Supporting Climate Policy with Research Evidence – an Oxymoron?
COP meetings have an interesting format. In massive halls, leaders of national negotiating teams ('parties') make statements of official positions; at best, contradictions are acknowledged, but rarely resolved. Nearby and behind closed doors, technical staff from the country teams meet in crowded smaller rooms, wordsmithing sentences and phrases, often without clear understanding of the implications. In other nearby rooms, folks like me spend more of our time attending 'side events' -- presenting evidence and defending positions that we think ought to be considered by the negotiators and others interested. Outside of all of those rooms there is conversation everywhere and all manner of interest groups trying to make their voices heard. You have to wonder, do the groups hear each other?
I’m attending the climate change meetings in Copenhagen as part of a delegation from the ASB Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins (which I coordinated for the last 2 years). Today ASB partners contributed to a side event on forestry issues. The event assembled pathbreaking science on the causes of deforestation and tree cover change, and the challenges of defining the term 'forest'. Negotiators in the COP understand that tropical deforestation is responsible for 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions and seek an agreement on how to reduce it (called REDD). Agreement seems to be moving along, albiet very slowly. Research results presented by Eric Lambin show that the causes of deforestation and afforestation vary greatly from country-to-country and that deforestation in one country is often offset by increases in forest loss in other countries. International collaboration is thus essential, although actions appropriate in one place will rarely be exactly appropriate in other places. Meine Van Noordwijk showed that definitions are fundamentally important: almost any definition of what is / isn't a forest will be debated. Negotiators need to agree on definitions. From a climate change perspective the most important thing is to motivate farmers, foresters and other land uses to protect and plant forests and trees in all parts of the landscape. We were also reminded that bold action is essential; the longer we delay real action, the greater the chance of fires that can wipe out the gains that we make.
We hope that these messages somehow get through to the rooms next door. We wish that this could happen overnight, but it won't. Effective science-policy linkages require patience and lots of hallway talk. The negotiators need to agree on a deal that slows, then halts, global climate change. The world needs negotiators that are brave and receptive to the value of science. It must be done, surely it can be done.