving more than one working group which would also take much more time. 1/ Bolin's premise in making this statement was that often what is expected from scientific advisory bodies, IPCC in particular, is not always clear. 25. This situation may improve with experience. The 1995 request from the Parties to the Montreal Protocol to its assessment panels requested updates to their reports with specific emphases. 26. From the perspective of policy-makers, the advice offered by scientists has also not always been framed in terms useful for decision-making. It is commonly accepted that many earlier environmental monitoring programmes failed on this account. There is a need in some cases for both a clearer understanding by scientists of what precisely is expected from them, and clearer expectations by policy-makers of what scientific advice can or cannot, should or should not, provide in support of their decision-making processes. 6. Can scientific consensus be expected? 27. One recurring expectation is the need for scientific consensus as a prerequisite to finding political consensus. The debate on the need for reaching a consensus is most heated when broad assessments are requested. For example, IPCC assessments have been highly controversial in policy-making. It seems the debate is less heated and more often resolved on very specific issues. For example, the Montreal Protocol is often hailed as a success because of the scientific consensus that was achieved on the need to phase out CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. Some processes, such as intergovernmental forums, for example on forests, are attempting to pre-empt this discussion by seeking to build first a basic political consensus so as to facilitate negotiations in an issue area. 28. Building a scientific consensus can be a problematic expectation. A permanent consensus cannot be expected if the aim is to better understand an issue and to improve this understanding over time. It seems logical that the more complex an issue, the less possible total consensus is. The Committee on Science and Technology of the Desertification Convention is an interesting body in this context. Despite its difficulties in establishing a roster of experts (discussed below), it is among the few bodies aiming to include more than the natural sciences. The second Committee meeting is to be dedicated to traditional knowledge. The move to include traditional knowledge is not normally what is expected from scientific advisory processes. It changes what constitutes a consensus. However, it is being recognized that traditional knowledge can serve to improve the understanding of the relevant environmental and human processes, thereby also improving policy outcomes. A consensus based only on science would lead to a different understanding of the problem and different policy. 29. What constitutes a scientific consensus not only changes when other forms of knowledge are included, but also through what sciences are included. For example, GESAMP has recognized the need to look more broadly at environmental issues - it changed the 'P' in its acronym from referring to 'pollution' to 'environmental protection'. GESAMP focuses only on the natural sciences, as do most scientific advisory bodies. Overall, however, there is an emerging recognition that the complexity of sustainable development related issues cannot be addressed by the natural sciences alone. Instead, they must be addressed on an interdisciplinary basis, including the social sciences as well as other forms of knowledge. Further study is needed to consider the growing role of social scientists and other knowledge-based communities in offering policy advice. B. Who establishes them and how do they relate to each other? 30. What is expected from a scientific advisory process is often linked to how and by whom a process was established. In turn, these influence how the various processes relate to one another and who participates in them. From the range of processes considered here, three basic sources of initiative can be identified: governments, intergovernmental organizations, and international non-governmental organizations. (a) Governments directly appoint and govern the workings of many scientific advisory panels. In particular treaty-related scientific advice falls under this category, including bodies related to the conventions covering Hazardous Materials, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Ozone, as well as Endangered and Migratory Species. As discussed above, normally - except in the case of CITES - the institutional structure of treaty-related scientific advisory processes is determined by their respective Conference of the Parties (COP). Intergovernmental forums are another category of government-initiated mechanisms that are less formal than treaty bodies. The Intergovernmental Forums on Chemical Safety and on Forests, as well as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were each established as a meeting of government representatives, though in some cases they have developed a character beyond the 'world of diplomacy'. The IPCC has grown to involve many hundreds of individuals, while the other two forums continue to be rather smaller. (b) Other advisory processes are established under the auspices of Intergovernmental Organizations. Examples of these include GESAMP, the Scientific and Technological Advisory Panel (STAP) of GEF, and the Global Observing Systems. Although each serves a substantially different purpose, all were established by or within intergovernmental organizations. This does not mean that they are separate from intergovernmental negotiations or do not include government representatives. However, none is tied exclusively, over the longer term, or directly, to a