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United Nations System-Wide
  December 2000  
    The Second

Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development

Hyperlinked version for the Internet

Prepared for the UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP
by Jan-Stefan Fritz

    This Report was prepared for the UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP, under contract, by Jan-Stefan Fritz, Ph.D.

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.

Research for Linked version completed mid-December 2000

Copies of this Report are available from:
Division of Early Warning and Assessment
United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552
Nairobi, Kenya

    This report was written in consultation with all bodies for which profiles were prepared (see Annex 3) as well as numerous other individuals both within and outside the UN system. 

For their valuable assistance in providing information and/or comments, I would like to thank: Frank Biermann (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research), Rajeb Boulharouf (Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification), Renate Christ (IPCC Secretariat), Robert A. Duce (GESAMP), Niklas Hohne (Climate Change Secretariat), Calestous Juma (Harvard University), Manfred Nauke (GESAMP), Dwight Peck (The Ramsar Convention Bureau), Véronique Plocq-Fichelet (SCOPE), Nelson Sabogal (The Secretariat for the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol), Ibrahim Shafii (Secretariat of the Basel Convention), Judy A. Stober (Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety), Aase Tuxen (UNEP Interim Secretariat for the Rotterdam Convention), Robert Vagg (UNEP/CMS Secretariat), Jerry Velasquez (UNU), Anne-Marie Verbeken (The STAP Secretariat), Ger van Vliet (CITES Secretariat), and Peter Wells (GESAMP). 

I would especially like to thank Lee A. Kimball (independent Consultant) and Arthur Dahl (UN System-Wide Earthwatch/UNEP) for having reviewed the complete Report and for providing detailed comments.



Science for Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Science for Intergovernmental Deliberations

Science for State of the Environment Knowledge







    This Report is a qualitative, comparative analysis of international scientific advisory processes in the area of environment and sustainable development. It is a thorough overview and analysis of such advisory processes. As such, it complements other ongoing activities that seek to improve understanding of the issues at stake in international environmental affairs and the policy frameworks created to address these issues. It is intended as a contribution to preparations for CSD-9 deliberations on Agenda 21, Chapter 40 ‘Information for Decision-making’. 

This Report makes two specific contributions. First, it provides an overview of what advisory processes exist, how they work, and their interrelations. Second, this Report highlights recent trends, remaining information gaps, and makes recommendations to strengthen advisory processes by improving the way in which information is compiled, debated, shared and reflected in policy outcomes. Thus this Report offers a perspective on what catch-words like ‘information gaps’ and ‘interlinkages’ mean in practice, and their impact on the effectiveness of present and future international scientific advisory processes. 

Part 1 of the Report assesses the institutional linkages between existing scientific advisory and intergovernmental processes. Part 2 assesses the links between science and policy in the context of freshwater; an issue of particular contemporary relevance. Part 3 identifies some major recent trends and specific remaining information gaps. Part 4 makes some recommendations on how to bridge the gaps identified in the previous part. Figures are included to illustrate the science/policy nexus, trends in the creation of scientific advisory processes and the contents of websites of major advisory processes. Finally, Background Profiles have been prepared as sources of information on the major advisory processes referred to in the Report. For the sake of scope, the focus is on processes that, by their definition, take a planetary view.

   see Part 3 TRENDS
  General Trends in the Science/ Policy Nexus The first trend encompasses the increasing need for highly specialized knowledge of specific environmental concerns, and the simultaneous need for more holistic knowledge about biosphere dynamics. 

The second broad trend involves a shift in the content of scientific advice from identifying problem areas to suggesting alternative scenarios for effective action. 

  Specific Trends in Advisory Processes Marked improvement in the niche definition of scientific and technical advisory processes 

Greater dialogue between advisory processes and other communities 

Increased recognition that local/national-level capacity building should also be a goal of advisory processes 

Increased awareness of the need to coordinate through substantive collaboration 

Slow progress in improving data availability on emerging priorities 

Improved use of Internet to manage and disseminate information 

   see Part 3 GAPS
    A Data Gap exists between the availability of quality data from around the world and the needs of policymakers.

A Linkages Gap exists between the increasing number of advisory processes being founded.

A Public Access Gap exists between the production and synthesis of knowledge and its use by a broader readership.

A Systematic Organization of Information Gap exists making it difficult for users to find information quickly about different environmental media from different perspectives. 

An Impact Gap exists between the work of scientific advisory activities and efforts to support local/national-level capacity building. 

