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."