particular set of intergovernmental negotiations. GESAMP and the Global Observing Systems are both the products of joint initiatives of intergovernmental organizations and represent attempts to frame international scientific cooperation in policy relevant terms. The Global Ocean Observing System has established an Intergovernmental Committee to provide overall direction. Since the GEF review of 1994, STAP has been an independent advisory body established by GEF with a secretariat at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi. STAP is a standing body that has developed a highly organized institutional structure for providing GEF with advice on scientific and technical matters as well as reviewing proposals from that perspective. The major assessment reports referred to earlier are also produced by, or in collaboration with, intergovernmental organizations drawing on scientific knowledge. (c) Finally, the international scientific community, through non-governmental organizations, is also involved in giving scientific advice. The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) is taken as an example of such a programme. Sponsored by the International Council of Scientific Unions, SCOPE is among the few initiatives of the international scientific community to provide assessments that are specifically intended to be policy relevant. 1. The problem of coordination 31. Since the creation of the United Nations, there has been a continuous debate about how best to coordinate the activities being carried out under its auspices. 2/ Despite this ongoing debate, the relations between the various groups of processes listed above continue to be unsystematic. This is not a critical matter in the case of certain assessment reports and the more technical advisory processes - for example, the Basel Convention, the Montreal Protocol or CITES. This is not to say they should exist separately, but in these cases the specific issue or technical guidelines at hand provide the focus that is necessary for targeting scientific advice in an appropriate manner. There has in fact been some coordination between more technical assessment processes, such as between the Montreal Protocol bodies, the Basel Convention Secretariat and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and in the joint Montreal Protocol/IPCC/ICAO report on aviation and the global atmosphere. In contrast, the need to coordinate is greater regarding the more recent treaty-related processes - the Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification Conventions. Most of the coordination between these is pursued on the basis of individual initiative and specific projects rather than systematically. This point has been flagged in several recent reviews. The difficult issue is that these bodies, by virtue of their specific nature and place in intergovernmental Conventions and negotiations, are least likely to be closely linked to each other. Yet they are the lead bodies in those areas - they are the focus of attention and set an example for processes beyond their immediate spheres. Moreover, the international agreements being negotiated are so complex that they invariably and directly impact upon most other sustainable development-related concerns. A future study should consider these bodies specifically with a view to proposing concrete actions that should be taken by governments to ensure collaboration and avoid overlap. 32. In contrast to the problems of coordinating advisory bodies established by governments, several advisory processes established by intergovernmental organizations provide examples of how systematic voluntary cooperation can be achieved. GESAMP, for example, was founded in the late 1960s and has since provided a model of how UN agencies can cooperate. The Global Observing Systems represent another effort of this kind. The lessons learned by these bodies on both the limits and potential of inter-agency cooperation can serve as a guide for the future. 33. Coordination and cooperation are often used as methods for interlinking already established bodies. Considerable duplication can be avoided simply by encouraging a greater initial awareness of other existing and similar efforts. A good example of this is the Committee on Science and Technology of the Desertification Convention. Before starting its work, the CST prepared a number of reports with a view to placing itself in the context of what other research was being done. Bringing such reports to the attention of policy-makers and managers can substantially reduce duplication and pre-empt the difficulties of coordinating processes that have already been established. An important role for intergovernmental organizations can be envisaged here. 2. Who participates, how, and in what capacity 34. The question of who participates in scientific advisory processes has been a matter of debate at least since the Stockholm Conference. A balanced geographic representation with individuals participating on the basis of their expertise is the goal of any international scientific advisory body. In the past, such bodies have principally focused on the natural sciences, often those requiring advanced technologies. Given that many countries do not have such expertise, representatives from these countries simply have not participated, or have done so on a limited basis. Even when experts from developing countries have had the relevant knowledge, financial constraints are a major factor in their ability to participate internationally. Few globally relevant advisory bodies have been established specifically with a goal to overcome this problem. 