Bridging the Information for Decision-making Gap

The next UNEP Global Ministerial Forum would serve as an ideal venue for a dialogue between scientific advisors and other knowledge and policymakers. 

Standardized and/or harmonized methods for managing data and information from scientific support activities (e.g. G30S and international organizations) should serve clearly identified audiences or purposes. 

Link the earth observations systems to the specific needs of advisory processes to MEAs and other relevant intergovernmental deliberations. 

Continue to complement science with traditional knowledge as a means of bridging the gap between 'problem identification' and 'proposing alternatives for implementation'. 

Those advisory processes that have not undergone review processes should be encouraged to so. 

Bridging the Public Access Gap

To improve transparency, a Stakeholder Charter on Minimum Standards of Information provided by UN sources on environment and sustainable development could be established. 

To improve accessibility, a UN System-Wide Web Site Locator for Environment and Sustainable Development could be established. 

NGOs and related forums should be harnessed as sources of information on possible emerging problems and alternative means of supporting the implementation of agreements. 

Bridging the Linkages Gap

The best way of ensuring coordination amongst scientific advisory processes may be to encourage substantive collaboration. 

No new scientific advisory processes should be created unless no other appropriate international scientific body exists. 

An Ad Hoc Working Group to Identify Areas of Substantive Cooperation on Emerging Issues might be created. 

Bridging the Impact Gap

The scientific activities of international organizations could assist MEAs by  supporting effective National Focal Points and assisting the responsible national bodies to fulfil MEA report-writing requirements.
    This Report builds on a first Report on scientific advisory processes prepared for UNEP in 1998. The purpose of the first Report was to spark discussion on the topic of advisory processes with a view to then preparing a more in depth study. Following the publication of the first Report on scientific advisory processes, comments and observations on its findings and usefulness were compiled. In addition to the substantive comments, many responses thought a more extensive follow-up would be useful. A proposal to complete a second report appeared in UNEP’s Programme Budget for 1998/99. With CSD-9 focusing on information for decision-making in 2001, the urgency for a second Report was given. This Report is a contribution to preparations for CSD-9. 

The immediate mandate for this Report is the recommendation of the Earthwatch Working Party “that the [first] report be completed and sharpened with conclusions and recommendations”. 

    The broader context for this Report is found in many recent statements on the need to improve the knowledge component of intergovernmental deliberations on environment and sustainable development. More recently, delegates to the Global Ministerial Environment Forum agreed, in the Malmö Declaration, that there should be “improved avenues for communication between the scientific community, decision makers and other stakeholders.” CSD-9 and the 2002 Rio+10 meeting will surely reiterate this call. 

UNEP has also highlighted the importance of scientific advisory processes as part of its role as Global Environmental Authority. The UNEP Executive Director has emphasized the importance of scientific advice in his reform programme. In fact, UNEP’s new Corporate Profile is the first such document to specifically identify the value of scientific advisory processes. 

    While this Report contributes to specific upcoming events, notably CSD-9, it also is an ongoing effort. Thus comments to any aspect of this Report are welcome and should be directed to the author at jan-stefan.fritz@t-online.de or, by post, at UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, International Environment House, 15 chemin des Anémones, 1219 Châtelaine, Genève, Switzerland. 
    "...to promote international cooperation and action, based on the best scientific and technical capabilities available"
-The Nairobi Declaration
Increasing investment in Advisory Processes

*Science/Policy Nexus

The Contributions of this Report
The Distinctive Role of Advisory Processes

Intergovernmental frameworks concerned with environmental affairs, involve at least four major processes. These include: institutional bargaining between states; the international administration of policy decisions and priorities; business and NGO lobbying; and the provision of scientific advice. 

The category of scientific advice is distinct because the participating independent scientists represent the only members of civil society to be consistently asked to advise government representatives. This recognizes that many advisory processes also include government-appointed experts. New scientific advisory processes are created every year. At present, several million US dollars are invested in international scientific advisory processes annually and over 3000 individuals are appointed to UN-sponsored processes alone, with many thousand others directly contributing their expertise.i

Normally, the role of scientific advisory processes is to support policymakers by providing relevant observations on the state of the environment. Traditionally, they were expected to involve natural scientists identifying problems in response to specific requests from policymakers. While this may seem a relatively simple arrangement, the practice of establishing advisory processes has been far more complex and challenging. Increasingly, advisory processes also assess socio-economic dimensions of problems as well as options for technical and policy responses. Debates about the independence of scientific expertise, especially concerning those advisory processes comprised of government-appointed experts, have also become more prevalent. This has made scientific and technical advisory processes foci for debate on problems and potential solutions, bringing together politicians, scientists, advocacy groups and a myriad other actors in intense debates about knowledge and social choice. 

