Environmental researchers from the UK and Switzerland meet with global policy professionals

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Published on
December 6, 2023

As part of its Learning at the Boundary (L@B) programme, the Geneva Science-Policy Interface (GSPI) hosted a group of 13 researchers from the UK and Switzerland for three days, to explore Geneva’s ecosystem of environmental governance and develop approaches for engagement with international policy actors.

The critical role of science in addressing environmental and broader sustainability crises is recognized at the highest level of global policymaking. The 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report highlights the imperative for political leadership and science-based transformation in order to catch-up on significant delays in attaining the sustainable development goals by 2030. Global intergovernmental science-policy panels such as the IPCC or IPBES have been created to provide scientific assessments and produce policy-relevant recommendations. However, despite these initiatives, navigating global science-policy mechanisms still remains a challenge for many researchers.

As an established knowledge broker, the GSPI hosted a group of 13 early-career researchers at postdoctoral and senior lecturer levels from the University College London, the University of Zurich and the University of Geneva for a visit to Geneva's hub of multilateral environmental governance. Coming from a wide range of disciplines such as Environmental Law, Water Governance, Indigenous Ecologies or Environmental Epidemiology, the participants were able to discover key science-policy engagement mechanisms, practices and actors at the forefront of global governance. 

The programme aimed to provide insights into international decision-making processes, strengthen policy engagement strategies, get opportunities for networking with local and international experts, and discover cultural competences needed to work effectively in a global decision-making context.

Day one kicked off at the United Nations’ office at Geneva with the objective to expose participants to the United Nations system and to some of the key UN bodies involved in environmental issues.

A framing session by GSPI’s deputy director, Dr Frédérique Guérin, highlighted key concepts related to the science-policy interface and how it manifests at the UN level.

In an interactive session, Francesco Pisano, Director of the United Nations Library, explained the history of decision-making at the UN and highlighted some of the unwritten rules for non-state actors to engage with member states at the multilateral level. Dr Alexandre B. Hedjazi, from the University of Geneva, presented the evolution of environmental governance and stressed how the 1972 Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 triggered a tidal wave of scientific inquiry aimed at policy change.

In the afternoon, David Vivas Eugui, Chief of the Trade, Environment, Climate Change & Sustainable Development Branch at United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and Mike Sparrow, Head of the Climate Research Division at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), presented various mechanisms to mobilise existing and produce new knowledge in climate science in their respective organisations and in support of global negotiations such as the COP. 

On day two, the group was hosted at the International Environment House. The goal was to offer a deep dive into the rich ecosystem of Geneva-based collaboration platforms, conventions and think tanks and their efforts in bringing evidence and knowledge to the policy discussion table.

Dr Mialy Rann, GSPI’s science-policy officer, started the day with a framing session on the role of intermediaries at the science-policy interface and the various activities they undertake from knowledge brokering to sustaining partnerships. Diana Duarte Rizzolio, the coordinator of the Geneva Environment Network at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), presented the rich and active ecosystem of organisations working on the environment in Geneva.

The session was followed by a world café workshop with Gregory Giuliani from UNEP/GRID-Geneva, Agustín Harte from The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, David Hoffmann and Josef Ostranský from the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

With experiences ranging from law to multilateral agreement negotiations, the four speakers shared their work and challenges in engaging researchers and policy professionals around environmental solutions.

In the afternoon, Dr. Kari De Pryck from the University of Geneva presented her research on IPCC practices and how they produce knowledge and influence global climate-related decision-making. She encouraged researchers, particularly women and non-native English speakers, to contribute to IPCC’s assessment processes and reports. The day concluded at the UK Permanent Residence in Geneva with representatives from various UK foreign services for direct and informal exchanges with diplomats directly involved in several key policy processes in Geneva.

Every day, the programme allowed for participants to share their own research and policy engagement strategies and receive strategic feedback from the programme’s experts.

Day three fostered exchanges on practices of science-policy engagement with two senior academics experienced in working with UN organisations: Prof. Evelina Trutnevyte and Dr. Rafael Ruiz de Castañeda from the University of Geneva.

Their personal engagement approaches in the fields of renewable energy systems and One Health, respectively,  illustrated some of the incremental strategies that researchers can build over time in order to reconcile both a successful research career and projects aimed at producing policy-relevant knowledge. Participants also benefited from a rich, first-hand experience of international climate policymaking by Dr Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General Emeritus at the World Meteorological Organization. 

The programme concluded with a collective reflection on key takeaways from the study visit and guidance on resources for engagement with the international Geneva ecosystem by GSPI’s executive director Nicolas Seidler.

This learning activity provided the opportunity, not only for researchers, but also for policy shapers and intermediaries in Geneva, to exchange on the role of science in a wide range of environmental policy processes. It also allowed the participants and guest experts to better understand each other’s needs and constraints. Read more about our capacity-building activities here.


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