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Knowledge should guide work for the environment

By Børge Brende, Environment Minister in Norway. Environmental experts from all over the world are currently in Norway to discuss how to improve knowledge about global environmental challenges.

By Børge Brende, Environment Minister in Norway

Environmental experts from all over the world are currently in Norway to discuss how to improve knowledge about global environmental challenges. This meeting is a result of the fact that Norway, at the Johannesburg Summit in September 2002, got acceptance for a proposal to establish an interdisciplinary panel of scientists related to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Since the first environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972, we have seen a large increase in the number of international environmental agreements. UNEP estimates the number to be around 500 today. Together, these agreements are crucial in the fight to ensure proper management of our natural resources and a transition to sustainable development.

The problem, however, is that these agreements rarely deal with the connections among the various environmental problems. This means that there may not be sufficient synergy among these agreements to have a significant impact on development. Norway has long believed that environmental politics has to be built on solid scientific knowledge. Today, however, our scientific knowledge about the environment is divided along specialist lines.

There is insufficient concrete knowledge about how management of one environmental issue may influence the state of the environment in another area. For example, the establishment of forest plantations can have a positive effect on the climate, but could have a negative effect on the local biodiversity. We need more knowledge about such connections. This is why it is of great importance that Norway got acceptance for the proposal to establish the interdisciplinary panel of scientists.

The scientific panel will issue recommendations for initiatives in several areas of environmental management. It will also conduct research into areas where we still know too little about the impact of human activity on the environment.

The International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has worked for years towards a common understanding of the climate change issue, and this has been the basis of policy development in the area. When the scientific panel was created in 1988, there were many opposing political opinions about what impact human activity has on the climate and which solutions should be sought to reduce climate change.

Over the years, international consensus on the climate challenge has grown and today it is generally accepted that the enhanced greenhouse effect in recent decades is primarily due to human activities. The medicine prescribed is a global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

The challenges on the international environmental agenda are complex. To meet these challenges we need a scientific basis which will identify the key questions and illuminate the connections between climate change and the degrading ozone layer, and between loss of biodiversity and degrading ecosystems on land and in the oceans. Drinking water is scarce in large parts of the world and must be sustainable managed.

At the same time we must be sure that recommendations from this panel are politically independent and that representatives are participating because of their scientific competence. The panel must be able to communicate scenarios and consequences of various choices of paths in an understandable way to decision-makers in the public and private sectors. Recommendations from such a panel will be an important foundation for reaching international consensus on the choices to initiate in order to save the environment. To Norway it is also important that the work is deeply rooted within UNEP, strengthening UNEPs role as the leading force for developing the global environmental policy.

Published in Aftenposten Morgen, January 15, 2003.

Translated by: GRID-Arendal

Monday 20 Jan 2003
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