35. Though substantial inequities in scope and participation remain, most scientific advisory bodies have tended to become more inclusive. This can be seen in the recent treaty-related bodies. All have stipulated a geographically more balanced membership. However, even here the matter has led to some debate on more balanced gender and disciplinary representation. For example, in the establishing of a roster of experts for the Desertification Convention, the initial list proposed by member states was geographically limited and biased in terms of gender as well as expertise. As a consequence, the secretariat deemed it necessary to submit a report to the COP, urging its members to act more in accordance with the Convention they had signed and which had highlighted these issues. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol have adopted detailed terms of reference for their Technology and Economic Assessment Panel to ensure balance and turn-over. 36. Beyond merely stating the desire to be more balanced in all respects, scientific advisory bodies need to be structured to that end. For example, the standard approach to scientific expertise is to draw on known individuals wherever they may be found. However, apart from drawing on well-established experts, more effort could be made to train new international experts, as has been done, for instance, in the assessment processes under the Montreal Protocol. That is, scientific advisory processes could also provide effective mechanisms for scientific advisory capacity-building. Interactive processes between policy-makers and experts could build a better mutual understanding of expectations, and thus direct research activities to that end. This might also provide an important means for overcoming the problem of geographical and gender imbalances. This is an area which has not been researched yet and is certainly untapped in practice. 37. Sometimes, inequities between the individuals and groups that constitute an advisory process are quite simply a consequence of the limited number of individuals involved. For example, there exists a noticeable degree of cross-membership, especially on the part of prominent experts. These often participate on several high-level advisory bodies, chair panels, and author or edit reports all at the same time. While this is not inherently a problem, a review of GESAMP points out that some members have become semi-permanent. GESAMP was established as a group of some 30 experts named by the sponsoring agencies. This group was to be flexible, changing in a slow but regular manner. For each project, a larger number of individuals were to be designated on a strictly limited basis. However, over time, the review observes that the resistance to change increased and fewer new individuals became involved. GESAMP has now been restructured with new terms of reference. However, GESAMP is by no means the only body to suffer from the institutional inertia toward a status quo. Every body is subject to the same pressure, which can only be countered by involving individuals on a flexible, broad and revolving basis. 38. The most common form of scientific advisory process, the standing body, seems to be particularly susceptible to institutional inertia. In this format, traditionally, participants were appointed by the relevant governing body on a longer-term basis. More recently, the format of standing bodies involves appointing a small secretariat and a core group of scientific experts, with further individuals invited on an ad hoc basis. This is the format that GESAMP as well as SCOPE have employed successfully. However, the individuals being involved on an ad hoc basis are listed on Rosters of Experts - thus posing the potential problem of reducing the ad hoc and flexible character of their involvement. 39. Expert Rosters have become increasingly popular since UNCED. Ideally, rosters aim to balance the need for intellectual independence while maintaining a close link to intergovernmental negotiations. All three of the recently negotiated treaties - biodiversity, climate change, and desertification - have proposed and are working on establishing rosters of experts with knowledge relevant to their treaties. At present, however, all are facing difficulties due to debates about scientific independence, the degree of control exercised by the members of the COP in appointing experts, as well as their relations to other existing bodies. 3. Scientific Independence 40. Questions raised by a process of nominating individuals to serve on Roster of Experts or on Standing Bodies are at the centre of debate about the independence of scientific advisory processes. Among the more prominent examples of this debate are the relations between the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice of the UNFCCC and the IPCC. While IPCC is an intergovernmental body, it is also acknowledged to be independent of specific government interests. Its assessments are considered so authoritative that its findings are accepted or argued against vehemently. Good examples of this can be seen in IPCC's Climate Change 1995 assessment and in its October 1997 statement about climate inertia. SBSTA is also an intergovernmental body, with members appointed specifically by parties to the FCCC. 41. Some of the most successful scientific advisory processes are those that are recognised as being independent, but are not separate from policy-making processes. Various means of constructing such independence have been developed. Since its restructuring, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of GEF has become a model of reconciling the desire by governments for a roster of experts and the scientists' goal of independence. STAP has established an extremely detailed set of guidelines governing all the various actions and organization of its roster. