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Coping with uncertainties in science-based advice informing environmental management of the Baltic Sea
Södertörn University, School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental Studies.
Södertörn University, School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental Studies, Biology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8536-373X
2013 (English)In: Environmental Science and Policy, ISSN 1462-9011, E-ISSN 1873-6416, Vol. 29, 12-23 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Managing uncertainty is a main challenge for sustainable management of complex socioecological systems, such as marine ecosystems. Today, a growing number of scientific publications address decision-making practices under conditions of high uncertainty. However, very few studies have analyzed how science treats uncertainty before it reaches decision-makers, especially for various marine environmental issues. This study aims to fill these research gaps by identifying the main theoretical approaches to science-based uncertainty management proposed in the scientific literature. Furthermore, by scrutinizing advisory documents, current approaches and methods to assess and treat uncertainty in science-based advice are analyzed and compared for five significant environmental issues in the Baltic Sea (eutrophication, fisheries, invasive species, chemical pollution, and oil spills). Specifically, the study analyzes the types of uncertainties acknowledged, how strategies and practices present and address uncertainties, and whether new theoretical proposals identified in the scientific literature affect existing practices. The study's results reveal that current scientific practices do not adequately address uncertainty in advice formulation. First, no common guideline is in use, resulting in significant differences among studied environmental issues and a common lack of structure, clarity, established terminology, and transparency in the assessment and treatment of uncertainty. Furthermore, new theoretical developments connected with uncertainty appraisal (such as theoretical typologies) and new tools and methods for handling uncertainty (such as precautionary and participatory approaches) are hardly utilized in practice in the management of the Baltic ecosystem. Consequently, although theoretical approaches for coping with uncertainty in complex socio-ecological systems are ample, the challenge for the future is to implement these approaches more effectively in assessment and management frameworks. The study discusses possible improvements to current practices in environmental management of large-scale socio-ecological systems such as the Baltic Sea and other regional seas, acknowledging that these measures will not reduce all existing uncertainty but rather contribute to a more comprehensive treatment of uncertainties.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 29, 12-23 p.
National Category
Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-19425DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2013.01.015ISI: 000318754900002ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84876475855OAI: diva2:636689
The Foundation for Baltic and East European StudiesEU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme, 217246Swedish Environmental Protection AgencyFormas
Available from: 2013-07-11 Created: 2013-07-11 Last updated: 2016-10-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Science-policy interaction in the governance of complex socio-ecological risks: The case of chemicals management in the Baltic Sea
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Science-policy interaction in the governance of complex socio-ecological risks: The case of chemicals management in the Baltic Sea
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this thesis, I examine knowledge production and science-policy interaction associated with the management of chemical substances in the Baltic Sea under conditions of uncertainty and complexity. The thesis is primarily based on a qualitative analysis of policy documents and reports produced by the European Union (EU), the Helsinki Commission, the Swedish Chemicals Agency, and Gothenburg municipality, as well as 30 semi-structured interviews with scientific experts, policy makers, and government officials with knowledge and working experience in the relevant policy arenas.

I identify and examine key challenges of science-policy interaction associated with the management of chemical substances in the Baltic Sea, such as lack of data, uncertainty, and complexity (Article I). I further argue that the current model of science-policy interaction fails to adequately handle and account for these challenges (e.g. uncertainty in Article II).

Scientists and policy makers have made substantial (and sometimes successful) efforts to understand and counteract negative environmental trends in the Baltic Sea. However, on the basis of this empirical analysis, I conclude that the uncertainties tied to the complex chemical risks in the Baltic Sea region are too large and multifaceted to be adequately addressed by the “modern science-policy model” underpinning most contemporary risk assessments. Linked to this analysis, I identify several possible ways to improve the situation, for example new tools and methods for handling uncertainty as well as alternative models for science-policy interaction.

As a consequence, I explore the potential of alternative models of science-policy interaction, giving particular attention to the participatory model and the associated idea of post-normal science. The results highlight the substantial amount of rhetoric in EU sources about recommending wider public involvement in policies, but also reveal that there is a different situation in practice. The introduction of more radical approaches (such as post-normal science) to knowledge co-production and participation would require epistemological, institutional, and constitutional changes that are not feasible in the foreseeable future – at least for the case of chemical substances (Article III).

Improvements (methodological, institutional and so on) in the current modern model of science-policy interaction are just as important as the development of alternative modes of science-policy interaction (Article IV). However, the general conclusion of this thesis is that there is a need to rethink current science-policy interaction and in the process “break through” the widespread institutional denial of irreducible uncertainties.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. 64 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 623
Risk, Uncertainty, MSFD, HELCOM, REACH, post-normal science, precautionary, participation
National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-24620 (URN)1748/42/2008 (Local ID)978-91-7519-307-6 (ISBN)1748/42/2008 (Archive number)1748/42/2008 (OAI)
Public defence
2014-06-04, Temcas, House T, Campus Valla, 10:00 (English)
Environmental Risk Governance of the Baltic Sea (RISKGOV)
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 1748/42/2008EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme, 217246FormasSwedish Environmental Protection Agency

This thesis is a part of the Environmental Risk Governance of the Baltic Sea (RISKGOV) project which is an interdisciplinary research project performed in collaboration with Södertörn University College, Sweden; Åbo Akademi University, Finland; DIALOGIK, Germany; and Gdansk University, Poland. The aim of the project is to improve understanding of the structuresand processes that shape the governance of environmental risks, and to suggest a normative framework for improving environmental risk governance in the Baltic Sea. More information is available at

Available from: 2014-09-19 Created: 2014-09-19 Last updated: 2014-09-22Bibliographically approved

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