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Earthwatch 25 Years on: Between Science and International Environmental Governance


  • J.-S. Fritz


The UN system is complex and its workings often seem muddled to the outside observer. This is a problem the UN has struggled with from its inception, sometimes successfully but often not. Part of the difficulty lies in the increasing complexity of issues being addressed internationally, including not least `sustainable development'. The expectations raised by such an all-encompassing term are hardly achievable in immediate terms. This lack of clarity in the issues addressed through the UN is also reflected in its institutional structures. The story of Earthwatch is just one example of how the UN has attempted to bring clarity into its system. In this case the aim was to bring together the most up to date scientific knowledge and make it policy relevant on an ongoing basis. What seemed a relatively straightforward goal instead has been fraught with difficulties. This analysis looks at these difficulties in terms of the relations between science and policymaking. The paper observes that there have existed three distinct conceptual approaches to this relationship: the functional approach; the feeder of information approach; and the assessments for policy approach. Each has had a decisive influence on the practice of Earthwatch. The paper concludes that the most recent approach offers the best alternative to realizing Earthwatch's goal. However, especially now much work remains to be done. To this end, a suggestion for further research is offered.

Suggested Citation

  • J.-S. Fritz, 1997. "Earthwatch 25 Years on: Between Science and International Environmental Governance," Working Papers ir97059, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:iasawp:ir97059

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Korhonen, Pekka & Yu, GuangYuan, 1998. "On computing objective function values in multiple objective quadratic-linear programming," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 106(1), pages 184-190, April.
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    6. Korhonen, Pekka & Soismaa, Margareta, 1988. "A multiple criteria model for pricing alcoholic beverages," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 165-175, November.
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