Coast to Coast Seminar Series: "The Role of Science in Marine Policy-Making" Live from Ottawa

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
11:30 - 12:30


The talk will commence with setting a background for science-based marine policy-making. The first background component is a review of the standard principles (platitudes?) about the role of science in policy-making generically. The review will consider both why each principle is considered important and the implications of each one for dynamics of science advisory processes and interactions between science advisors and policy makers. The other component of the context for this talk will be a review of the meaning of sustainable use/development in natural resource management and policy. These two components of the context for science - policy interface will be brought together with a brief discussion of what "integration" means in policy-making and the science advice which supports it.

The talk will move on to the special challenges of policy-making in marine environments, considering both areas within national jurisdictions and areas beyond national jurisdiction. It will develop the thesis that drivers of marine policy making have a strong top-down nature. Broad commitments regarding conservation and sustainable use and development are made in very high-level fora such as Rio (1992), Johannesburg (2002), and Rio+20 (2012). These become translated into paragraphs of greater specificity in a pair of annual UN General Assembly Resolutions on Sustainable Fisheries and on Ocean and Law of the Sea. Once commitments are adopted at the UN level, the major UN intergovernmental agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity, take over developing implementation frameworks for use by Parties and sectors. These frameworks are finally taken up at the national level within national jurisdictions, and in complex governance arrangements in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and implemented with policies, regulations, and occasionally even legislation.

At every stage in this top-down process science advice is needed. However, the nature of the science advice changes at each stage, as do the dynamics of the science-policy interface. The fact that below the very highest level, the conversion of broad commitments to specific policies and practices occurs in two parallel streams - a fisheries sectoral governance stream and a biodiversity conservation governance stream, poses more challenges than just duplication of effort. Many of the warts hiding in the principles and platitudes of how the science-policy interface works, and the nature of science advice itself, become revealed in how these two streams play out in parallel, each striving for implementation of common commitments, but each with different histories and different features. The talk will illustrate those "challenges" in the science-policy interface with specific examples such as "ecologically and biologically significant areas" and "vulnerable marine ecosystems". The wrap-up of the talk will consider whether the marine science-policy process is just a flawed divergence from the idealized science-policy interface, or if the imperfections in the marine science-policy process are in fact ways that the real world differs from an abstract and imaginary ideal.