Greater Scientific Evidence Required by Policy Makers

Policy-makers need to build stronger relationships with the scientific community in order to access the best scientific evidence: that was the message from today’s Institute of Biology Affiliated Societies’ Forum, attended by the BES’s Science Policy Team.

Sari Kovats, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, outlined just some of the risks posed to human health from climate change, including an increased incidence of heat waves and vector-borne diseases. The 2003 heatwave in Europe caused 14,000 excess deaths in France, affecting the sick and frail but also younger, healthy members of the population. Climate models predict that by 2040, the conditions experienced in that heatwave could be the average summer temperature.

Dr Andrew Stott, Defra’s head of Biodiversity and Landscape, Natural Environment Division, stressed the need to improve the two-way flow of information between the research community and policy-makers. Policy can no longer be based on considerations of the way the environment has behaved in the recent past but must be based on the latest scientific evidence.

Professor Katherine Willis of the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, gave a compelling presentation outlining the resource offered to policy-makers by long term ecology: analysing the fossil record to reconstruct the climate of the past. An analysis of the pollen record of the biologically diverse littoral forest of Madagascar has revealed that a combination of periods of drought and increasing salinity, through sea level rise, led to the ecosystem ‘tipping’ from forest into heathland. Such an approach can assist an understanding of non-linear ecosystem effects, potential tipping points and biological thresholds.

Finally, Professor James Crabbe, University of Bedfordshire, gave a fascinating presentation comparing conservation approaches taken towards coral reefs in Jamaica and Belize, outlining, in the case of Belize, how co-operation between NGOs, policy-makers and scientists, and an understanding of the economic value of environmental resources amongst local communities, can help to conserve these precious resources.