First published in IGBP's Global Change Newsletter Issue 73, April 2009

Ocean acidification: connecting the science to policy

John Baxter
Scottish Natural Heritage, Edinburgh, UK
Features |
The Ocean in a High-CO2 World: Science highlights from the symposium
Over the last ten years the political and public awareness of the many consequences of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions to the planet’s climate has increased dramatically.  The complexity of many of the issues that we face means that it is a great challenge for anyone to be an expert or even well-informed about everything, and there is a very real danger that some issues may be overlooked.  Ocean acidification is one such issue, but most certainly one where we can’t afford for this to happen.

Our understanding of the chemistry and physics of these processes is increasing and evidence is growing of the biological consequences of a declining seawater pH.  The key is to communicate these findings to the policy makers and decision takers in such a way that the key messages can be received and understood and that action results.

Cooperation and communication are needed at all stages between the scientists and policy-makers.  Scientists, by nature, are curious and look to answer the interesting and intriguing questions that will stretch the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding.  This is good and laudable but in order to generate action to address the issues that threaten the oceans it is ever more important to distinguish between what we would like to know and what we need to know.  Providing answer to the latter is what is required to make the connection between science and policy.

Where there is a large programme of work it is possible to make such a connection through the establishment of a Reference User Group that provides an interactive forum throughout the lifetime of the project where the researchers and the ‘policy customers’ can exchange ideas.  This guides scientists to consider how their research can answer questions that need to be addressed to reach key policy decisions.  Complex answers must be presented in an accessible manner whilst not detaching these from the underlying science.  The UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership Annual Report Card (ARC) is an example of how this can be successfully done and the 2009 ARC (publication in April) seeks to demonstrate the complex and linked relationships between various aspects of climate change, including ocean acidification, that policy makers must take into account.