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Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MAGIC (Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-11-30

MAGIC contributes to the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by testing the robustness and the quality of the narratives about the current Nexus situation in Europe.
To this purpose, MAGIC focuses on key components of the sustainability strategy –water, food, energy and land use– stressing how they are deeply entangled. MAGIC goes beyond the usual practice of considering each resource flow (energy, water or food) independently and developing separate quantitative analyses.
MAGIC studies not only Nexus policy issues but their underlying narratives, that is, how the policy issues are framed by pre-analytical choices of how to define and delimit the problem and the system at hand. Our approach involves checking the feasibility, viability and desirability of policies using the metabolic pattern of socio-ecological systems as the underlying theoretical concept and doing so across spatial scales (e.g. EU, Member States and regions).
In this way, MAGIC seeks to overcome the prevailing scientist-policy maker (purported) separation, whereby scientists are supposed to produce and certify the facts and policy makers guarantee the legitimacy of the values. In MAGIC, a diversity of social actors carry out together a critical appraisal of the narratives that shape the process of generating the information used for governance of the Nexus. The appraisal of narratives encompasses the initial identification and framing of the problem to the choice of models through which variables and data are combined to generate quantitative results, and how these are legitimated, interpreted and used (or not used) in decision-making processes.
MAGIC thus develops a novel approach to the use of scientific information in the process of governance by replacing the narrowly technocratic and disciplinary research paradigm with Quantitative Story-Telling (QST). QST aspires to check the robustness, the usefulness and the fairness of the narratives used to discuss and select policies. The theoretical foundation of QST is the theory of post-normal science, which acknowledges the unavoidable presence of scientific uncertainty and value plurality in the sustainability discussion.
Following a period of familiarization and development of QST within the consortium, key narratives were analyzed in five policy domains (water, energy efficiency, agriculture, environmental protection, circular economy,) and for seven innovations (biofuel production, shale gas extraction, interventions directed towards environmental protection, green bonds, alternative water sources, saving water in irrigation, electric vehicles and energy storage systems). The shortlists of key narratives were selected with EC staff from leading and associated DGs (ENV, ENER, CLIMA, AGRI, RTD) and EC agencies (EEA) through deliberative processes (interviews, focus groups). The QST was informed by and where possible using the formalisms of the multi-scale integrated analysis of societal and ecosystem metabolism (MuSIASEM). This critical appraisal of the narratives informing sustainability policies and innovations has identified where conventional framing of issues may be limiting the analyses undertaken and thus the EU’s ability to make an effective transition to sustainability.
The outputs from MAGIC analyses were presented in a variety of policy and other stakeholder fora and made available publicly through the project website (as policy briefs, deliverables, audiovisual material, publications), summer schools, and a MOOC illustrating the conduct of QST and the use of MuSIASEM. Beyond the deliberations with EC staff within the policy domains, outputs from MAGIC were discussed in detail with stakeholders in a series of focus groups and public events. These events included:
- Public debate on ‘squaring the energy circle’ at the Post-growth Conference at the European Parliament, Brussels, September 2018;
- Workshop on the relevance of MAGIC analyses for preparing the State Of the Environment Report (SOER) 2020 (particularly the circular economy), with the European Environment Agency and JRC staff, EC policy officers and FLIS members;
- Workshop on ‘Water scenario and modelling narratives: Moving towards quality narratives in water’, with JRC researchers and representatives from DG-ENV and DG-AGRI;
- Focus group on ‘Energy modelling and the water-energy-food nexus conundrum’ at the 2018 conference of the Energy Modelling Platform for Europe (EMP-E), DG RTD, Brussels, September 2018, with the participation of energy modelers from other Horizon2020 projects, MEPs and DG RTD staff.
In all these events there was a robust and engaged deliberation on the benefits and limitations of approaches being tested in MAGIC. The enthusiasm expressed (for methods that widen the perspectives being considered within EU deliberations) is seen most often from those that feel sidelined or excluded by the currently dominant narratives. How best to reflect on and improve such narratives, remains a societal challenge, as does the most appropriate role for research in such processes of change.
QST informed by MuSIASEM represents a step forward in sustainability analysis integrating different framings of sustainability issues across different scales and dimensions of analysis. The MuSIASEM accounting framework is not based on conventional mathematical models, but integrates non-equivalent metrics, thus combining four different cross-scale perspectives:
- Macroscopic – studying the Consumption and Supply systems -describing their desirability at the equivalent of a macroeconomic level of analysis;
- Mesoscopic – studying the Supply systems (local vs externalized) - describing the role of imports in allowing the metabolic pattern of a society to persist by drawing in resources and externalizing negative environmental impacts;
- Microscopic – studying the Production and Sequential Pathway systems - analyzing how the magnitude and ways in which production is undertaken (in biophysical terms within the technosphere) and how this interacts with natural processes (locally within the biosphere) to generate environmental pressures and impact;
- “Virtualscopic” - studying the requirements of economic production factors (labour and technologies), primary sources (for the supply of inputs), and primary sinks (for the disposal of undesired wastes) – i.e. level of externalized impact – that a society is generating because of its terms of trade. This perspective is essential to discuss ethical and security aspects of heavily relying on imports.
The outputs from the MAGIC project are being actively used with stakeholders in line with the project’s knowledge-exchange strategy. This recognizes the need to engage with multiple audiences, but given the expected impacts, engagement with EU institutions has been prioritized, especially the DG’s within EC. The process of engagement is seeking to raise awareness, build capacity and enduring networks of connections and thus to engender conceptual and where opportunities present themselves, instrumental change. While there have been significant successes in this engagement the mainstreaming of the ideas of MAGIC within EU governance remains a work in progress.
Quantitative Story-Telling: the iterative process used to check the quality of the narratives in EU
Application of the State-Pressure rationale to the analysis of Social-Ecological Systems