Wicked problems, simple solutions?

Discussing how to get the message across to stakeholders at the recent recharge.green partner meeting in Bohinj, Slovenia (Photo K. Svadlenak)

Think about it:  In an age of climate change, decreasing humanity´s greenhouse gas emissions by producing  a greater share of energy from renewable sources seems like a no-brainer, doesn´t it?  But wait – how will that hydropower plant affect the flow of one of the last undisturbed streams in the Alps? Should we really manage our Alpine forests for maximum biomass production?  Would a wind park be an attractive option in this popular tourist spot?  The answer to these and similar questions is not “yes” or “no”, but rather “it´s complicated”.  When it comes to “wicked problems” such as issues related to climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.  These problems are complex and, while scientific research has revealed a lot about ecosystem functions and the impacts of human activities on natural processes,  we still have much to learn. While uncertainty is inevitable, it is not an excuse to disregard science in policy making.  Indeed, well-known scientific assessment bodies, such as the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the more recently established Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) produce policy-relevant recommendations that clearly outline the obligations of policy makers to be cognizant of the impacts particular policies have on our environment.

The EU Alpine Space project recharge.green, now in its second year, addresses the complexity in order to make it easier to deal with. With a special focus on planning renewable energy operations in the Alpine space, recharge.green develops various decision support tools that will enable planners to ensure that new energy production facilities do not inadvertently disrupt important ecosystem services.  The partners have already produced interesting preliminary analyses of renewable energy potentials in the Alps, and work is progressing on a spatially explicit map-based economic model that will show where renewable energy production will be most sustainable, and where it should best be avoided to preserve important ecosystem services.   Time and again discussions among project partners have highlighted the importance of good science-policy interfaces – themselves somewhat “wicked”, as more often than not, primary scientific information is insufficiently translated and synthesised to be digestible by policy makers and the public.  Recharge.green is therefore also organizing training workshops to disseminate project results and demonstrate the implementation of the developed tools.

Fortunately, recharge.green is far from alone in trying to devise accessible science-based tools for policy makers.  Other Alpine Space projects, such as Econnect and greenAlps also focus on the science-policy interface.  On a European scale, the SPIRAL project aims to enhance the dialog between biodiversity research and policy development.  As SPIRAL points out in it’s Synthesis Report, complex systems cannot be fully understood or, for that matter, controlled. Uncertainty is not always quantifiable.  Nevertheless, recharge.green strives to simplify the complexity surrounding renewable energy and its impact on biodiversity conservation by providing insights and tools to support decision-makers. We acknowledge that there are many different interests that affect the decision process in the complex inter-wined issues that pertain to sustainable energy development in the Alpine region. While we cannot claim that we will provide simple solutions, we certainly hope to catalyse a holistic appreciation of renewable energy production and its impact on biodiversity conservation.

About Karin Svadlenak-Gomez

“I am passionate about nature and mountains, so it is quite satisfying to be involved in a project that seeks a balanced approach to using and protecting the diverse natural resources in the Alps.” _ Karin Svadlenak-Gomez, Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Lead Partner support in project management and public relations of the recharge.green project

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