Science is not negotiable
The challenges for the science-policy nexus to succeed were discussed at a side event hosted at Norway's Mission to the UN. The conclusion was that science may not be questioned, but is in danger of being ignored.
The side event “Partnerships for Climate Action: the Science-Policy Nexus” took as its starting point the catchphrase of the July 2019 High-level Political Forum (HLPF), “Science is not negotiable,” which became a key part of discussion during two intense weeks at the UN. The event was hosted by the Missions of Palau, St. Lucia, Fiji and Norway to the United Nations, as well as the University of Bergen.
In her welcome address to the event, Norway's Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) in New York, Mona Juul, pointed to the links between politics, science and society, welcoming the presence of the University of Bergen and the University of Oslo in the panel as representatives for the science advice needed in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Academia engaging in SDG partnerships
Moderator, Professor Edvard Hviding from the University of Bergen's SDG Bergen initiative, then asked, “How can the academic community become more engaged partners in the 2030 Agenda?”, setting the tone for the side event.
“We need to bring all the sciences together,” replied Satyendra Prasad, Fiji's Ambassador to the UN, underlining the importance of local knowledge and global science to engage with the SDGs.
He then moved on to a more personal experience, recounting his younger years fishing in the oceans off Fiji.
“Now I hear from our fishermen that they have stopped catching as much tuna as they used to do. The tuna did not disappear, only it's far fewer tuna in-between due to how the seasons are changing, according to our fishermen.”
He then pointed to how local knowledge provided vital information to understand this decrease in tuna fishing in Fiji waters.
“Local expertise and science told us about illegal fishing in the high seas in the Pacific. I felt anguish in my mind about this. We learned that this has to do with global warming. The fish moves to waters with temperatures they are more used to. This demonstrates the importance of bringing all the sciences together,” said Fiji's Ambassador.
Long-term partnerships are key
Prasad then pointed at solutions to solve this issue.
“The substantial point of partnerships is that they must speak over a long-term frame. The local effect that we see in climate change occur over decades, so we need 20-30 years of observation and dialogue to engage with something this big, affecting the climate and the people and their choices. We need early-warning systems, to work across countries and scientific disciplines,” he said.
He particularly singled out how Norway and the University of Bergen are working with the University of the South Pacific.
“I hope that this partnership will provide with data over a long period of time that can be shared across the Pacific island states. Climate change is bigger than all of us and if we can bring together the slices of information that we have, we can all achieve more together.”
Sharing is caring
The Fiji UN Ambassador's viewpoints were echoed by Cosmos Richardson, St. Lucia's Ambassador to the UN.
“In the partnerships with SIDS (small island developing states), Norway acts as catalyst for this important discussion on the nexus of science and policy as we all seek to turn up the action on the 2030 Agenda,” he said in his opening, before highlighting issues to illustrate how science at its best can contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda from a SIDS perspective.
“A critical component in the science-policy interface is reliable statistics, fundamental to support decision-making. As will be highlighted during St. Lucia's voluntary national review (VNR), with reference to indicators that have been established and where there is a critical gap between detail and policy-making,” Richardson said.
He pointed to realities on the ground, where research can inform both policy and local implementation as exemplified this by local innovation.
“In St. Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Sargassum algae is an incredible menace to the coastal environment. We have limited capacity for clean-up, but a young St. Lucia entrepreneur has found a way to convert algae into fertilizer. Science advice can help scale up for local initiatives.”
Innovations driven by the local
All three SIDS in the event are presenting their VNRs at this year's HLPF, and they all signalled the inclusion of innovations driven by local forces.
“These are extraordinary things that can be converted into action,” said moderator Hviding before handing the microphone to Palau's Ambassador to the UN, Ngedikes Olai Uludong.
“In 2009, Palau launched a shark sanctuary. This is also for importance for our tourism industry. Then we got more ambitious, moving from thinking of ourselves not only as actors in the tourism industry, but also in our role as custodians of the Ocean,” she said.
She explained how Palau took a long, hard look at its priorities, taking steps to secure its marine economic zone based on a realisation that protecting this converged with the Pacific island state's interest in the tourism industry.
Using tradition to achieve results
“We met with resistance from other Pacific island states, who believed that this policy was not possible. But we looked at what the science community told us and this encouraged us to build on the shark protection scheme and ultimately close off 80 per cent of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from commercial fisheries,” Uludong said about the radical reasoned stand taken by Palau – and which is now explored by other countries.
“We used our tradition to achieve this. We have one of the oldest forms of protected areas in the world, which is called bul. We expanded this to the Ocean, as we have proved that traditional marine protected areas work. Reasoned science has supported this. The only way we could to done this was by basing it on science. But for our legislation to work, we needed the expertise found at universities in the US and Norway,” she said.
“The road to implementing our marine sanctuary was tough. It took us five years. We realised that we needed partnerships. This is a knowledge we want to share with others,” said the Palau ambassador.
Looking beyond the obvious
Professor Tore Furevik from the University of Bergen used the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research and its contributions focussed on the IPCC and climate science in general.
“Curiosity-driven research has immediate relevance for climate change. The IPCC is a well-established science-policy nexus to which we contribute continuous updates,” he said.
Professor Sidsel Roalkvam from the University of Oslo, who represented the National Committee for the 2030 Agenda in Norway's university sector, noted that not much is said about science in the 2030 Agenda.
“Academia's role is to look beyond the obvious,” Roalkvam said and argued for this as a foundation for the science-policy nexus.
University of Bergen
Science can be ignored
The final panellist was Chief of the Policy & Analysis Branch of UN DESA, Dr. Shantanu Mukherjee.
“We need to rely upon scientists not just to communicate with policy-makers, but also with society and to work with society to mobilise support for scientific findings,” he said, “the IPCC findings explicitly recognise how we need to change the way we live.”
He then used the Ozone debate and Montreal protocol that solved the issue of freon gases in the atmosphere, something science clearly told was causing Ozone depletion, as example.
“My point is that science and policy need to understand business. To find those parts of technology and business where the greediness revolves around something ‘green’,” said Mukherjee, “we see it a little bit in solar energy. One big reason is that Germany invested a lot from its public sector to develop this technology. But this business it making it cheap enough, and part of the science-policy discussion on researching, finding and encouraging further development is so that it becomes useful for someone greedy for green solutions.”
Finally he warned against silo-thinking in the academic community or to ignore industry interests and attitudes in society at large.
“Science is not negotiable, but it can be ignored,” said Shantanu Mukherjee in the closing statement of the side event, to underline both one of the recurring theme of the HLPF discussions and the crucial challenge of making the science-policy nexus work and expand.