United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Article 9 of the Convention establishes the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) “to provide the Conference of the Parties and, as appropriate, its other subsidiary bodies with timely information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to the Convention…Under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties, and drawing upon existing competent international bodies, this body shall:
(a) Provide assessments of the state of scientific knowledge relating to climate change and its effects;
(b) Prepare scientific assessments on the effects of measures taken in the implementation of the Convention;
(c) Identify innovative, efficient and state-of-the-art technologies and know-how and advise on the ways and means of promoting development and/or transferring such technologies;
(d) Provide advice on scientific programmes, international cooperation in research and development related to climate change, as well as on ways and means of supporting endogenous capacity-building in developing countries; and
(e) Respond to scientific, technological and methodological questions that the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies may put to the body.”
Relating to this, Article 5 of the Convention on research and systematic observations, says that Parties shall:
(a) Support and further develop, as appropriate, international and intergovernmental programmes and networks or organizations aimed at defining, conducting, assessing and financing research, data collection and systematic observation, taking into account the need to minimize duplication of effort;
(b) Support international and intergovernmental efforts to strengthen systematic observation and national scientific and technical research capacities and capabilities, particularly in developing countries, and to promote access to, and the exchange of, data and analyses thereof obtained from areas beyond national jurisdiction; and
(c) Take into account the particular concerns and needs of developing countries and cooperate in improving their endogenous capacities and capabilities to participate in the efforts referred to in subparagraphs (a) and (b) above.
The COP, through decision 6/CP.1, noted that SBSTA “will be the link between the scientific, technical and technological assessments and the information provided by competent international bodies, and the policy oriented needs of the Conference of the Parties.” In annex I to the same decision, SBSTA was tasked with, inter alia, the provision of assessments of the state of scientific knowledge relating to climate change and its effects; summarizing scientific and other information provided by bodies such as the IPCC; preparing scientific assessments on the effects of measures taken in the implementation of the Convention; and providing advice on scientific programmes and on international cooperation in research and development related to climate change.
SBSTA plays an important role as the link between the scientific information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) and other expert sources on the one hand, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other. The IPPC is a very significant input to the work of UNFCCC, being relevant not only to the international process, but also in helping Parties formulate their national policies. The fact that an intergovernmental body is providing regular assessments and other support based on work of a substantial number of scientists is very helpful to the work of the UNFCCC, and in particular as the key reports are already endorsed by governments. In addition to receiving and drawing on the work of the IPCC, SBSTA also sometimes requesting specific information or reports from it. In addition to the IPCC, SBSTA can call on the work of other scientists and experts, and convene expert groups to address specific issues (such as has been done for REDD).
Research and systematic observation is a regular and separate item on the SBSTA agenda. For example at SBSTA 30 in 2009 the following issues were considered105: emerging scientific findings; research planning activities, including those undertaken in response to key uncertainties and research needs identified by the IPCC or raised by Parties; research priorities, and gaps in the implementation of these priorities; research capacity-building activities, particularly in developing countries; regional climate change research networks; and relevant communication issues. This discussion was informed by information provided by a range of regional and international climate change research programmes and organizations provided in advance of the meeting. As a consequence of the discussion, SBSTA requested the secretariat to prepare a list of international and regional programmes and organizations active in areas of research relevant to climate change, and to post this list on the UNFCCC website.
COP 10 requested SBSTA “to develop a structured five-year programme of work on the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, which would address the following issues: methodologies, data and modelling; vulnerability assessments; adaptation planning, measures and actions; and integration into sustainable development” in the context of its terms of reference (decision 1/CP.10). Through decision 2/CP.11 the COP 11 adopted this programme of work for SBSTA, the objective of which is to “assist all Parties, in particular developing countries, including the least developed countries and small island developing States, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures to respond to climate change on a sound, scientific, technical and socioeconomic basis, taking into account current and future climate change and variability” (Annex to decision 2/CP.10).
In summary, SBSTA plays an essential role in providing scientific and technical advice to the COP and, essentially, to the Parties to the Convention, as stressed in various COP decisions and SBSTA reports. To fulfil this role, SBSTA addresses major issues of the Convention as tasked by the COP, and makes use of workshops and expert groups. SBSTA also provides the essential link between the IPCC – a body independent of the UNFCCC – and the COP, by making it available to the COP (and to other Convention bodies) and assessing the relevance and value to the Convention of the information.
UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and its Committee on Science and Technology (CST)
The Committee on Science and Technology (CST) was established by article 24 of the Convention as a subsidiary body of the COP to provide it “with information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to combating desertification and mitigating the effects ofdrought”. The same article requested COP to establish a roster of independent experts with expertise and experience in the relevant fields and, as necessary, appoint ad hoc panels to provide it, through the CST, with information and advice on specific issues regarding the state of the art in fields of science and technology relevant to combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought.
The terms of reference for the CST were adopted by COP 1 through decision 15/COP.1. They specify the mandate provided by Article 24 of the Convention in terms of advisory functions, data and information functions, research and review functions, functions related to technology, and evaluation functions. Decision 16/COP.1 decided that at each session the CST will address in depth a priority issue relating to the implementation of the Convention.
The following issues have been addressed in depth by CST: traditional knowledge (CST2); early-warning systems (CST3); the application of traditional knowledge, benchmarks and indicators and early warning systems to the monitoring and assessment of sustainable soil and water management in dryland areas (CST4); strategies for the communication of information and its use to generate best practices for combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought (CST5); land degradation, vulnerability and rehabilitation: an integrated approach (CST6/7); and the effects of climatic variations and human activities on land degradation (CST8). CST 9 will address biophysical and socio-economic monitoring and assessment of desertification and land degradation, to support decision-making in land and water management.
Following considerations at CST4, COP 4 encouraged Parties to hold extensive consultations on ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the CST (decision 17/COP.4). Parties’ submissions, as well as consultations between regional groups, were introduced to COP 5 through document ICCD/COP(5)/3/Add.2. The document summarises Parties’ main concerns as: the competence of participants in the CST; the political nature of discussions, rather than a focus on scientific and technological issues; the lack of continuity of representatives to the CST; and inadequate time within the agenda of the CST to allow for in-depth analysis and debate of the issues. Through decision 17/COP.5, the COP adopted ways and means to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of CST including through, among others, giving the CST a role in the review of national reports, better integrate of the work of the CST into national and regional activities, and establishing a Group of Experts on combating desertification and mitigating the effects of droughts.
The Group of Experts (GoE) met for the first time in 2003 and reported to the CST. COP 6 adopted a framework of the two-year work plan for the GoE, requested the GoE to focus on issues emerging from the review of national subregional and regional programmes and provide advice, through the CST, to the Committee for the Review of Implementation of the Convention (CRIC) (decision 15/COP.6). With decision 15/COP.7, the COP requested the GoE to continue its priority activities, including developing a communication and information strategy, and a land degradation and poverty strategy, and requested the CST Bureau to review the functions and the work of the GoE. The COP, through decision 17/COP.8, took note of the final report of the GoE. COP-8 has not appointed a GoE.
COP 3 invited Parties to report to the Secretariat on the use that they have made of the roster of experts (decision 15/COP.3). COP 4 noted that little response had been received from Parties on the use they had made of the roster and repeated the call on Parties to submit such information (decision 15/COP.4). COP again repeated the call on Parties to submit information on the use of the roster (decision 15/COP.5). Cop 6 not only repeated the same call, but also asked the CST to utilize the roster through its Group of Experts (decision 14/COP.6).
With decision 3/COP.8, COP adopted the 10-year Strategic Plan and Framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention (2008-2018) (“The Strategy”). Operational objective 3 of the 10-year Strategic Plan anticipates CST becoming “a global authority on scientific and technical knowledge pertaining to desertification/land degradation and mitigation of the effects of drought”. Decision 3/COP.8 requests the Executive Secretary, in consultation with the COP Bureau and CST, to prepare a costed draft two-year work programme for the CST in line with The Strategy, taking a results-based management approach.