While advisory processes are not intended to serve either research or advocacy purposes, invariably their role involves a bit of both. On one hand, advisory processes need to determine what knowledge exists, in whose hands it is held, what relevant research is being conducted, and how the results are presented to most usefully serve policy-making processes. On the other hand, though the knowledge that is provided principally aims to serve policymakers there is also a tacit desire on the part of scientists to ‘improve’ policymaking to the extent that policy should reflect the best knowledge and technical practices available. 

Given the complexity of the science*/policy nexus, it is impossible to speak of an ‘ideal’ advisory process. However, within a general framework, one can conceive of scientific advice as a lynchpin between international scientific support activities and the international policy realm. Figure 1 outlines the basic elements of a working scientific advisory process. 

This Report contributes to a better understanding of this challenging space by offering a qualitative, comparative analysis of international scientific advisory processes. It is a thorough overview and analysis of advisory processes.ii As such, it complements other ongoing activities that seek to improve understanding of the issues at stake in international environmental affairs and the linkages between legal frameworks created to address these issues. Some prominent examples include the GEO report series, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the UNU Inter-linkages Initiative. 

  Building on the first Report The present Report is the second of its kind, and builds on the first one. The first Report reviewed and compared the diversity of existing advisory processes. It observed that there were several needs, including: to establish clearer expectations between advisors and policy makers; more dialogue should be encouraged between scientists and policy makers; capacity-building should be a goal of advisory processes; to avoid duplication amongst advisory processes; to support the collection of more relevant data to fill knowledge gaps; and the Internet could be exploited both as a source of information and as a guide to its quality. 
    *Refers to requests for advice or scientific support.
Giving meaning to 'information gaps' and 'interlinkages'

This Report explores how scientific advisory processes work and the relationships they build to fulfil their mandates. In so doing, it concentrates on the links that define the way in which advisory processes relate to the various communities around them, including scientific, policymaking, 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 also offers a perspective on what catch-words like ‘information gaps’ and ‘interlinkages’ mean in practice, and their impact on the effectiveness of present and future international scientific advisory processes. 
The Importance of the Regional, National and Local Levels
For the sake of scope, this report focuses 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 global environment dynamics. Moreover, the majority of processes considered here created by UN agencies or under UN auspices to provide advice to intergovernmental processes on environment and sustainable development. While focusing on the global level, this Report recognizes that global-level advice must be applied to regional, national and local situations in order to improve the state of the environment and to achieve sustainable development. Similarly, this Report recognizes that all global environmental issues are inherently local issues as well. Thus, many of the conclusions that can be drawn from this international analysis will also be relevant to the regional, national and local levels. Indeed, numerous programmes and activities exist within the UN system, and even more beyond, which are dedicated to the bridging the local/global divide. In this light, the present report aims to be illustrative rather than comprehensive. 
Report Contents
The body of the Report is organized into four Parts and three Annexes. Part 1 highlights the linkages between advisory processes from an institutional perspective. It captures how scientific advice is organized in relation to intergovernmental policymaking, focusing both on the current situation and processes of change. Within this part, three general types of science-policy interaction are considered: science for multilateral environmental agreements, science for intergovernmental deliberations, and science for state of the environment knowledge. 
    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. This is an excellent example of a contentious issue in which states have strong interests and claims, and yet one which is also considered an international issue wherein international bodies also make substantial contributions.
    Part 3 identifies the major trends in the provision of scientific advice over the past several years. It also identifies some major information gaps that remain between advisory processes and the international community in general. Part 4 offers specific recommendations aimed at bridging the gaps identified in the previous part.
    Annex 1 provides a detailed table of the website contents of some prominent scientific advisory processes. Annex 2 lists acronyms frequently used in this Report. Finally, Annex 3 lists the profiles that were prepared as background information for over a dozen advisory processes. For the sake of economy, these profiles are listed in this Report and will be available on the Internet via the Earthwatch website. 
    i These figures are based on rough estimates of financial figures available in documents and  individuals appointed to the main UN sponsored advisory processes considered in this Report.
ii Perhaps the first comparative study of advisory processes was Lee A. Kimball, Treaty Implementation: Scientific and Technical Advice Enters a New Stage, published by the American Society for International Law, 1996. 
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