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The Authority of Science in Sustainability Governance: A Structured Comparison of Six Science Institutions Engaged with the Sustainable Development Goals

van der Hel, Sandra, Frank Biermann. 2017. The authority of science in sustainability governance: A structured comparison of six science institutions engaged with the Sustainable Development Goals. Environmental Science and Policy, 77: 211-220


Over the past decades, numerous science institutions have evolved around issues of global sustainability, aiming to inform and shape societal transformations towards sustainability. While these science-based initiatives seem to take on an ever growing active role in governance for sustainable development, the question arises how they can claim any political authority in the first place. We present here a structured comparison of six international science-based initiatives, all engaged in governance processes related to the recently established Sustainable Development Goals. We focus on the material and rhetorical strategies employed by these science institutions to acquire authority by fostering perceptions of salience, credibility and legitimacy among governance actors. We distinguish three modes of scientific authority: an assessment-oriented mode that combines a strategy of salience through integration, with credibility by formal mechanisms of review, and legitimacy through representation; an advice-oriented mode, which appeals to salience through the promise of independent and timely science advice, to credibility through the credentials of the scientists involved, and to legitimacy through formal recognition by governance actors; and a solution-oriented mode, with science institutions claiming relevance based on the promise to contribute to solutions for global sustainability, while credibility is sought by invoking support of the scientific community, and legitimacy through a strategy of participation. Based on this analysis, we provide a framework for reflection on the claims and strategies of science-based initiatives, and their role and responsibility in governance for sustainable development.

This article is part of a special issue on solution-oriented GEAs.

The article is available here.

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