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol have also defined strict rules and a code of conduct to ensure the scientific independence of their technical and economic advisory processes. 42. Strict guidelines in appointing government representatives are one method of governing independence. The detailed arrangements of STAP may be replaced in other cases with a simple precondition that all appointments to the relevant advisory body are made on the principle that individuals serve in their personal capacity. GESAMP is an example of such a case. Its members are appointed by its sponsoring organizations to serve as independent experts. This avoids the problems that can emerge when representatives to advisory bodies are appointed by governments to represent government positions. Hence, an active debate is being waged about the use of curriculum vitae to appoint individuals to Rosters of Experts. 43. In many respects, the Scientific and Technical Committee of the Desertification Convention is also in the process of showing that independence does not mean being separate from other debates - in this case, from traditional knowledge. The output from CST-2 will certainly be interesting and might provide an example for other bodies in similar situations. Finally, a further means of establishing an independent advisory process is peer review. Anonymous peer review is the standard mechanism for evaluating contributions to academic journals in particular. Most advisory reports and major assessments are reviewed in some capacity before being submitted. While this seems a way to ensure intellectual independence, a potential problem exists, especially for the UN, because 'anonymous review' stands in contrast to 'public debate' - a principle at the core of increasing transparency in the work of the UN. An expanded analysis should consider this matter in more detail. 44. The above examples are important as they highlight that the debate about scientific independence is not about separating science from policy-making, but about 'intellectual independence', that is the freedom to base scientific advice on objective information unbiased by political pressures. The common denominator in the successful examples seems to be that each has maintained its distinctive character, and yet established close relations with policy-makers. 45. Interestingly, it is only intergovernmental processes that seem to engage in the debate about separating science from policy-making. The work of some NGOs shows a very different approach. A useful recent example can be seen in the Global Biodiversity Forums. Here numerous highly scientific papers are presented and debated, with none making any distinction between science and politics. The applicability, constraints and opportunities of this example for intergovernmental processes need to be considered in more detail. 46. Although small, another non-governmental initiative is SCOPE's recently concluded project on indicators of sustainable development, where representatives of governments met with scientists to discuss the creation and context of indicators. Scientists presented ideas on the creation of indicators, and policy-makers elaborated the context in which these had to be implemented. The process of producing the final product, a published book, was interactive. 3/ Although this is only one example, shows how policy-makers can make clear their concerns and priorities, and scientists can explain directly their understanding of an issue. While there are certainly restrictions on the use of this form, it might suggest options to appointing bodies directly accountable to COPs. 4. How is information delivered and with what impact? 47. Scientific advice is usually delivered formally, meaning that it is delivered in report form. These reports may be oral, but usually they are printed and often subsequently made available electronically. The cases considered here suggest considerable differences in the impact these reports have, although further study is required. It seems that the reports most likely to have a noticeable immediate impact are those requested by specific decision-making mechanisms of governments. This can be seen in, for example, the Basel, Migratory Species, Ozone and Trade in Endangered Species Conventions. For the vast majority scientific advisory processes that are not specifically requested by governments, impact is more difficult to demonstrate. However, not having a direct line to policy-makers does not necessarily diminish the value of the expertise or the impact it has; it is only more difficult to measure. The following two examples show how the attention of governments has been drawn to an issue, without having to rely on formal reporting mechanisms. 48. The IPCC is not directly tied to the climate change negotiations, yet it undoubtedly has played an important role in those negotiations. Its impact is reflected in the level of debate its assessments incite. Perhaps this level of influence derives from the fact that IPCC has both managed to collect a critical mass of expertise, and has built the confidence of governments through their direct involvement. 49. A second example, already described above, is SCOPE's project on indicators for sustainable development. It demonstrates how scientific advice can be delivered to policy-makers without compromising 'intellectual independence'. The implementation of the project and setting of priorities for future action were mutually constructed at two workshops by representatives of scientific bodies, intergovernmental organizations and national governments. This helped to resolve a number of sensitive political issues of concern to governments. III. