Review of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment


The International Council for Science (ICSU) requested a consultant to prepare a review of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). This review was required as an input to decisions about the future of SCOPE which ICSU expect to make during 2008. A Reference Group was established to help the consultant with the review, and detailed Terms of Reference were specified.

Answers to the questions posed in the Terms of Reference were based on an analysis of responses to a web based questionnaire which was sent to 370 individuals who have been associated with the work of SCOPE over the past five years. The analysis also took into account interviews which the consultant held with approximately fifty key informants. Reports and accounts were also consulted and analysed.

The results of the review demonstrate that SCOPE has had an illustrious past and particularly in its early days made many contributions to knowledge and to policy. More recently several new organizations have been established which work at the science and environment interface. These provide competition for SCOPE’s scientific assessments. They also provide competition for available financial and human resources. The financial situation facing SCOPE is now acute with funding for the Secretariat and administrative costs exceeding the subscription fees from its Members by more than $50,000 per annum. One of the main reasons for this situation is that the fees are paid in dollars and about 50% of the expenses are spent in Euros. The loss in value of the dollar has not been matched by increases in subscription fees.

The review identifies the strengths and weaknesses of SCOPE. Most of these had been identified in a previous review in 2003, and are well known both to the SCOPE Executive Committee and to the SCOPE Secretariat. Some measures have been taken to overcome the weaknesses over the past five years, but the financial situation has meant there are still many problems which remain to be solved.

Four alternative options were identified for the future of the organization. These were the ‘more of the same’ option; ‘the rejuvenation or re-invention’ option; ‘the merger’ option; and ‘the closure’ option. The majority of the people interviewed favoured the rejuvenation or re-invention option, although about a fifth was in favour of the merger or closure options. Very few people thought that SCOPE could survive by doing more of the same.

The final section of the report contains the consultant’s personal comments and conclusions. It is recommended that there should be a set of consultations and meetings which explore the needs for a SCOPE type organization given the activities of other organizations working on scientific assessments, before final decisions about the future of SCOPE are taken.

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