Science and Policy United

by Alyssa Gilbert, Head of Policy and Translation, Grantham Institute and Beni Stocker

Paris panorama

Professor Sheila Jasanoff of the Harvard Kennedy School nailed it. She called upon the 2,000 attendees of the July Paris conference on the science of climate change to “dismantle the artificial walls between science, policy and politics.” In an inspiring address, on the last day of the four-day event, she forced the mainly academic audience to think honestly and critically about the way their science and opinions are intertwined. Communicating scientific results is, in the end, a form of advocacy, and is all the more important for that.

The Our Common Future  event assembled a wide range of scientists – from physicists, biologists, economists to political scientists – that are working on topics related to climate change. These scientists are investigating the challenges we will face in the coming years, and the opportunities these changes will bring. Professor Colin Prentice opened a session on biodiversity conservation that had biologists, ethicists and practitioners all on one panel – so refreshing to see such breadth on the podium (if not a bit crowded). Colin provides his overview of the session here.

The call-to-arms for scientists may have touched our own Co-Director, Professor Martin Siegert, who also attended the event. The session he chaired on glaciology pushed him to write this blog on the moral imperative for speaking out and taking action on climate change.

Dr. Mirabelle Muûls, Lecturer at the Grantham Institute helped to prepare a session on the very hot topic of “How to price carbon for industry?”  She noted that the session achieved a dual science and policy purpose: “the session was very interesting: not only were we given valuable academic feedback on our research, but the results presented by other participants were extremely policy relevant and interesting.”  Her research reveals that the EU carbon market has some issues in its design and the allocation mechanisms, but it has stimulated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing firms both in France and in Germany.

Great debates were happening, and the science got spelled out ever more clearly: To keep climate in a “safe zone” for our civilisation, we need to take action now and forge out ways by which we can leave the majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

As one of our Grantham researchers, Dr. Beni Stocker observed, “it felt l as though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was coming to life and assembling in one place to tell the wider public where we stand.” Beni also makes it clear that he is looking forward to the next such opportunity and hope that the engagement with and participation of political organisations, representatives from the private sector, policy makers and the wider public will even be strengthened. These are positive sentiments indeed, from one of the members of the younger generation of scientists.

And so, it seems to me, that this important event on the road to COP21 in Paris has been successful, at least with some, in starting to bridge the often too wide gap between academics and policy makers.

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