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON RECENT PRACTICE 50. A comparative analysis of anything as complex as international scientific advisory processes is difficult. Differences between the bodies and the fact that some are only now being implemented precludes any straightforward or quantitative comparison. However, this review of scientific advisory processes can suggest some significant policy implications relevant both to improving existing processes and to creating new ones. A. Establishing Clear Expectations 51. Advisory processes include diverse categories, for policy-making, technical advice, assessment and environmental observations, each drawing on or creating scientific knowledge in their own way. Not only are advisory processes substantively diverse, but they have also changed over the last twenty years. Many of the longer-existing advisory processes have reexamined their aims and have broadened them to be more inclusive. There is an emerging recognition that even the natural sciences can no longer exist on their own, but must work in concert with the social and human sciences as well as other forms of knowledge. As issues become more complex, there is an increasing need for the expectations of any advisory process to be flexibly and clearly stated by both scientists and policy-makers. B. Encouraging dialogue between scientists and policy-makers 52. Some of the most highly respected international scientific advisory processes are those that develop or retain a distinctive character, yet interact closely with policy-makers. These successful bodies also show that by increasing dialogue, a scientific advisory process need not be directly tied to intergovernmental negotiations in order to provide policy relevant advice. C. Capacity-building as a goal of scientific advisory processes 53. As mechanisms for gathering, assessing and passing on the 'best' scientific knowledge, scientific advisory processes could be at the centre of policy relevant scientific capacity-building in all countries. There are certainly benefits to both national and international scientific communities in training new international experts, in addition to drawing on existing ones. This approach may provide a useful means to overcoming the problem of geographical and gender imbalances. The issue of scientific capacity-building in this respect has not been researched and is seldom applied in practice. D. The continued potential for duplication 54. Recently, a debate has emerged about the lack of coordination between the secretariats and subsidiary bodies of the different conventions. Although there are several examples of cooperation between programmes, these tend to be ad hoc and voluntary. Coordinating the activities of advisory processes and encouraging cooperation between them is an important issue. However, it also seems that a more integrated approach needs to be taken from the beginning. Coordination and cooperation are often used as methods for interlinking already established processes. Considerable duplication can be avoided simply by encouraging a greater awareness of other existing and similar efforts, especially before a new mechanism is established. 55. The following observations are not addressed specifically in the analysis, but stem from the process of preparing and writing this report. 56. Environmental observations have received less attention from scientific advisory bodies in recent years, yet the data necessary for sound scientific advice are often lacking. Most advisory bodies undertake reviews and syntheses using existing data, without devoting much attention to data collection programmes, yet they often complain about the inadequate or even worsening status of the information base on which they must rely. The Global Observing Systems and related environmental data collection efforts should be supported as, without adequate data on status and trends, scientific advice can be seriously hampered. E. The internet as a source of information and guide to its quality 57. The Internet is increasingly used to disseminate environment and sustainable development-related information. It has considerable potential both to facilitate international scientific advisory processes and to deliver the results of their work to larger audiences, expanding their impact. However mechanisms to ensure the quality and simplify the access to scientific information over the Internet are far from adequate. The Internet is also a remarkably useful tool for rapidly comparing the work of various agencies, and thus for identifying potential for collaboration and avoiding programmatic gaps and overlap. The acceptance of standardized formats for providing information would help efforts to build cooperation between scientific advisory processes. The use of the Internet to both support and explain international scientific advisory bodies needs further attention. ENDNOTES 1/ Bert Bolin, 'The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (An Address to the Second World Climate Conference),' in Jill Ja"ger and H.L. Ferguson (eds.) Climate Change: Science, Impacts and Policy - Proceedings of the Second World Climate Conference, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.21. 2/ For a slightly out-of-date, but particularly critical report prepared from within the UN system see Maurice Bertrand of the UN Joint Inspection Unit report JIU/Rep/85/9. 3/ Bedrich Moldan and Suzanne Billharz (eds.), Sustainability Indicators: Report of the Project on Indicators of Sustainable Development, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons and SCOPE, 1997.
This document has been posted online by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Reproduction and dissemination of the document - in electronic and/or printed format - is encouraged, provided acknowledgement is made of the role of the United Nations in making it available.
Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30