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The Use of Impact Assessment Tools to Support Sustainable Policy Objectives in Europe

Peter De Smedt, Research Centre of the Flemish Government

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Abstract

Sustainable development has become an overall policy objective in Europe. The sustainability transition is seen as the process of coming to terms with sustainability in all its ecological, social, economic, and institutional dimensions. This challenging process is as much about new ways of knowing as it is about resource management and product innovation. I analyzed how scientific tools such as environmental, socioeconomic, and integrated models have been developed and used to provide a solid foundation for sustainable policy objectives. I used a scoping study to compare current impact assessment exercises and research policy cases within the European Commission (EC). Although the EC is recognized as having supported environmental policy integration for more than three decades, updated insight is relevant because the current impact assessment system within the EC is highly dynamic, involving frequent new policy commitments and institutional initiatives to strengthen its practice and quality within the last three years. In addition, a broad range of research projects have been initiated to support this process by developing new concepts and tools and linking them with actual policy initiatives. Finally, the focus on design and use of scientific tools will contribute to a better understanding of what hinders the tools from being relevant, accurate, and legitimate. For example, while being simplifications of reality, many scientific models remain so complex that they are seen as black boxes instead of transparent analytical tools. Consequently, research outcomes do not fully reach policy makers.

Key words

impact assessment; science-policy interface; sustainability
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087