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Science-policy interaction in the global greenhouse: Institutional design and institutional performance in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Skodvin, Tora

Research input constitutes a key component in the development of effective international environmental regimes. Scientific knowledge is called for not only in the design of policies that are effective in terms of solving the problems for which they were designed, but also (increasingly) in the identification of the problem itself. Scientific knowledge in its "original" form, however, is not readily available for policy-makers to "use" in a particular policy-making context. While relevant, scientific knowledge usually does not explicitly address the particular problems policy-makers struggle with. Scientific knowledge is also produced within a context; within structures of knowledge and theories that constitute the basis for the knowledge generated, and which implies that scientific knowledge is characterised by a certain context dependency. Also scientific knowledge is provided in a technical form which is not applicable in policy-making. Thus, for scientific knowledge to be applicable in policy-making, it needs to be interpreted and "translated" – transformed – into a form in which it may serve as a premise for policy choice. In this process of transformation, the competence of both scientists and policy-makers is needed. Scientific competence is needed to ensure that the knowledge base provided is representative of state-of-the-art knowledge within relevant fields and disciplines. Policy competence is needed to ensure its relevance and applicability to the particular policy problem for which the input is sought and developed. Thus, scientific knowledge for policy-making is generated in processes of science–policy interaction. Science–policy interaction is difficult and demanding because of its immanent tension between impartiality and disinterestedness on the one hand, and strategic behaviour and interest realisation on the other. This tension is generated by the interaction between two distinctively different systems of behaviour. While science (ideally) is conceived of as a truth-seeking endeavour – whose norms and guidelines for behaviour are directed towards the generation of "objective" and disinterested knowledge – politics constitutes a system for the generation of (collective) decisions, where behaviour is directed towards the realisation of (individual) rational interests in these decisions. In contrast to the ideal of impartiality characterising the scientific method, political behaviour is characterised by strategic reasoning where the instrumental utilisation – as well as manipulation and distortion – of knowledge may constitute central elements in political strategies whereby individual interests are sought realised. This tension is reinforced, moreover, by an image of the relationship between science and politics as one of opposite poles, where science is everything politics is not: pure, objective, subject to rational analytical reasoning and thus not hostage to manipulation tactics and coercive power – ingredients often associated with politics. While both theoretical analyses and experience show that the relationship between science and politics by far is as clear-cut as this image suggests, this image has a strong position in the public as well as among practising scientists and policy-makers themselves. Thus, any interactive dialogue between these two systems of behaviour takes place in the shadow of this image which suggests that the interaction itself implies a risk of political "contamination" of the scientific process and a serious loss of legitimacy. In dealing with this immanent tension, processes of science–policy interaction face a difficult challenge which may represent a significant obstacle to their effectiveness. In this paper, we explore the nature and dynamics of science–policy interaction and the extent to which and how institutional arrangements may be utilised as instruments for enhancing the effectiveness of the dialogue. Our analysis is premised on the assumption that processes of science–policy interaction take place within the framework of institutions that to a varying extent are capable of or designed for tackling the challenges science–policy interaction presents. Institutional arrangements are social constructions and may as such, in principle, be designed and manipulated to improve institutional performance. To the extent that institutions capable of handling these challenges may be developed by conscious design, therefore, institutional design may represent a potential instrument whereby the effectiveness of the process of science–policy interaction may be enhanced. The analysis is divided into three parts: In the first part of the paper, the theoretical framework for the study is developed. The point of departure for the analysis is the internal dynamics of science and politics in their "pure" forms, and the nature of the dynamics that are generated when these two distinct systems of behaviour meet. On this basis, then, the question of which functions the institutional apparatus should be able to serve in order to enhance the effectiveness of the science–policy dialogue is addressed in part two. In part three, this approach is employed in an empirical case study of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from its establishment in 1988 until the provision of the Second IPCC Assessment Report in 1995: To what extent is the institutional apparatus of the IPCC process capable of serving the suggested functions and to what extent and in which manner has this contributed to enhance the effectiveness of the endeavour?

More details

  • Year: 1999
  • Language: English
  • Series/Report: CICERO Working Paper;1999:03