United Nations System-Wide
Earthwatch Working Party 6
Geneva, 13-14 March 2000

(prepared by J.S. Fritz)

18 February 2000
Agenda Item 7

The outline below has been prepared by the consultant working on the second report, which is scheduled to be completed in mid-year. The Earthwatch Working Party may wish to consider whether the outline looks coherent and interesting, and whether the themes in each section of Part 1 look like they give an overview of the dynamic elements of the organization of science for policy.

One section of the report will select a particular issue and assess the different ways in which science has influenced international activities. Is freshwater a good issue for this thematic focus, or are there other issues which may be better? Do the themes selected look interesting?



To assess the system of scientific advisory processes, its component parts and its integration in intergovernmental processes.


The Nairobi Declaration (1997) calls on UNEP "to promote international cooperation and action, based on the best scientific and technical capabilities available."

Report of the Secretary General on Environment and Human Settlements (UN/A/53/463 of 6 October 1998):

§22(b) "The Earthwatch system should be reviewed and a determination made of the steps required to transform it into an effective, accessible, well advertised, science-based system capable of meeting the needs of decision makers"

§30(f) "UNEP and Habitat should strengthen their systems of receiving and responding to information from non-governmental organizations, especially on emerging problems, and encourage non-governmental organizations to provide information on new problems"

The Fourth Earthwatch Working Party (2-3 April 1998) discussed the first report and "recommended that the report be completed and sharpened with conclusions and recommendations" (§29)

UNEP's Corporate Profile highlights the importance of "scientific advisory groups" as an integral part of its work (p.14)

IACSD (15th Meeting, 24-25 January 2000) in deliberating on preparation for CSD-9, it was recommended that, concerning A21 Chapter 40, documentation relating to participation "will focus on the role of major groups and the importance information plays in the fulfilment of this role in sustainable development."


This is a qualitative, comparative analysis of international scientific advisory processes. It builds on the first report on environment-related scientific advisory processes that was prepared for UNEP in 1998. The original report was subsequently submitted to the sixth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. A more extensive follow-up was thought useful by many responding to the initial report, and a proposal to complete a second report appeared in UNEP's Programme Budget for 1998/99. Since then the importance of this issue has also been highlighted as part of UNEP's reform programme and its corporate profile.

The first report reviewed and compared the diversity of existing advisory processes. It made a number of observations, including: the need to establish clearer expectations of what advice is being sought; more dialogue between scientists and policy-makers should be encouraged; capacity-building should be a goal of advisory processes; the need to avoid duplication amongst advisory processes; the collection of more relevant data to fill knowledge gaps should be supported; and the internet needs to be exploited both as a source of information and as a guide to its quality.

The second report will concentrate on the links that define the way in which advisory processes relate to the various communities around them, including scientific, policy-making, traditional knowledge, and NGOs. The aim is to provide helpful observations and suggestions on how advisory processes may be strengthened, by improving the way in which information is compiled, debated, shared and reflected in policy outcomes. This will also offer a perspective on what catch-words like 'synergies' and 'interlinkages' mean, and the concrete value they hold for improving the effectiveness of present and future international scientific advisory processes.

Part 1 of the outline below looks at the linkages between advisory processes from an institutional perspective. It tries to capture how science has been organized in relation to intergovernmental policy-making, focusing both on the current situation and on processes of change. Within this part, four general types of science-policy interaction are considered: scientific advisory processes to intergovernmental negotiations, international processes with extensive scientific input, the scientific activities of intergovernmental and other organizations, as well as the international efforts of non-governmental and other knowledge communities.

Part 2 assesses the institutional science-policy linkages in terms of how they function to address an issue of particular contemporary relevance. Freshwater is considered here. The value of highlighting freshwater is that it is an excellent example of a contentious issue in which states have strong interests and claims, and yet which is also considered an international issue concerning which international bodies also make substantial contributions.

Part 3 draws conclusions on what are perceived to be the successes and limits of scientific advice as it has been furnished to date. These are then developed to make observations on how advisory processes learn from the successes to overcome the limits. These observations will be presented as qualitative indicators of what constitutes 'successful' scientific advice.

In contrast to the first report, Annex 1 will now only be available on the internet. The printed version of this report will not contain profiles of the advisory processes considered here. This should allow readers to focus on the analysis and judge the report on this basis. As well, it will reduce the overall size of the report, thus making it more accessible.

Finally, for the sake of scope, this report will focus only on scientific advisory processes that, by their definition, take a planetary view. That is, the focus is on processes that were established to contribute policy-relevant data, information, and/or knowledge about aspects of the global environment. This does not deny that this knowledge must be applied to local situations in order to achieve sustainable development, or that local situations are not global relevant. Many of the conclusions that can be drawn from this international analysis will also be relevant to the regional, national and local levels. Indeed there exist numerous programmes and activities within the UN system, and even more beyond, devoted to the bridging the local/global divide.


1. Advisory Processes

- introductory paragraph about the bodies included and what collectively characterizes them.