Decision 13/COP.8 decided that future ordinary sessions of the CST should be organized in a predominantly scientific and technical conference-style format in consultation with a lead institution/consortium, which is qualified in and has expertise in the relevant thematic topic selected by the COP, and should focus on one specific thematic topic determined by the COP. In this context, the UNCCD 1st Scientific Conference “Understanding Desertification and Land Degradation Trends” is organized by the Dryland Science for Development Consortium (DSD) with the assistance of the UNCCCD Secretariat and is convened, in support of UNCCD under the auspices of the CST, and will take place in Buenos-Aires, Argentina during the CST session of COP-9 (22-24 September 2009). The Conference’s main purpose will be to analyze and summarize leading scientific knowledge on the Conference topic, in ways that generate practical, actionable recommendations for deliberations by the UNCCD COP to more effectively combat desertification in affected States, regions and globally. The format of the Conference includes a pre-Conference consultation phase organized through three globally-constituted Working Groups which will develop analyses that reflect prevailing scientific consensus on three facets of the Conference’s topic, namely: (i) WG I. Integrated method for monitoring and assessment of land degradation processes and drivers (Land Quality Assessment); WG II. Monitoring and assessing land rehabilitation and sustainable land management (Sustainable Land Management Assessment); and WG III Monitoring and Assessment of Desertification and Land Degradation: Economic and Social Drivers and Knowledge Management.
In summary, the UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology has provided advice to the Convention’s bodies on scientific and technological matters, in particular through the in-depth consideration of priority issues chosen by the COP. It was assisted by the roster of experts and in particular the Group of Experts. The adoption of the 10-year Strategic Plan at COP 8 offered the opportunity to reshape the operations of the CST, by introducing new ways and means of working, including conference-style sessions held in consultation with an institution or consortium qualified in the field of the specific session topic, as it is the case of the upcoming Scientific Conference “Understanding Desertification and Land Degradation Trends” (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 22-24 September 2009).
Examples of the involvement of selected intergovernmental organizations in the science-policy interface
The following paragraphs are not meant to be an exhaustive review of the activities of these organizations and programmes with respect to the science-policy interface, but to give a number of examples of the roles that they play so as to provide context for the gap analysis.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Article 1 of the FAO constitution states that the Organization shall promote and, where appropriate, recommend national and international action with respect to, inter alia, the conservation of natural resource and the adoption of improved methods of agriculture production. In carrying out this part of its mandate, the FAO concentrates its competence on living resources known to be of use to humanity, especially for food and agriculture. In this context, FAO considers biodiversity and ecosystem services as the sine qua non for food security and rural development, and addresses it through nutrition-associated biodiversity and the ecosystem approach at the technical and policy level.
FAO’s commitment to the fight against biodiversity loss has seen a steep increase in the last ten years as shown, for example, through the establishment of the Priority Areas for Inter-disciplinary Action (PAIA) on Integrated Management of Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture. This is implemented by the Interdepartmental Working Group on Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture (IDWG/BIOD), the main interdisciplinary analysis and coordination mechanism for issues related to biological diversity within the FAO. In addition, the FAO re-emphasised its commitment to fighting biodiversity loss in 2007 by creating the new Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (NRD); which leads on, among other issues, biodiversity for food and agriculture. NRD hosts the Secretariats of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) and the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).
FAO’s intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has overseen the preparation by FAO of two global assessments on biodiversity for food and agriculture106. Based on these assessments, the Commission developed policies, action plans, codes of conduct and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, all of which confirm the relevance and credibility of the scientific analysis and information for the development of effective policies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for food and agriculture at various levels. Currently the Commission’s Multi-year Programme of Work is overseeing global assessments of the state of the world’s plant, animal, forest and aquatic genetic resources which shall ultimately lead to the first integrated global assessment of The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.
FAO biodiversity-related initiatives are carried out in partnership with a wide variety of institutions (e.g. CGIAR), Governments, biodiversity-related conventions, as well as other MEA processes. There is great and increasing cooperation and joint activities between FAO and the CBD, especially through the Programmes of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity and Forest Biodiversity. FAO is in a unique position to address the issue of biodiversity loss given its ability to make the link between biodiversity (genetic resources and their use in agriculture, fisheries and forestry) and trade facilitation. In addition, FAO has under its responsibility many biodiversity-related legally binding and non-binding instruments and initiatives, such as the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) and the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries. The importance of FAO’s work on biodiversity and ecosystem services is finally reflected in its outstanding knowledge-management on biodiversity and related issues through a variety of widely used tools such as its Webpage on “Biological Diversity in Food and Agriculture” and the Web-based “FAO Knowledge Forum” as well as its flagship regular assessments including the State of the World of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) and the Global Forest Resources Assessment.
