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What role does science play in policy making?

  • Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters
    Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters

Erik Solenheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme visited Center for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru to deliver a talk about the interface of science and policy.

In his talk titled ‘Science Policy Interface: Insights and ideas for a changing world’ Mr. Solenheim spoke about the three main environmental challenges of we face today namely; climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity.

He opened the talk with the success of the Montreal agreement and how it came about.  “In 1987 the world came together to sign the Montreal agreement. To me, that is the best international agreement. It is one of the only agreements where every nation that signed did exactly what they promised to do... It all started with science, when a number of Mexican and American scientists started ringing the alarm bells about the ozone hole over Antartica” he remarked.

The Montreal agreement was indeed a success story, where scientists and citizens came together to demand policy changes from the government, in order to solve environmental problem. According to Mr. Solenheim, this is an important lesson for today’s citizens, who need to be informed about the problems we face today and influence the policy makers.

Although the Montreal agreement faced immense opposition from businesses and elected officials, who believed that any action to protect the ozone, could affect the American way of life, the agreement was signed. Today, many climate change sceptics make similar arguments and even go on to say that a shift from fossil fuels could affect businesses, employment and development. But instead, early trends show the renewable energy market creating jobs and a shift to renewable energy sources actually reducing cost for major businesses.

Technological solutions can also come to the aid to solve the problem of pollution believes Mr. Solenheim. “In some Indian cities, like Delhi, burning agricultural waste is causing pollution. If that can be turned into economic opportunities, by making biofuel and energy out of the waste, it can solve the environment problem and provide economic opportunities” he remarks.

The loss of biodiversity, Mr. Solenheim believes, is one of the most important and difficult environmental challenges, as there are not many technological solutions that are applicable. Instead he urges the citizens to involve in conservation efforts. With the right incentives and policies, citizens can be employed to protect biodiversity from poachers and loss of habitat, he opines.

“Citizens need to mobilize, politicians need to regulate the markets, businesses need to find solutions using technology and scientists need to stand up and fight for the right policies. Science needs to be the basis for political decisions, especially the ones regarding environment” concludes Mr. Solenheim is the way forward for making right policy decisions.