Principal Modes of Organization

- Rosters of Experts
- Appointing members and maintaining independence

Types of Outputs and who is the expected readership

- Databases / Clearinghouses (usually managed by Convention Secretariats if relevant)

- why are they so popular (what is expected of them) and experiences (in terms of expectations)
Existing Linkages - amongst advisory processes and with other bodies

Ongoing developments (where are they heading)

- types of knowledge being furnished

- organization of knowledge for better access - the scale of knowledge has become so detailed that new means are need for organizing it, while maintaining and even improving access. This is closely linked to..........

- use of information technology (availability of docs before/after meetings, videoconferencing and other means of reducing costs, increasing accessibility, and increasing efficiency)


- Assessment and Technical Options Bodies of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer
- Committee on Science and Technology of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
- Rotterdam Convention on PIC for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade - Interim Chemical Review Committee (1st meeting end Feb. 2000)
- Scientific Council of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals
- Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (SBSTA-UNFCCC)
- Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA-CBD)
- Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility.
- Technical Working Group of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes

2. International Processes with Extensive Scientific Input

- introductory paragraph about the bodies included and what collectively characterizes them.


What kind of information do they need?

Where do they get the information (some regularized process or indirectly through lobbying, media, etc.)?

How does science enter such processes?

Are other types of knowledge sought?


- Commission on Sustainable Development
- Conferences of the Parties to Conventions, including:
  - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
  - World Heritage Convention especially regarding its natural sites the role of WCMC and IUCN
- Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety
- Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (completed)
- World Commissions and related bodies:
  - Independent World Commission on the Oceans (completed)
  - International Whaling Commission
  - World Water Forum

3. The Scientific Activities of Intergovernmental and Other Organizations

- introductory paragraph about the bodies included and what collectively characterizes them.


Main characteristics of the work of international organizations

- coordination - Ecosystem Conservation Group

- promotion of or conducting actual research UNESCO, IAEA, WHO, WMO,...

The Wish to Coordinate - to get a handle on the myriad activities

The struggle to define and realize policy relevance

The distinction between targeting efforts at the national and/or international levels.

- e.g. the policy relevance of capacity building at national or local levels vs. the policy relevance of influencing intergovernmental negotiations.

Existing Synergies: especially between scientific activities and policy - also national level influence

Information Technology

- some processes have become so complicated and decentralized that there is a search for effectiveness through the internet (eg. GEO-3)


- Major Environmental Assessment Reports of Recent Years
- these are often timed to impact on a specific intergovernmental process
(for a list see also UNEP/NASA/World Bank Linkages Report)
- Ecosystem Conservation Group (UNEP, FAO, UNESCO, UNDP, IUCN, WWF, and the World Bank)
- Global Observing Systems - The Global Climate Observing System, the Global Ocean Observing System and the Global Terrestrial Observing System
- Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP)
- United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)
- FAO, IAEA, UNESCO (IHP, IOC, MAB, MOST), WHO, WMO all have scientific activities

4. Non-Governmental Organizations and Other Knowledge Communities

- introductory paragraph about the bodies included and what collectively characterizes them.


Between Research and Advocacy

- Identifying the problem vs. alternatives to dealing with the problem - the challenge to 'conventional' advisory processes

Influence on Policy-making

Existing Synergies with advisory processes

Profiles (not all of these will have full profiles)

- Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE)
- IUCN - Commissions
- ECO - at Desertification Convention meetings
- Global Biodiversity Forum
- NGO forums associated with international conferences


An assessment of the different ways in which science has influenced international activities related to the management of freshwater.

Some issues to be raised (a final list will be made once previous section is developed further):

- are the different efforts additive, duplicative, complementary...?
- at what level are decisions most taken - and how does that relate to where the activities of international scientific advisory processes are targeted?


Lessons to be Learned, especially focusing on success stories: This section takes the findings of the previous one and highlights what lessons can be learned from existing practices that may be useful for future reference. This involves making recommendations of what to consider when establishing future scientific advisory processes based on examples of success stories. One additional option within this section may be to write a 1 page summary for each process covered in Annex 1 with a view to offering specific observations, comments or suggestions.

Some themes to be developed (will be clarified as first two parts are developed further):

The Design of Advisory Processes
- evolutionary vs. visionary design - the issue of whether an 'ideal' advisory process exists, or whether they should be designed according to general criteria, but then develop on their own through processes of evaluation.

What Constitutes the Authoritative provision of scientific advice?
- WHAT should be reinforced to realize and strengthen a 'decentralized system'?
- as the responsible authority, HOW can UNEP play a leadership role?
- this is important for UNEP and, more generally, CSD-9 --- WHY....?

Indicators derived from existing processes, which illustrate what constitutes a successful advisory process (most important section within this part........)

What FURTHER RESEARCH / WORK is needed in the lead-up to CSD-9 and beyond?

Return to homepage


Available on the internet only.

  This is important as a quick reference means of highlighting exactly which processes have been referred to in the report.
Return to homepage

UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, Geneva