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Editor's Note: The Science-Policy Interface 

Issue #214 | 22 September 2013

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

As our Earth Negotiations Bulletin team arrives in Sweden for a much anticipated meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a number of other debates in international fora have considered how best to structure the science-policy interface for sustainable development policy making.

IPCC Working Group I (WG I) is convening from 23-26 September 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden, followed by a session of the entire Panel. The meeting is expected to endorse the findings of the first part of the much anticipated Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), addressing the physical science basis of climate change. Following the science-policy interface process adopted for the IPCC, WG I will consider, on a line-by-line basis, the Summary for Policy-Makers and accept the underlying assessment of scientific literature. Subsequently, the full Panel will convene to formally consider endorsing the WG I report. Additional components of AR5 will be considered in a similar manner during meetings in 2014.

In the last fortnight, the format and process for the contribution of science to sustainable development decision making has been raised in other locations around the globe. For example, speakers in New York, at the twentieth and final meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 20), highlighted the need for a stronger science-policy interface and noted past efforts to develop indicators. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, emphasized that the Global Sustainable Development Report, which was called for by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), will be critical in this regard. And in Windhoek, Namibia, at the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 11), delegates have discussed the lessons learned from the first two UNCCD Scientific Conferences and recommendations from an ad hoc group on the provision of scientific advice to the Convention, with an eye to restructuring the science-policy interface.

Discussions on assessing the current state of affairs and monitoring change will take center stage during the coming week in New York, as many of the events accompanying the opening of the UN General Assembly will focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda. In all of these debates, we will listen for the lessons from past experiences and possible applications for the future, to help inform the deliberations as delegates seek to improve the science-policy interface for sustainable development policy making.