Jia Min: How are forest science knowledge products used and not used in policy discussions?

Let’s start off with a series of limericks, titled Funny thing about some scientists is.

Funny thing about some scientists is

that they think that all their analysis

is value-neutral

and unemotional,

and that they derive power from this.


One day inspiration hit me! I thought:

Your voice on my face would be well-sought.

So I gathered a team

to make reality my dream

Who’d have known all the trouble we brought?


The reason why governments are stubborn?

They’ve not enough knowledge to govern!

The more truth that I publish,

in their brains the less rubbish,

Science is all you need for a decision.


Imagine how much we can predict

if we made everyone a science addict!

We’d know when Earth ends,

or if we have Martian friends,

Who cares about humans in conflict?

I initially wrote the above for a poetry class but it wasn’t exactly good poetry because of the unambiguity of my stance, but I just thought it might make a good summary for my motivations going into COP24. I am Jia Min, a third-year Environmental Studies major with an interest in tropical forest conservation ecology. I love plants more than animals and searing sun more than gentle rain. I strongly believe that conservation ecology involves more than asking an ecological question with conservation consequences. Instead it is ecology that is specifically designed for conservation, with its ethical, political and social quandaries in mind. Many scientists, however, are concerned that such a philosophy robs them (and the science field) of their credibility, and thus seek not to be perceived as advocates. Yet scientists also struggle with being painfully aware of the scale of transformation needed to avert climate change’s worst effects (see here and here), and at least a few would agree that greater scientific consensus seems to have done little in comparison.

To gain some inspiration on coping with this conundrum and how exactly science and scientists can play a bigger role in forest policy, I hope to answer the question,

How are forest science knowledge products used and not used in policy discussions?”.

Examples of science knowledge products include databases on suitable areas for restoration that are based on surveys or some scientifically-determined threshold (e.g. the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology used in the New York Declaration on Forests), REDD+ guidelines based on calculations of the carbon storage potentials of different forest types, ages, and species, and of course science products in its more traditional form of scientific publications.

Sub-questions I may wish to interrogate include (Assume by science I mean forest-related science – related to afforestation, reforestation or deforestation (AFR)):

  • what types of science products are used in discussions of policy?
  • what narratives or actions is science used to legitimize?
  • how does science contribute to ambiguity or uncertainty as to the effectiveness of particular policies?

(This question is motivated by how there is still some uncertainty as to whether       forests serve as a net carbon source of sink (e.g. Nadine Unger’s “To save the planet         don’t plant trees” article and some of the associated debates (here) or more recently, University of Edinburgh’s suggestion that “Tropical forests may soon hinder, not help, climate change effort”)

During the conference I will be attending events listed on the REDD+ website, dropping by relevant booths (i.e. those explicitly related to forests or science), the SBSTA-IPCC special event, and for the rest of the time, the negotiations. I will probably be making observations using the sub-questions, taking note of what science knowledge products are referenced and highlighted, how often I hear things like ‘science-based policy’ and the examples that are given, and also what kinds of inputs are sought from scientists at the negotiations, if any, and why scientists choose to phrase things the way they do.

As a side project to understand how scientists see their role in the negotiations and the broader climate change policy circles, I will also be compiling a video of responses by scientists to the prompt, “In one sentence, what does science-based policy mean to you?” or a variation (e.g. what does it look like to you?), depending on trends that emerge when people respond.

If it emerges from the COP24 proceedings or these videos and short conversations with scientists that really my answer to my main question depends on scientists’ own perceptions of their roles, or that actually only scientists talk about science and few others do, I may also wish to study the responses by scientists to the call for inputs for the Talanoa Dialogue – specifically how scientists or science-based groups have responded.

Looking forward!

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