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FORUM II
PROGRAMME THEMATIC MEETINGS

II.8 Scientific Expertise and Public Decision Making

 

How to organize more relevant scientific expertise, in a context of inherent risks and uncertainties. Expertise in governance. Relations between science and the powers (political, environmental, strategic). Science, diplomacy and international negotiations.

Chair: Robert Watson Chair IPCC, UK
Rapporteur: Nikolai Plate Secretary General, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia

Session co-ordinator: Jean-François Stuyck-Taillandier Executive Director, ICSU, France
Local secretary: tbd


ABSTRACTS:

Scientists in the service of decision making

Uri Shamir
Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Israel

Scientists engage in understanding the world, in pursuit of its fundamental laws. Their attention is on the natural world and man-made facilities, as well as on society itself and its institutions. Through their study and investigations, scientists contribute to society’s wealth of knowledge. But they must also serve society in a more direct manner, as part of their moral and ethical responsibility and in return for the freedom they are given to pursue their interests. The understanding and knowledge they gain can and should be used in the service of decision-making, to forecast and evaluate how proposed plans and actions (or lack thereof) will affect the natural and built environment and living systems, including man and the other species that inhabit the world.

Geophysics is a case in point. There is a two-way interaction between human activities and the geophysical environment. Geophysical forces originating in the earth’s interior, in the atmosphere, oceans, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and beyond, have a direct influence on man and the settlements and facilities he creates. Some are short-term catastrophic influences, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Others are longer-term effects, like sea-level changes and land subsidence. Man exerts forces on the environment that have undesirable effects, like air and water pollution, depletion of resources, erosion, increased risk of earthquake damage. Quantification of these influences is necessary as a basis for decision making. Economics, sociology and political science are additional dimensions to be considered.

Decisions are taken by individuals, groups, agencies, national and international bodies. Scientists should serve all, not merely the so-called "decision makers" (DMs), those who are elected to rule or those appointed by them to manage society’s systems. The ordinary citizen is entitled to the support of scientists in making decisions, at least as much as the DMs, actually more. It is scientists’ ethical and moral responsibility to put their knowledge in the service of all.

Decisions are made under uncertainty. Science has an important role in reducing the uncertainty, and in supporting decision making under such conditions. Quantification of uncertain outcomes, their probabilities and consequences, facilitates rational decision-making. Also, decision-making is itself a branch of social sciences, which uses mathematical theories and models as aids. Models serve mainly two purposes. First, they enforce a discipline of specificity, since they do not tolerate generalities. Second, a model serves as a vehicle for structured communication between parties to the decision-making process. The process should be interactive and iterative. At each stage, data and positions are input and the model is run. The results are reviewed, studies, understood and discussed, and data are prepared for the next run of the model. The structured format of the process increases the probability that the list of options is complete, that consequences of decisions are appreciated, the sensitivity of outcomes to changes in conditions is understood, and the trade-off between different objectives is quantified. The role of scientists is to provide the input to this process, and to help all segments of society to pursue it successfully.

Some observations on the role of science in public policy

Tom Brzustowski
President, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, Canada

The paper presents some thoughts on the role of science in the formulation of public policy. In some cases, policy requires a science fact, in many others it requires a science prediction based on a model of a complex system. Science is an important input into the process of making a public policy, but it does not produce policy prescriptions. A simple framework for policy making is the hierarchy of five levels of issues, called respectively in ascending order of their difficulty the "know what", "know how", "know who, where, when", "know why", and "know whether" issues. The input of science is at the first level; the succeeding levels relate to technology, experience, motivation, and judgement --that last level representing the government decision which must also take into account ethical and moral issues, political considerations, any economic, social and environmental implications, predictable unintended consequences, and events. Further, there is a structural disconnects between science and public policy. Science is reductionist and produces results with uncertainty, whereas public policy must be global in scope and certain in its prescriptions. To collaborate effectively, scientists and decision-makers alike need to understand clearly what their roles in the process of making public policy.

Science and disaster management

Barbara Carby
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Jamaica

Disaster management has its origins in response; once an incident occurred rescue was undertaken if necessary and victims were provided with relief. Some level of preparation was necessarily made - usually stocking of resources and practice of response plans. The management structure followed a military model, with emphasis on command and control. Indeed the military was often responsible for these response operations. Civilian organisations were modelled after the military structure and came to be known as Civil Defense organisations.

Starting in the decade of the seventies, the idea of disaster management, encompassing a totality of activities before during and after impact of a hazard, with longer term horizons, began to evolve. In particular, mitigation, - reducing the impact of a disaster - and prevention, preventing a disaster from occurring became increasingly important. The declaration of the Nineties as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction by the United Nations brought mitigation and prevention into global focus and increased their acceptance.

This evolution of prevention and mitigation as critical elements of disaster management has been underpinned by scientific knowledge. It is science and to perhaps a lesser extent

technology, which has made widespread application of mitigation and prevention possible. Advances in seismology have increased our ability to forecast the probability of earthquakes occurring along segments of faults. Engineering advances have made it possible to reduce the amount of seismic energy transmitted to a building through base isolation, while data on ground motion collected from earthquakes has been incorporated into revision of building codes, thus improving seismic performance of structures.

Mitigation also has a longer term focus. Production of risk and hazard maps guide development away from high risk areas, thus reducing probability of impact from a hazard. Geographic Information Systems technology has allowed production of multi- hazard maps and super-posing of different elements on the same map.

Improved forecasting and modelling techniques have made long and short term forecasting and tracking of hurricanes possible, thus saving many lives. Modelling of floods has also made important strides, and is used not only for development planning for also for alerting and warning vulnerable populations.

It is inevitable that as pressure to balance the need for development against protection of natural resources and vulnerable populations, the use of science will become increasingly important. Will the disaster manager of the twenty-first century be called on to apply not only scientific knowledge but also scientific methodology to the practice of the discipline? What more will be required of science in order to protect our vulnerable populations and infrastructure? Will the inequalities in access to the products of science in developing countries continue ? This paper examines the importance of science to a multi-disciplinary approach to disaster management, explores trends and suggests that science will become even more important in the future.

Role of scientific knowledge and international assessments
in national and international environmental policy formulation

Robert Watson
Chair, IPCC; UK

 

Scientific research and the convention on biodiversity

Anthony Janetos
World Resources Institute, USA

 

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