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Participation in integrated assessment

Stewart Cohen describes a collaborative scientist-stakeholder approach for effective integrated assessment.

The author is a research scientist with the Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, Environment Canada, in Vancouver, Canada.

Integrated assessment, as a research and learning process, has been the subject of intensive debate since the publication of the IPCC Second Assessment Report brought integrated assessment models into the spotlight.

The Second Assessment Report highlighted integrated assessment models as the main approach to integrated assessment because of their energy and emission model components which could enable simulations of different emission paths resulting from various energy policy scenarios. Concerns were raised, however, in the 1997 integrated assessment meetings in Tokyo about what was left out of this modelling process, including stakeholder trade-offs in developing countries and vulnerability concerns.

Morita and several co-authors stated that “it has been argued that simplistic assumptions about the south and a lack of understanding about the southern perspective are inherently imbedded in present integrated assessment models, reflecting what has been described as a lack of procedural equity.” Shukla noted that socio-economic dynamics of developing countries are missing from integrated assessment models, including dual economies (traditional and modern), informal activities and land use practices.

An alternative to exclusive reliance on global-scale integrated assessment models is offered here. This alternative approach to integration has evolved from experiences in doing integrated assessment of climate change impacts at the regional scale. This approach, referred to as a “scientist-stakeholder collaborative,” is meant to provide a platform for mutual learning, sharing of information, and joint ownership in the research questions, methodologies, results and communications. The integrated assessment should serve to identify indirect and synergistic impacts at the scale of stakeholders, generally at the regional or country level.

Since the genesis of this process is the description of regional-scale climate change damages, that is, the cost of doing nothing (or the net cost of adapting plus residual impacts), this broadens the scope of the discourse to include parties vulnerable to policy failure. The small island states have been active because, for them, potential impacts are direct and obvious. For most other countries, impacts will be indirect and complex, merged with other concerns that affect their capabilities to adapt (for example, population growth, education levels, international trade and poverty).

The creation of an integration platform for sharing information may, at first glance, appear to be merely a bureaucratic structure. Without an explicit structure, however, it would be easy for the various research and stakeholder participants to proceed down separate paths, and the opportunity for sharing would be lost.

A five-stage iterative process has been proposed. During the first iteration, the initiators of the assessment identify strawman sets of problems and integration targets. Committees are then established which represent various research and stakeholder interests in the study area. Two consultation cycles emerge from the study committee: a) horizontal consultation among various disciplines to encourage interdisciplinary connections; and b) vertical consultation to link the scientist-stakeholder collaborative with a broader range of stakeholder interests. The second and subsequent iterations can result in modifying or redefining the study area, research questions, integration framework, scenarios and sectoral studies. Ultimately, it is up to the collaborative to decide how much iteration to pursue before reporting the results of this exercise.

Scale is an important component of the integration challenge. The scientist-stakeholder collaborative is built on the goal of including those synergies that give each region a unique relationship with climate, and climate change. These synergies can be missed in continental- or global-scale aggregation of physical, biological and social processes. Regional stakeholders must, therefore, be brought in at the earliest stage of the assessment process, that is, during the first iteration.

To facilitate this process, there is a growing interest in applying participatory approaches that have generally been used in studies of rural development or the collection of traditional ecological knowledge, but rarely applied in a climate change context.

An example is Participatory Rural Appraisal which is widely practised because it engages stakeholders in their places of residence and work, rather than in some other setting. There is also an approach from the business community called Appreciative Inquiry, which is directed at identifying what works in an organization, and how to do more of what works. Local knowledge can also be collected through Participatory Action Research, in which the researcher resides in the community for an extensive period and interacts with the community at a personal level.

Recent and ongoing case studies are applying one or more of these techniques. A project to collect aboriginal observations of climate change in a remote community in northern Canada and a project in Zimbabwe on coping with drought are currently underway. These studies have been organized by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada.

It is also possible to use the results of first-order impact studies in this context. An example is a case study of the Columbia River Basin, in which stakeholders in water management and water-dependent sectors were asked to react to a scenario of climate-related changes in natural streamflow. This approach combines some aspects of Participatory Action Research and Participatory Rural Appraisal, in that it involves interviews, but is meant to be practical rather than academic, and is aimed at measuring expert judgement rather than community or public opinion. In this case study, questions focused on potential responses to the streamflow scenario by actors in flood control, hydroelectricity production and sales, fish habitat protection and irrigation.

In Northern Canada, an example of a scientist-stakeholder collaborative was completed in 1997. This was the Mackenzie Basin Impact Study, which included participation by various governments, aboriginal organizations and universities (

The approach followed in the study was disaggregated. The advantage was that it did not depend on any one integration exercise. The disadvantage was that there were difficulties in coordinating the various exercises, including different geographic information system formats, and mistiming of outputs from first-order exercises which delayed or prevented their use in higher-order studies, so some opportunities were missed. These problems were recognized by the collaborative and reflected in the recommendations that emerged from the study which identified the need for:

  • the production of plain language reports;
  • the establishment of a regionally-based structure to serve as an information source on climate change and other global-scale issues;
  • support for community-based monitoring programmes to augment those of central authorities; and,
  • encouragement of efforts to facilitate collaboration between research projects initiated in different regions.

In the past few years, the International Arctic Science Committee ( has initiated similar regional assessments in the Bering Sea and Barents Sea regions, customized to meet the unique requirements of these multinational regions. At the same time, a community-based monitoring programme has been established in northern Yukon serving to engage aboriginal stakeholders in knowledge-gathering (

The Canada Country Study on Climate Impacts and Adaptation has included stakeholders in its steering group. Elsewhere, the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme has established a Science Advisory Panel and a User Forum, both of which provide input to the Programme Office. The Netherlands climate change research programme has always included a range of integration approaches, including those that engage stakeholders in policy exercises.

In developing countries and economies in transition, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Country Studies Programme has been an exercise in capacity building.

Case studies were organized in Estonia, Antigua and Barbuda, Cameroon, Pakistan and Cuba. These served as a platform to test the UNEP Handbook on Methods for Climate Change Impact Assessment and Adaptation Strategies ( handbook/).

In summary, a scientist-stakeholder collaborative is offered as an alternative integrating model that can be applied in the context of climate impacts and adaptation. This can complement continental- and global-scale integrated assessment modelling efforts that largely focus on emission limitation.

The collaborative can help in capacity building, providing the foundation for creating a common property institution that focuses on climate change (or global change) stewardship. Integration tools of various kinds aid the integration process, but the key is that there is ownership of the issue by stakeholders. This would go beyond those with interests only in fossil fuels or deforestation, and incorporate the wider community of regional stakeholders in sustainable development. Mutual learning could result from this effort, leading to a richer form of integration than could be achieved by models alone.

Further information

Stewart Cohen, AIRG, Environment Canada, Sustainable Development Research Institute, University of British Columbia, 2029 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada. Fax: 1-604-8223033. Email: Web:

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