United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

Commission on Sustainable Development          Background Paper No. 21
Sixth Session
20 April - 1 May 1998


                         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

                       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
      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
      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


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

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
                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.


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

      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

    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.


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.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD