PhD Course on Evidence-based Policy-Making
Since 2010, the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center (PSC) organises the PhD course "Evidence-based Policy-Making". Holger Gerdes, Senior Fellow at Ecologic Institute, supports the course by supervising groups of PhD students in their work on practical case studies dealing with the integration of environmental research into the policy process.
The Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center (PSC) links and supports the plant science research community of the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and the University of Basel. Within its PhD programme "Science & Policy", the PSC regularly organises a course on "Evidence-based Policy-Making" which aims to impart methods, tools and competencies to improve the effectiveness of science in informing policy-makers. The concepts of environmental governance and evidence-based policy making are introduced in lectures, and case studies serve as a learning process on how policy-relevant evidence is produced and incorporated in practice.
The aim of the course is to demonstrate to doctoral candidates how academic work can be used effectively to influence policy-makers. By addressing a broad range of issues closely associated with the science-policy interface, the PhD students learn:
- how to effectively communicate research findings to policy-makers;
- how to develop research questions and agendas within the policy process;
- how to provide tools for policy-makers to access scientific information and expertise; and
- how to ensure transparency and assess scientific results.
Since 2010, Holger Gerdes develops and supervises case studies on the valuation of natural capital. The case studies introduced the concepts underlying the economic valuation of natural resources. The general objectives of each case study are:
- to get to know available concepts and methods for the valuation of natural resources and their relevance for environmental policy-making;
- to apply these concepts and methods on a specific social-ecological problem in a local, regional or national context; and
- to understand the potentials and barriers for the uptake of environmental valuations by policy-makers.
The following case studies have been developed:
2017 - The effects of hydropower plants on river ecosystem services
Currently, 56% of Switzerland’s energy supply is produced by hydropower, which makes hydropower to the country’s most important renewable energy source. With its Energy Strategy 2050, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) plans to increase hydropower production from currently approx. 36,000 to almost 39,000 gigawatt hours per year in 2050. The PhD students were supposed to evaluate which role the ecosystem services approach can play in the policy process when it comes to the assessment of alternative hydropower solutions. The results were summarized in a policy brief and a presentation. The contents of the case study were linked to the project Fish Friendly Innovative Technologies for Hydropower (FIThydro).
2016 - The economics of soil degradation
The Federal Offices for the Environment (FOEN), Agriculture (FOAG) and Spatial Development (ARE) are currently developing a soil strategy for Switzerland. In this context, the PhD students were asked to assess in how far environmental valuations can be used to illustrate the socio-economic benefits provided by healthy soils and, likewise, the socio-economic costs caused by its ongoing degradation. At the same time, they were supposed to evaluate if economic assessments can be effective tools to improve the communication between scientists, policy-makers and relevant economic sectors, thereby supporting the development of a national soil strategy. The results were summarized in the form of a policy brief and a presentation.
2014 - Economic arguments for the protection of (sub)tropical biodiversity
The PhD students were supposed to evaluate the relevance of environmental valuations in local and regional policy processes, focusing on biodiversity conservation in the EU's Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories. The results were summarized in the form of a policy brief and a presentation. The contents of the case study were linked to the project Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in the EU's Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories (NetBiome-CSA).
2012 - The valuation of natural capital: Potentials and barriers for policy impact at the local level
One pressing problem in Switzerland is the ongoing trend of land consumption. Urban sprawl around Lake Zurich leads to the destruction of open landscapes and natural ecosystems, which serve as refuges for plants and animals. The PhD students applied the ecosystem services concept to communicate the societal costs of current land-use practices. The results were summarized in the form of a policy brief and a presentation.
2010 - Assessment of the external costs of Swiss agriculture
For this case study, the PhD students assessed the socio-economic consequences of the negative environmental effects created by the Swiss agricultural sector. The students calculated the external costs of agriculture in monetary terms, making use of value transfer techniques. The results of the exercise were discussed with policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders in order to evaluate whether economic assessments provide valid arguments to support political decisions. The contents of the case study were linked to the projects A New Environmental Accounting Framework for Policy Analysis (EXIOPOL) and Guidelines for Scaling-up Ecosystem Service Values.