20 November 2013

Bridging the gap in policy dialogues

What is the best way for science to effectively influence policy?
What is the best way for science to effectively influence policy?

The task of influencing policy is a complex one, as policy makers always have to listen to a number of stakeholders. In the context of climate change, these stakeholders include scientists and communities; the farmers and women who are who are living with the impacts of the changing climate.

All the scientists here at the Global Landscape Forum are probably hoping that their work can contribute to a positive change in the world. But a point made at a GLF discussion session, “Beyond IPCC scenarios – Finding synergies between adapting to climate change and mitigation at temporal scales that are appropriate for policy makers and land managers,” will make them think twice: What opportunities have we missed because scientists wanted to take time to explore all possible aspects of a potential solution before making their findings known?

Of course, no one is advocating that science should take a less rigorous approach. On the contrary, it is the explicit responsibility of scientists to provide accurate information which policy makers can work with. The worry, according to session speakers, is that “there is a temporal mismatch, especially between climate information and decision making cycles.”

Such a “mismatch” could be limiting many countries as they attempt to move from policies of awareness to policies of intervention.

Policy makers have two important needs to be able to make quick and effective decisions: First, they need short, concise and easily digestible messages. Second – they need it quickly.

Participants at the discussion session said, “While scenarios on long-term impacts of climate change have been useful for raising awareness, they also have created the impression that climate change is in the distant future and is not the immediate concern of policy makers or land managers.” Knowledge of inter-annual variability – which is most useful for immediate decision-making – is available, but needs to be clearly communicated to policy makers.

Dorcas Robinson (CARE) suggested that driving actions based on technological solutions and focusing on knowledge related to maximizing adaptation and mitigation benefits can neglect the needs of the people. Knowing their desires and focusing on equitable, appropriate and relevant solutions should be paramount. The need to listen to those who are affected by climate change was not disputed.

Conclusions from this discussion at the GLF called for more effective communication between all stakeholders. The need for linking actors was highlighted where stakeholders are not directly engaging in policy. The opportunity for all stakeholders to sit around the same table is also a solution which was suggested. Implementing these measures will ensure that everyone can be heard in what can otherwise be a messy dialogue.

The discussion session was hosted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and The Center for International Forestry Research.

Blog by Sarah Carter & Giulia Salvini, PhD candidates at Wageningen University and social reporters for the GLF.

 Photo: T. Munita (CIFOR)