GeoPolicy: An expert discussion on ozone – working at the science-policy interface

GeoPolicy: An expert discussion on ozone – working at the science-policy interface

Erika von Schneidemesser is our first guest blogger for the newly established EGUPolicy column. Erika is a Research Scientist at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies based in Potsdam, Germany. Her post gives an insight into working at the science-policy interface by describing a recent project she has been involved in.

As scientists and researchers we are increasingly being asked to conduct or participate in interdisciplinary (working across disciplines) or transdisciplinary (working with stakeholders outside of academia) research. Science-policy work is one aspect of this. However, it is often hard to know how, who, where, or when to engage. To hopefully shed a bit of light on this topic I will take you through the process for a recent science-policy activity we collaborated on, topically focused on ozone air pollution. An activity like this can easily be part of a larger context or series of actions integrated into a research project, or it could also be a one-off event.

Erika von Schneidemesser

Erika von Schneidemesser, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

As a bit of context, I work at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany. This institute is set up as a combination research institute-think tank hybrid with a focus on transformational and transdisciplinary research. Topically the research program that I work in has a focus on air quality in the larger context of global change. Through previous participation in local science-policy events, we developed a relationship with a German NGO (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) that also has as one area of focus, air quality. (As a side note: working with Deutsche Umwelthilfe, or any NGO, does not mean doing advocacy work, but is rather focused on providing solid, up-to-date science information.)

With the revisions to European air quality-relevant emission directives planned, we discussed organizing a ‘Fachgespräch’ (expert discussion) on ozone. This was a natural fit given that much of our research focus is on ozone, and it is still a critical air quality issue for Europe. More than 98% of the population in European urban areas was exposed to concentrations of ozone exceeding the WHO guideline values in 2012.[1] Our interest was to communicate some of our latest work on ozone and to raise awareness of the relevance of ozone as an environmental and air quality issue that is still important in Europe and globally. Their interest was to be able to inform revisions of air quality legislation, as well as being able to provide a solid scientific basis for justification to reduce ozone precursor species.

Together we designed the Fachgespräch. Considering the questions: What do we want to get out of it? What would make the activity a success? What aspects should be included to reach these goals? Who is our target audience? In this case we were aiming for a robust discussion including perspectives from science and policy. To lay the groundwork for the rest of the discussion, it was important that we cover the state of the science regarding ozone. This can inform how proposed mitigation might be supported by the science and/or identify areas where more research might be needed. We also included experts not only from atmospheric chemistry, but from health and ecosystem impacts.  Understanding the state of the knowledge on the human health effects and ecosystem impacts of ozone is important in addressing the current air quality guidelines and standards. Are the guidelines and standards sufficient to protect our health and ecosystems? Experts from local to national policy (in this case local government representatives and the German Environment Agency) were also key participants, to address what has been implemented in terms of policy. Where have previous reductions in ozone precursor emissions (substances which react in the atmosphere to produce ozone) been made, and where is there significant potential for progress? A mix of participants from different science, policy, and societal organizations made for a robust and interesting discussion.

As part of this Fachgespräch we had planned to write a policy brief that could be distributed to a wider audience that built on the information presented and any conclusions that came out of the event. This was a collaborative publication, and without going into the content, you can read it here. This briefing was used by the NGO in their discussions with EU ministers to aid their considerations for revisions to air quality-relevant emission directives. Furthermore, after publishing the policy brief, it became clear that this document appealed to a wider audience than previously identified   as we received requests for copies from members of academia who found it useful as support for research funding/facilities on ozone. Events and discussions such as these are often useful to inform research by identifying areas particularly relevant to informing policy, or where interdisciplinary collaboration or additional disciplinary efforts could add significant value to advance the science.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on science-policy work, and maybe even given you a few ideas for discussion of your own. There are a lot of different options out there, but it is important to identify what fits to your work and goals. Attending such events in your field and geographical area to cultivate relationships that may lead to future collaborations is a great way to start.

[1] EEA. Air Quality in Europe – 2014 Report. p.54.


By Erika von Schneidemesser, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

GeoPolicy: EGU sciences on debate at the European Parliament

GeoPolicy: EGU sciences on debate at the European Parliament

The adoption of legislation within the European Union (EU) is a complex process involving many steps. In my first blog post in this GeoPolicy series I highlighted an example of this process.

Several draft legislation pieces are currently being assessed within the European Parliament (EP) and Council of Ministers (Council) that have been influenced by EGU-related science. This blog post summarises this draft legislation and to where in the process each piece has progressed.

Much of the information for this blog post has been taken from the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS) website, which produces support documents for the EP. It is here that you can find out more information about all EU legislation currently in progress.



Post-2020 reform of the EU Emissions Trading System

The EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying and selling emission ‘allowances’. One allowance is equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide or gas equivalent . The video below gives a good overview of the ETS.

The total amount of allowances is capped relative to 1990 emission totals, but this cap is reduced every year by 1.74 % to incentivise industries to reduce their emissions. If companies have reduced their emissions to below this cap they can sell surplus allowances, or keep them for the next year. The price of the allowance depends on supply and demand. Industries are incentivised to invest in carbon-reducing technology if this is a cheaper alternative than buying allowances. If carbon prices are lower than alternative technologies, extra allowances can be purchased from companies who have already reduced their emissions.

This EU legislation concentrates on the 4th phase of the ETS which spans the years 2020-2028 (we are currently in the 3rd phase, 2013-2020). The major policy points are:

  • The introduction of a market stabilisation reserve where 12 % of surplus annual allowances are stored for future use;
  • The annual cap decrease will change from 1.74 % to 2.2 % to reduce emissions faster;
  • Industries will now have to account for indirect carbon leakages in their emission inventories;
  • New funds will be available to aid start-up renewable projects.

This legislation is in the early stages of the process: the EC proposal document is currently receiving feedback and suggested amendments.  National parliaments, the European Economic & Social Committee and/or the Committee of Regions must still give feedback before an edited draft can be formed.

ETS Progress Bar

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from the ‘Emissions Trading Scheme legislation EP progress briefing’.



National emission ceilings for air pollutants

Qir Quality Exposures

Percentage of the urban population in the EU28 exposed to air pollutant concentrations above EU and WHO reference levels (2010-12). Sourced from the ‘European Environment Agency: Air quality in Europe’. 

In December 2015 the EC produced an impact assessment focusing on five different policy options to achieve the EU’s health and environment objective goals. Despite considerable improvements, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has indicated that the EU still breaks pollutant levels that are considered to result in unnacceptable risks to humands and the environment. These levels are defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are based exclusively on scientific findings. EU targets are much less restrictive than those of the WHO, but these levels are still being broken, as the figure on the right shows. Health-related costs of air pollution in the EU range between €330–940 billion per year.

The Gothenburg Protocol (1999) aimed to reduce acidification, eutrophication, and ground-level ozone by setting emissions caps for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia by 2010. This new EU legislation aims to further reduce emissions by setting new caps and larger fines for non-compliance. The European Commission estimates that implementation costs would range from €2.2 to 3.3 billion per year.

The legislation has been reviewed by impacted stakeholders and the EP advisory committee. The next stage is to discuss and amend the proposal in the EP plenary session. Once accepted, it will become the official stance of the EP. Negotiations are then continued with the Council in the trilogue before a final decision is made and the legislation is adopted.



Organic Farming Legislation

Organic farming is a political object of the EU, described as an “overall system of farm management and food production that respects natural life cycles”. Since the initial adoption in 2009,

 European Union Organic Produce Logo . Credit: (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

European Union Organic Produce Logo . Credit: (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

legislation has been continuously edited and expanded. The percentage area of agricultural land in the EU used for organic farming has remained at 6 % despite a steady expansion of the organic market. Currently, the EU imports organic produce to cover this gap in supply and demand.

The new legislation proposed by the European Commission (EC) has streamlined current legislation and removed historical ‘exception rules’ in order to define organic farming more rigorously. These changes include:

  • Organic farmers would no longer be able to use non-organic seed or introduce non-organic young poultry;
  • Organic farmers would be compensated if unintentional non-authorised products are found within their farms;
  • Mixed farming techniques (organic and conventional farming) would be allowed only during the conversion period from traditional to organic practices.

Market for organic foodstuffs: the top 10 countries. Sourced from the FiBL and IFOAM report ‘ORGANIC IN EUROPE: Prospects and Developments’


The figure below shows the progress of this drafted legislation: currently at the ‘trilogue’ step. This means the drafted legislation has been proposed by the EC and submitted to the Council, the EP and relevant stakeholders who have been able to give their feedback (a staggering 950 amendments were received!). Both the EP and the Council have produced their amended legislation drafts, which have been approved by their respective allocated subcommittees. Now, selected members from the EP and Council are to produce the final drafted legislation in the trilogue, which then will be voted to be adopted by the EP.

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from Organic farming legislation EP progress briefing.

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from the ‘organic farming legislation EP progress briefing’.


More information about the current draft legislation being considered in the European parliament can be found here.


GeoPolicy: What science policy & the European Union mean to EGU members

GeoPolicy: What science policy & the European Union mean to EGU members

Since joining the EGU over a month ago as the Union’s Policy Fellow, Sarah Connors, has been hard at work getting to grips with the political landscape of the European Union and the role Earth scientists and EGU members at large can play in policy making. This is post the first of the new GeoPolicy Column. During her one year term Sarah will regularly contribute content to GeoLog on all things policy related. The column will also feature guest authors from academia and policy. Keep an eye out for future GeoPolicy posts if this is an area you are interested in.

‘Policy’ is defined as a plan of action developed to assist in achieving a desired outcome. Unions, governments, organisations and companies all create policies to help them achieve certain goals. Science policy can refer to one of two things. The first, known as ‘policy for science’, is the development of policies to aid scientific discovery and innovation. An example of this is the structuring of scientific funding budgets. Conversely, ‘science for policy’ involves applying scientific knowledge to the decision-making process to strengthen the resulting policies. It’s the latter form of science policy that the EGU is currently developing (a new Science Policy section is coming to the website next week).

So what does this mean for EGU members?

To understand this, we need to identify how EGU science can help the policy making process, and to do this, we need to know how policy is drafted. As EGU is a European organisation our targeted policies operate on a European level. This blog goes on to describe the broad structure of the European Union and the processes that are involved in creating its policy.

The European Union (EU)

The EU is made up of 28 countries (member states) and structured into seven different institutions, some of which are quite cryptically named:

  • The European Parliament (EP) – has democratic control over the other six EU institutions via the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). It is in charge of the EU budget and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU.
  • The European Council – comprises the heads of government from each of the 28 member states, and provides general objectives and priorities for the EU to focus on.
  • The Council of the EU – also referred to as ‘the Council of Ministers’ or just ‘Council’. It shares legislative powers with the EP and is made up of 28 ministers. Meetings are divided into specific council configurations which deal with different legislative areas. Formations include General Affairs, Agriculture & Fishers, and Environment, for example. Different ministers from each member state are sent for each council configuration.
  • The European Commission (EC) – proposes and drafts new legislation which is monitored and edited by the EP. It administers the EU budget and ensures compliance with EU law. The Commission is made up of many departments (called Directorates-Generals), services, agencies and bodies, which research and develop policies surrounding the EC’s priority areas.
  • The Court of Justice of the EU – implements EU law and determines legal disputes between member states, EU institutions and other bodies.
  • European Court of Auditors – audits the EU.
  • The European Central Bank – determines monetary policies.
 Political System of the European Union . Credit: Tatiana Feskova (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

Political System of the European Union . Credit: Tatiana Feskova (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

Drafting Policy

The drafting of major EU legislation is a complicated and often lengthy process. The video below clearly explains this process (much better than I can!). A specific example is used to highlight the timeframe involved. Please note that the video is a little out of date as it mentions only 27 member states (since the video was released Croatia has joined the EU).

(Making EU Law – The EU Legislation Tracker Infographic: Six Pack , courtesy of The Institute of International and European Affairs, from YouTube)

There is a simpler process (well explained here), for less substantial legislation, in which the Council of the EU is not involved with the editing process.

Policies are drafted before and after legislative frameworks are in place. The preparation of ‘Impact Assessments‘ which set out the advantages and disadvantages of possible policy options are used to structure initial legislation. Additional policies, drafted after legislation approval, can ensure goals are achieved. For example, green incentive policies, such as tax reductions for companies which use renewable energy, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; which legalisation following the UN’s Kyoto protocol demands.

EGU Science in the EU

The two major institutions within the EU that focus on the policy-making process are the European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP).

EGU science is relevant for many different sections within these institutions. The Departments of the EC relevant to EGU science include Energy, Environment, Climate, Agriculture, and Research & Innovation to name but a few! All departments have opportunities to use evidence and scientific expertise during their policy-making process. In addition to this, the EC also has the ‘Joint Research Centre’ which funds in-house and external science to aid policy. Scientists can get involved with this process by answering the EC’s Calls for Tender and by signing up to their Database of Experts. The European Parliament has similar initiatives organised by their ‘Science and Technology Options Assessment’ (STOA) and the ‘European Parliamentary Research Service’ (EPRS) departments. Note that scientific advice can also be used in the EU’s legislative process during the ‘civil society’ stage mentioned in the above video.

My role as the EGU’s Science Policy Fellow is to highlight the opportunities for both policy workers and scientists to get involved with science policy, as well as to inform those who may not be aware of this process’ importance. Part of my job will involve regular science policy columns on GeoLog, highlighting the latest discussions and events occurring involving EGU science in the EU. So keep an eye out on GeoLog and the EGU website for lots more to come!