How to strengthen the connection between science and politics?

The Antarctic area presents itself already threatened by the increasing impact of several anthropogenic activities that affect its environmental, scientific, and historical values. These impacts include climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, wildlife disturbances, and the introduction of non-native species. Researchers have been working in a collective effort to develop environmental policies in Antarctica, fostering legally binding international agreements. The communication pathways between science and politics in Antarctica, shown in figure 1, describe the way that multiple components are able to work together. When it comes to the conception of information, it’s up to scientists to carry out investigations for decision-making that results in positive management of the Antarctic environment. 

Fig.1 Antarctic science-policy communication pathways. ATCM= Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting; CEP= Committee on Environmental Protection; SC-CAMLR= Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources; SCAR= Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) has a large information base that allows policymakers access to relevant and reliable scientific knowledge. The environmental protection protocol of the Antarctic treaty works to assess the environmental impact of certain activities, such as the conservation of fauna and flora, waste disposal and management, and the area’s protection and management.

There are advantages in science contributing to policymaking, as it allows:

  • The understanding and response to the environmental consequences of climate change in the Antarctic region;
  • To address risks to biodiversity associated with the introduction to Antarctica of non-native species, including the transfer of native species between bioregions within Antarctica;
  • Appropriately management of the environmental impacts of tourism and non-governmental activities; and
  • To improve the effectiveness of protected area management, and further developing the Antarctic protected area system.

The inclusion of scientists from various countries and/or multinational support for presented research evidence can facilitate the construction of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). The greater involvement of early-career scientists, including through the Association of Early-Career Polar Scientists (APECS), may provide an additional opportunity to enhance the interface between science and policy.

The authors of this article also explain how to improve the policymaking process. For example, by raising awareness among the scientific community about opportunities to inform environmental policymaking within the ATS. Also, a clearer communication by the ATCM and CEP in relation to specific knowledge gaps that must be filled to contribute to advancing Antarctic environmental protection. SCAR could further assist in strengthening the communication among its members on areas of research by the ATCM and the CEP. It is also important to continue to inform the scientific community through meetings on the routes where relevant policies are formed from good scientific communication to policymakers. This cooperation between scientists and politicians provides an efficient implementation of measures that strengthen the governmental structure of Antarctica, a continent that equals the space of Europe. There is still a need for better science and policy communication, combined with better science funding planning, relevant to policies to protect the Antarctic environment.

Source: Hughes, K. A., Constable, A., Frenot, Y., López-Martínez, J., McIvor, E., Njåstad, B., Terauds, A., Ligget, D., Roldan, G., Wilmotte, A. &  Xavier, J. C. (2018). Antarctic environmental protection: Strengthening the links between science and governance. Environmental Science & Policy, 83, 86-95.

Author: Raquel Coimbra


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