Integrated Environmental Assessment

The rationale for CLEAR is based on three assumptions. Firstly, future evolution of the earth's climate will be intrinsically linked not only to other features of the natural environment, but also to human forces and to socio-economic factors. Secondly, the climate will, in future, exhibit great regional variation, which could have a strong and distinctive impact on the Alpine region. Thirdly, in view of the complexity of these inter-linkages, research must be undertaken on a broad trans-disciplinary front in order to develop an adequate understanding and knowledge-base which will enable society to assess the risk of potential impacts and implement appropriate response measures. The mission of CLEAR is to develop trans-disciplinary methodologies of integrated assessment that will serve this purpose.

In the field of Alpine-related climate and environmental change, the challenges include (1) the acquisition of the relevant knowledge-base for the individual disciplines (e.g. physics, paleo-sciences, ecology, economics and social sciences), and (2) the integration and synthesis of this disciplinary knowledge in order to further our trans-disciplinary understanding, to identify uncertainties, and to develop integrated assessments that are instructive for society in general and policy-makers in particular.

CLEAR is intended to encompass these features. The individual project proposals addresses a series of research needs with respect to disciplinary studies and perspectives. They are linked by the challenge of integrated environmental assessment (IEA) that provides the common focus of the Integrated Project.

Integrated environmental assessment is a methodology for the generation, collection, organisation and presentation of environmental information. Its aim is to provide a systematic way of integrating scientific knowledge across disciplines, styles, resolutions and degrees of uncertainty. Integrated assessment of climate change is a growth industry. Several major IEA-projects have started in the last few years, and the literature emphasises the crucial need for an increasing capacity to do integrated assessment as information input for wise and appropriate policy-making on climate change, and on related environmental risks.

Most IEA-methodologies are oriented towards fully integrated models and/or they are confined to scientific discourse. CLEAR will develop an assessment methodology that includes lay-persons and decision makers. Integrated assessments are generated in focus groups of non-experts with input from the sciences. Focus groups are a research instrument which aims to study social processes, including decision making and conflict resolution, in contrast to tools like surveys or interviews that gather data on individual opinions and attitudes. Scientific input for the focus groups are provided by means of computer models, written documents, and verbal presentations. CLEAR will not develop large integrated models. The models that are developed within CLEAR are low-scale disciplinary models or partly integrated models that simulate key processes and that highlight uncertainties associated with climate change. In this respect, our IEA-methodology complement conventional procedures.

The inclusion of lay people in the assessment process is a means of obtaining assessments that are scientifically competent as well as morally and socially acceptable. Such public participation has been used in various approaches to technology assessment, for instance in consensus conferences or in mediation procedures. An important insight from these studies is the fact that the interaction between experts and lay persons seems to facilitate the integration of specialised knowledge because it forces the experts to produce conceptual reductions that can be communicated in ordinary language. And in ordinary language, the capacity to integrate diverse views and claims is considerable. As ordinary language is also the language of democratic decision making, the inclusion of lay people in the assessment process can be interpreted as a step towards developing a democratic discourse about complex environmental problems.

Eawag Ph.Perisset, last update: So, 15. Feb 2009