Dependable Dynamism: Lessons for Designing Scientific Assessment Processes in Consensus Negotiations Essay

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Dependable dynamism: lessons for designing scientific assessment processes in consensus negotiations
Noelle Eckley*
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 JFK Street (UR),
Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Negotiations that involve the use and interpretation of scientific information and assessment are often particularly difficult, especially when the scientific input is uncertain or contested. Parties can exploit this uncertainty in order to stall progress, where they might prefer a very different policy outcome. In addition, scientific input often changes as new research is done and disseminated. In order to facilitate decision-making where science is involved, a number of international environmental agreements have established regimes, as well as assessment processes, that are designed to incorporate new information, review decisions, and modify judgmentsFthat is, they are dynamic or adaptable. However, there is little systematic evaluation by policymakers or academic analysts of the type and qualities of such dynamism that might contribute to effective assessment and regulatory processes, or of whether this lesson is truly applicable across very different environmental issues. Examination of the recent protocol on persistent organicpollutants to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), in comparison to LRTAPs two previous protocols on sulfur emissions, offers a way to compare across different types of issues whether and how ‘‘adaptable’’ assessment processes influence consensus negotiations. The results of this comparison indicate that a type of adaptability likely to facilitate decision-making is ‘‘dependable dynamism’’Fthe quality of assessment and decision-making processes that allows policymakers with ease to put off particular decisions for addressing in the future, with confidence that issues so put off will indeed be addressed later. The ability to modify such conclusions at a later time facilitates decision-making processes by offering a new dimension of compromise on both scientific assessment and policy decisions, and lowering the threshold of credibility necessary for decision-making. r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Establishing consensus on regulatory actions, where there are a large number of competing interests, is often a difficult process. Where there are significant scientific uncertainties and disagreements as well, controversies in scientific assessment processes that inform policy decisions can be a significant force in stalling policy progress. For environmental issues in particular, recent history has shown that making decisions informed by scientific knowledge, and managing interactions between scientific assessment processes and policy discussions, has been a challenge for both scientists and regulators. Compounding the problem of uncertainty and dissent over scientific issues is the rapidly changing state of the science in many relevant disciplines.
Those designing scientific assessment and negotiating processes often look to other agreements in an effort to learn lessons about how better to design such interactions. For example, ‘‘Modeled after the Montreal
Protocol’’ was a saying among delegates to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a global legally binding agreement on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), in January 1999 (Earth Negotiations
Bulletin, 1999). One of the lessons often drawn from the
Montreal Protocol, as well as other existing agreements, is that scientific assessment processes informing decision makersFlike negotiations themselvesFshould be designed as adaptable or dynamic. That is, decisionmaking that is informed by scientific assessments should be flexible enough to be modified based on future assessment and review.
Richard Benedick, in his attempt to delineate practical lessons from the Montreal