Contributions to policy from scientific research - a view from the mountains


The Mountain Research Initiative (TC Americas) and CONDESAN convened a round table discussion, titled “Monitoring of change in mountains: how can research feed policy for sustainable development?” as part of activities in the Mountain Pavilion during the Rio+20 conference. Invited speakers included representatives from Europe, Asia, and North and South America, who shared experiences and challenges on how to bring science and policy closer for sustainable development in mountains.

The event started with a reflexion by Michael Glantz, director of the Consortium for Capacity Building at the University of Colorado, USA. When mentioning some of the most pressing issues related to ecosystem services and environmental degradation, Glantz asked, “why don’t governments get that?” This seeming lack of action on the part of states in the face of overwhelming evidence is a crucial issue in understanding how science and policy can come closer, especially at 20 years since the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992. Although huge improvements have been made in our understanding of the drivers behind global changes and environmental deterioration, significant advances in international diplomacy for sustainable development, and national policies for implementing the three Rio Conventions over the last 20 years, results on the ground, shown by global indicators, are yet to be achieved in most fields.

 Glantz went on to question whether an emphasis on short term profits over sustainability were partly responsible, going on to highlight issues of the different time scales involved, and how governments have been slow to react to many of the drivers of global changes, that he termed “creeping environmental changes”.

 In a second talk, the key role of the Carpathian Convention in setting up an independent scientific forum, providing an opportunity to inform policy makers was highlighted by Harald Egerer, Head of the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention, based at the UNEP Vienna Office. The Carpathian Convention is a formal agreement between seven member countries for the protection and sustainable development of the Carpathians and was set up in 2006.

 According to Egerer, some of the challenges to integrate science and politics, within the framework of the Convention refer to access and standardisation of data, establishment of joint monitoring programmes, harmonisation of existing programmes and the development of new indicators, among others. However, Egerer affirmed that “in our understanding, science and research results are one of the basic pillars of the Carpathian Convention. Without scientific evidence, and without an assessment of the interaction between humans and ecological systems, the Convention would be a legal structure without any kind of concrete implementation”. Egerer went on to state, “sustainable development and the protection of the Carpathian Ecorregion will only be achieved, if policy and science work together. And the Convention provides an important platform for this”.

 Golam Rasul, head of the Economic Analysis Division at ICIMOD, based in Kathmandu, Nepal, provided a perspective from the Himalayan region. One of the main issues for Rasul, was the marginalisation of mountain issues in the research agendas of the region, with a subsequent lack of information from research results becoming available for policy makers. However, one of the key recommendations in closing the gap between science and policy was to “bring the policy side on board from the beginning”, according to Rasul, in order for findings to be shared with an audience who are already part of the process.


Bert De Biévre of MRI Americas (TCA) and CONDESAN concluded the round of talks by presenting experiences and challenges from the Andes. Among his reflections was the question of how to combine work at different scales. For example, in terms of time scales, De Biévre emphasised that “long term monitoring can have short term results if designed to this purpose”. He also stressed the earlier point from the Himalayan region of engaging early, adding that success in incorporating research into policy was more likely if relevant priorities and national development indicators were taken on board from the start. Finally, De Biévre highlighted that the scientists’ role does not stop when policies are adopted, but continues with important work in monitoring their effectiveness and contributing to their adjustment, if necessary, concluding that “policy is not paper, policy is practice”.


Based on the presentations of Andean, European and Asian experiences, the recommendations to promote better, and greater, articulation between scientific research and the process of policy making, highlighted, among others, the importance of factoring in the involvement of policy makers at the beginning of projects, being clear about which policy level efforts are being aimed at with respect to the priorities and objectives, and the need for novel formats of data exchange. Emphasis was also placed on the importance of collaboration between scientists within a region to achieve compatibility between environmental monitoring systems, and in the development of new information transnational systems. Finally, the importance of adequately communicating science for use in policy formulation was highlighted by participants.

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