Blog | 07 Mar, 2024

Key messages from the webinar on science-policy interfaces & environmental rule of law

The IUCN WCEL Early Career Specialist Group hosted a webinar discussing challenges relating to science-policy interfaces and the environmental rule of law, with a focus on ocean governance.

On 26 June 2023, the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law Early Career Specialist Group (ECSG) hosted a webinar introducing the topic "Science-policy interfaces & environmental rule of law.” This event is part of a project focusing on promoting dialogue between young lawyers and policymakers.

Ms. Luciana Xavier kick-started the webinar. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of São Paulo (Brazil) and serves as Secretary of the Brazilian UNESCO chair for Ocean sustainability. Ms. Xavier shared her broad experience of over fifteen years working in the science-policy interface, both as a scientist and as a programme manager. She began her talk by explaining the difference between scientific research and scientific consultancy, the former being a systematic process of investigation aimed at generating new knowledge and the latter constituting guidance for decision-making on individual issues. As scientific research and scientific consultantcy have different approaches and time demands, reaching a middle point between scientist and policy-makers would be the main challenge, requiring time and frequent interactions, Xavier said.

Next, Xavier addressed equity and justice in ocean governance and stressed the transdisciplinarity and the need to find common ground as well as a common working language of all stakeholders. Science should have a voice in the political debate as should normally marginalized voices, she advocated. To overcome the siloes in scientific fields, a long-term commitment to transdisciplinary is needed.  Transdisciplinary work would sometimes not even be recognized as research. She concluded that the greatest challenge but also the key issue ahead would be the institutionalization of transdisciplinarity and working closely with policy and decision-makers as well as society. This, however, would require changing traditional academic and research institutions to leave behind the existing compartmentalization of disciplines.

The second speaker in this event was Pradeep A. Singh, a Fellow at the Research Institute for Sustainability in Potsdam (Germany). With seven years under his belt working in ocean governance, Mr. Singh brought a unique perspective to the table. His work on the international stage focuses mainly on deep seabed mining and marine biodiversity conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

During the webinar, Mr. Singh touched upon the importance of intergenerational equity when discussing the science-policy nexus, emphasizing the necessity for an evidence-based approach to protect and sustainably manage the oceans. Quoting the Eurpean Commission’s International Ocean Governance agendz, he highlighted, “Ocean science, observation, environmental monitoring, and prediction are vital for evidence-based action... There are still too many gaps in our knowledge of the ocean.”

However, the path from science to policy is not always straightforward. Mr. Singh addressed the challenges faced due to incoherence and fragmentation in the governance of marine areas, underscoring the myriad of actors involved at various levels - international, regional, and local. Drawing from his experiences, Singh also stressed the importance of considering traditional knowledge and fostering more interdisciplinary interactions. In conclusion, Singh called for greater collaboration between disciplines to ensure that oceans receive the care and attention they deserve.

Following the two presentations, the speakers engaged in a lively discussion, with a focus on how the dialogue between science and policy could be improved. Both speakers agreed that more streamlining processes are necessary. In this context, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) implementing agreement on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) was mentioned as an example of a treaty containing a clause on decision-making to be based on the best available knowledge.

Xavier also mentioned the need to manage expectations and to make it clear where there are uncertainties in science, underlining the need to use the precautionary principle when science cannot give clear answers. Both, Xavier and Singh, asserted the importance of including traditional knowledge and making sure every voice is heard, also the voice of future generations. Here, Singh emphasized the role of IUCN and WCEL to bring knowledge to policy-makers.

Giving the examples of geo-engineering and deep seabed mining, Singh made the case for introducing a shift of the burden of proof whenever science indicates a risk, requiring proponents to show that their activity is safe. Xavier illustrated the need to inform public discussions with scientific knowledge to allow an informed public debate on decisions knowing the impacts and the trade-offs.

Lastly, both speakers agreed that there already is room for scientists to be heard by policy-makers but that their role could still be enlarged and that scientists should actively strive for more participation in treaty negotiations, not just conferences.


The IUCN WCEL ECSG includes a project on science-policy interfaces in the context of environmental rule of law. Join us in our upcoming webinars as we continue to explore the intricate connections between the connections between science & environmental, law, and policy! Check more about the IUCN WCEL ECSG online. The webinar recording available on the IUCN WCEL YouTube page


About the Authors:

Linda Schumacher holds a Ph.D. title in law; in her thesis she analysed the legal frameworks of Germany and New Zealand concerning adaptation strategies to rising sea levels. Currently, she is working for the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Construction in Germany. Linda is a member of the IUCN ECSG group since 2022.

Ju-Ching Huang is currently an S.J.D. candidate at Georgetown University Law Center. She received her LL.M. in Environmental Law and Policy from Stanford Law School. Her research explores the role of adaptive governance in shaping coastal adaptation law and policy. She previously worked at Georgetown Climate Center and was the 2022-2023 Maryland Law and Policy Fellow at Maryland Sea Grant.

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