UNESCO – MAB Programme
The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme was launched in the early 1970s with the aim of promoting interdisciplinary research and building capacity so as to improve the relationship of people with their environment globally. The MAB Programme, which actively promotes collaboration and cooperation between scientists, particularly at the regional level, grew from a knowledge and research project network into one that also encompasses field sites used for interdisciplinary research, observation and assessment. Meanwhile much of the focus of MAB activity remains with MAB National Committees and MAB Regional Networks.
The biosphere reserve concept was devised in 1974 and further revised in 1995 with the creation of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). The WNBR provides opportunities to combine scientific knowledge and governance modalities to: (i) reduce biodiversity loss, (ii) improve livelihoods, and (iii) enhance social, economic and cultural conditions for environmental sustainability. The MAB Programme promotes sustainable development through the establishment of interdisciplinary learning laboratories using sites of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves for research on biodiversity and sustainability; improvement of ecological, biodiversity and biological resources management knowledge, and enhancement of capacities for socio-ecological research including eco-hydrology, to attain the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.
MAB’s current strategy is centred on fostering policies, technical capacity-building, research, networking, education and international cooperation in the fields of water, ecological and earth sciences for enhancing societal responses. WNBR serves as its vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making. The MAB Programme, including the WNBR, relies on related action plans for its implementation. The governing body of the MAB Programme adopted the latest plan – the Madrid Action Plan (MAP) – in Madrid in February 2008. The MAP is organized around three main areas: climate change; provision of ecosystem services; and globalization as main driver of change.
Much of the work of the MAB programme is focused on research that is of relevance for management, and on the sharing of that knowledge and experience.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Biodiversity Programme
The UNDP has made Biodiversity for Developmenta prime focus of its Energy and Environment Practice. Through capacity development, knowledge management, policy advice and advocacy, UNDP helps more than 140 countries maintain and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystem services. Closely integrated activities, including its Biodiversity Global Programme, the Equator Initiative, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the GEF Small Grants Programme, which enable UNDP to leverage change at the local, national, regional and global levels. The UNDP works to ensure that biodiversity considerations are integrated in processes designed to achieve the MDGs. At the same time, UNDP works to help the CBD, multilateral and bilateral organizations, NGOs, other civil society organizations, and the private sector incorporate the MDGs in their efforts.
UNDP's Biodiversity Global Programme assists developing countries and communities to influence national and global policies, benefit from knowledge on biodiversity, and advance their sustainable development and poverty reduction goals. Through this programme, the UNDP works to help integrate biodiversity, ecosystem services, protected areas and other CBD commitments into national policies and programmes, including in such key sectors as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and energy. These efforts address social, economic and policy frameworks such as the MDGs, Human Development Reports, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and National Sustainable Development Strategies. Specific activities include: empowering local communities and indigenous peoples to protect their traditional knowledge and ensure equitable access and sharing of benefits from biodiversity; and achieving synergies with other multilateral environmental agreements related to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The Programme works through strategic partnerships to provide cutting-edge knowledge on policies that work for people and biodiversity.
UNDP's Drylands Development Centre works with people to fight poverty in the dry areas of the world through the practice of sustainable land management. It focuses attention on the unique and valuable biodiversity in dryland ecosystems worldwide and promotes the sustainable use of this biodiversity through: policy action and advocacy, programming for biodiversity-friendly development at the country level, and knowledge sharing and outreach.
The Equator Initiative is a partnership that promotes greater recognition of the critical role of local communities in reducing poverty and conserving biodiversity. Launched in January 2002, the work undertaken by Equator Initiative partners champions and supports sustainable communities in the Earth's equatorial region. The Equator Initiative is a partnership of UNDP with BrasilConnects, Conservation International, the government of Canada, the government of Germany, the International Development Research Centre, IUCN – The World Conservation Union, The Nature Conservancy, Television Trust for the Environment, and the United Nations Foundation.
Since 1991, the UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank have worked with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to help developing countries fund projects and programmes that protect the global environment. GEF funding is particularly instrumental in mainstreaming biodiversity into other sectors