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Academics & Practitioners on Environmental Diplomacy

What is the role of science in environmental diplomacy? This was the overarching question of an exciting InsSciDE workshop that took place online 11-12 June 2020. Organized by InsSciDE’s work package Environment and led by Nina Wormbs, the event gathered academics and practitioners to discuss diplomatic dimensions of environmental science in all its different forms.

Scientists are routinely involved in diplomatic and political dialogue on potential solutions to environmental issues. However, the conceptual foundation and frameworks of such contributions have yet to be comprehensively explored, an aspect the meeting managed to address from several angles.

The first day was dedicated to accounts from the field with particular focus on a few Swedish environmental activities. Lars-Göran Engfeldt, a former Swedish diplomat recalled the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment that took place in Stockholm. Engfeldt has ever since been active in this area and has a specific vantage point from which he could discuss both the continuous implementation gap and the national silo-thinking in the climate debate. Anders Thunberg shared his experience of negotiating international climate agreements, like the Paris Agreement. Justiina Dahl, who works at the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, talked about the Swedish research ice breaker Oden and its role as a critical transnational device for environmental monitoring - bringing scientists, policymakers and national representatives together on this task. Finally, Dalee Sambo Dorough, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (a NGO representing ca. 180,000 Inuit) argued for the importance of Inuit Diplomacy in science policy-making, bringing key issues of inclusion, indigenous knowledge and who speaks for whom into the larger discussion.

On day two, nine scholars presented different environmental case studies in which diplomatic affairs were central and from which we can learn. In a captivating story of strategy and networking, Arne Kaijser described how the expansion of the EU allowed pressure to be applied for nuclear regulations in parts of Europe that until then had declined to harmonize their standards with other countries. Johan Gärdebo argued that Swedish satellite remote sensing, by beginning to gather data on the environment, contributed to a definition of ‘sustainable development’ that gave precedence to technical rather than political solutions to environmental problems. Iqra Choudhry shared her experience from working as an STS scholar with the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Several members of the work package Environment also presented their research. Miyase Christensen examined the extent to which the virtual and material geography of communication has allowed science diplomacy debates to account for all the actors, factors and dynamics implicated in the Arctic environment. Sam Robinson shared insights from his (now published!) case study on the consequences of sociotechnical imaginaries predicting future ocean wealth at the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Simone Turchetti delved into environmental issues caused by military activities and reflected on the potential value of science diplomacy in implementing solutions.

The workshop was concluded with a commentary by Klaus Dodds, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange for School of Life Sciences and Environment, who expertly drew out the common themes and lessons from the presentations and discussions. Dodds highlighted how the cases opened the black box of science and environmental diplomacy, revealing the assemblage of ideas, practices, and material objects implicated in the practice, including awkward and humoristic aspects. What does science diplomacy promise to deliver and what does it actually deliver? Dodds recalled its especial significance for diplomatic work of small, neutral countries but also noted that it is not always a unifying force. He also touched on the alternatives to science diplomacy as it has come to work. His provocative final question – What would a decolonised science diplomacy look and feel like? – in many ways captures the challenges ahead.


Published 22 October 2020

‘What is the role of science in environmental diplomacy?’
11-12 June 2020

Organizer: InsSciDE work package 7 - Environment, led by Nina Wormbs

Learn more about the InsSciDE researchers who participated: