Natural science knowledge and uncertainty in environmental decision making

Legislators, policy-makers and practitioners increasingly recognize that common understanding is essential for legitimate and efficient decision-making and action in complex policy areas that involve various scientific disciplines while also engaging a range of legitimate competing interests and actors. Environmental legislation, policy development and implementation is one such area, and the common understanding required covers the knowledge available and not available; concepts and principles; and risks inherent in the process.

In administrative and legal decision-making in the environmental area it is necessary to deal with natural science knowledge and uncertainty in the evaluation of environmental effects of different human activities and of how to avoid a negative impact on the environment. Moreover, the administrative and legal criteria for decisions addressing environmental matters often include concepts such as “significant effect to the environment”, “good ecological status” or “favourable conservation status”, all relating to natural science factors. Other basic concepts, such as “best available techniques” and “adequate risk control”, relate to a mix of different scientific disciplines such as natural and social science, engineering and economics. It is therefore very relevant to discuss how scientific understanding, knowledge and uncertainty in natural science in particular– but also in other disciplines – are handled in political, administrative and legal decision-making and research. Key words in this respect are risk management, the precautionary principle and consideration for the needs of future generations.

This workshop aims to highlight the interaction of and interdependence between social, legal and natural sciences in the understanding and use of environmentally related concepts in environmental law, policy and administration, and to promote an interdisciplinary debate on the interlinking and diverse scientific perspectives on the matter.


Marie Appelstrand, Department of Business and Law, Lund University

Jan Darpö, Faculty of Law, Uppsala University


List of participants

This working group will be split into two separate groups.