22 February 2011

A Science Assessment as an Honest Broker of Policy Options

Last week, Science Express published an advance copy of a Policy Forum on the new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by Charles Perrings and colleagues.  The article calls for an approach to science assessments that is far different than that which has been employed by the IPCC.  The authors explain:
[R]ather than investigating consequences of specific policies indentified (sic) by a governing body, most previous assessments were constructed around scenarios devised by scientists
The alternative approach that they recommend has three components:
(i) The governing body of IPBES, the plenary, should ask for assessment of consequences of specific policies and programs at well defined geographical scales. (ii) Projections of changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services should take the form of conditional predictions of the consequences of these policies and programs. And (iii), capacity-building efforts should enhance skills needed for policy-oriented assessment within IPBES and should catalyze external funding for underpinning science and science-based policy development.
An approach to assessment focused on identifying and even evaluating policy options will not be without its difficulties.  However, it also has great promise to deliver far more policy relevant information to decision makers than has been the case in other international assessments.  the authors conclude:
For IPBES to provide the policy support envisaged in the Busan outcome, it needs to answer questions that are meaningful to the nations that have brought it into being. This requires an approach that differs from those adopted in previous assessments—in the functions and membership of the plenary, in assessment methodology, and in decision support. The IPBES plenary should specify the policy options to be evaluated; assessment should include quantitative conditional prediction of the consequences of those options; and reports should enable policy-makers to evaluate the relative merits of mitigation, adaptation, and stabilization strategies.
 The lead author explains:
Discussions between decision makers and scientists should start with the question 'what do governments want and what options do they have?' Knowing the likely consequences of alternative policy options is critical to choosing the best strategy.
The new approach being taken by IPBES is well worth watching as a highly visible experiment in the "honest brokering of policy options."


  1. "most previous assessments were constructed around scenarios devised by scientists"

    Case in point -
    The IPCC emissions scenario was constructed around how much coal is 'geologically available' rather then 'how much coal is economically extractable'.

    The result has been this circular logic -

    Weak international climate change policies could push Australian coal prices even higher.

    Since the world failed to agree a strict price on carbon emissions, the price of coal is rising and without immediate action to place a price on carbon emissions, the price on coal will rise even more.

  2. The actual paper is behind a paywall. But I see that one of the authors is Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of "DIVERSITAS", a "biodiversity policy organization" and key sponsor of a video project called "Crisis of Life".

    One of the key "talking points" of a Crisis of Life" poster is:

    "The biodiversity crisis may be an even bigger threat to us than the climate crisis"

    [For details see http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/of-cops-mops-and-a-global-battle-of-duelling-doomsayers/]

    Needless to say, Larigauderie was quite instrumental in the "birthing" of the UNEP's latest acronymic scaremongering offspring (IPBES).

    IPBES comes with its very own "tipping points" and 'son of Stern' report: "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" (TEEB), and "mechanisms" such as "biodiversity offsets or other schemes to mitigate and/or compensate...".

    [see http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/move-over-ipcc-here-comes-ipbes/]

    Colour me somewhat skeptical(if not outright cynical) of this recent attempt to "distinguish" the new "gold standard" kid on the alarmism block from the old "gold standard" kid - on which it was "modelled".