This report has been produced within the interdisciplinary RISKGOV project with the overall aim of comparing risk assessment – risk management interactions connected with five severe Baltic Sea environmental risks (eutrophication, overfishing, invasive species, chemical pollution and oil discharges linked to marine transports).
Specifically, we compare three major aspects connected with assessment – management interactions and, based on this analysis, suggest possible routes for improving interaction between science-based advice and environmental (risk) management:
- Organisational structure of the risk assessment activities and the generation, selection and implementation of management options.
- The management of scientific uncertainties and disagreements.
- Implementation of the ecosystem approach to management (EAM) and modes of ‘good governance’.
In order to understand these aspects we started by describing and analysing the characteristics of the five risk cases. This revealed substantial differences in terms of sources, effects and complexities (in terms of scientific uncertainty and socio-political ambiguity). For example, chemical risks are associated with great uncertainty and oil spill with much lower; fisheries relate to very high socio-political ambiguity, whereas invasive species show the opposite nature and oil spill fit with more traditional risk parameters. Our analysis also revealed a great variation in the societal risk responses, which far from always seems rational in relation to the risk characteristics.
When it comes to the organisational structures, we can conclude that different forms of institutions and institutional arrangements and relations have evolved over time in the various cases, for instance relatively well-formalised in the overfishing case, and rather informal for combating eutrophication. Similarly, we see different forms of expert dependencies. In the overfishing case there are institutionalised formal links between e.g. ICES and the EU Commission and the historic path-dependency is quite strong, thereby causing institutional inertia, even though the development of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) such as the Baltic RAC are gradually changing the picture. In relation to many other environmental risk cases (e.g. eutrophication and chemicals) HELCOM provides a regional basis for assessment and management (although implementation of management recommendations have often proved complex). Still, assessment-management interactions seem more developed and better organised in the overfishing case, even though it is obvious that the last link, the political decision-making on quotas, has deviated substantially from the science-based advice, thereby opening for continued overfishing. Similarly, well-developed institutions seem to allow for improved deliberative processes for fisheries, including improved analysis of socio-economic dimensions, which we cannot find to the same extent for e.g. chemicals, eutrophication and invasive species.
The assessment and management responses we see to the studied risks do not seem to be based on any thorough analysis of the specific risk characteristics, or on the suitability of different overall strategies (e.g. traditional science-based assessment, precautionary, deliberative). Instead, all studied assessment-management interactions can be classified as being built primarily on traditional science-based assessment of risks. Of course, we see elements of for example precaution in e.g. the chemicals case, and deliberation in the fish case, and the inclusion of the EAM as a starting point for assessment exercises and management decisions is becoming more common, but overall this happens only partially and infrequently.
Thus, to summarise, we conclude that there are substantial differences among environmental risks in relation to, for example, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, and we argue that it is important to maintain a balance between ideals of holistic approaches such as EAM and context dependent requirements of various management objectives, environmental risks and sectors. For example, high levels of uncertainty (e.g. chemical pollution) and ambiguity (e.g. overfishing) can be assumed to require assessment-management approaches focussed on precaution and participatory deliberation, respectively.
Furthermore, our analysis identifies six key issues and challenges that, if adequately addressed, may improve assessment-management interactions and facilitate the implementation of the ecosystem approach to management.
1. We see a need to further develop the regional and ecosystem basis of assessment-management interactions in terms of addressing prioritised knowledge gaps, as well as developing regional knowledge management and monitoring to strengthen regionally-based scientific advice.
2. Integration of various forms of scientific knowledge is currently rather undeveloped in assessment and scientific advice, which reduces possibilities of addressing also the social dimension of sustainable development as well as possibilities of identifying and reducing ‘blind spots’.
3. Stakeholder participation requires more consideration since incorporation of practitioner and local knowledge in risk assessments as well as stakeholder deliberation in risk management often are vital for the successful implementation of the ecosystem approach to management.
4. We identify substantial room for improvements linked to coping with scientific uncertainty and disagreement in both risk assessment and risk management. We conclude that there in fact are examples of science-based precautionary approaches and methods, but that a comprehensive and coherent strategy for addressing uncertainty is often lacking.
5. Interdependencies among environmental risk issues need to be more specifically addressed than today. Climate change will, for example, influence both the outcome of risk assessments as well as the possibilities for successful management in all the studied environmental risk cases.
6. Despite a commonly expressed idea of a clear separation between assessment and management, the studied science-policy interactions are in general rather diffuse and politicised. This lack of transparency about how these interactions evolve and are constructed may mislead political decision makers and the public and thus potentially hamper management progress.