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Jung, Wolfgang. 1999. "Expert Advice in Global Environmental Decision Making: How Close Should Science and Policy Get?" Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper E-99-14. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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Abstract

Large-scale environmental problems involve complex biophysical systems that are both poorly understood in scientific terms and subject to rapid—sometimes nonlinear—change over time. Decision makers respond to this challenge by pursuing a two-pronged strategy: On the one hand, they seek to reduce uncertainties by soliciting advice from experts in the respective field; on the other hand they create international institutions (‘international environmental regimes’) to deal with the problem. Due to this potentially important role of expert advice in regime development, it is not surprising that its institutionalization proves to be a highly political and contentious process:

Which degree of responsibility is delegated to what kind of advisory mechanism? Are linkages established to existing mechanisms and institutions, or do the cooperating parties prefer to establish new entities that better serve their needs?

But it is not only the decision makers who struggle with the question of how close they should tie the future course of the regime to the outcomes of advisory processes. The experts and scientific organizations themselves have stakes in the issue and often wrestle with the question whether they should become—at least partially—involved in decision making processes or better stay away from politics in order to preserve their authoritative status as ‘independent’ scientists. In the second part of this paper, I will define ‘policy proximity’ as a measure for the degree of integration of advisory processes and decision making processes. I will argue that the policy proximity of advisory processes (at a given point in time) can be described as a result of the two processes outlined above: the delegation of more or less responsibility (strong or weak mandate) to advisory processes by policy makers, and the interpretation of this mandate towards more or less policy involvement by the experts who were asked for advice. Furthermore, policy proximity is likely to be relevant for the potential of the advisory process to influence the policy process. The paper explores in which respect and through which mechanisms the policy proximity of advisory processes matters for decision making.

The research is conceived as a comparative analysis of the development of the advisory systems of two global environmental regimes—the regime on the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer (Vienna Convention 1985,Montreal Protocol 1987 and subsequent amendments), and the regime on climate change (Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, 1992), and Kyoto Protocol 1997).

The main findings of the study are:

  1. The mandate of advisory processes related to international environmental regimes is not a static variable, which is determined once for all during regime creation. Instead, it is subject to change and fine-tuning over time. The strength of the mandate is a function of the 'level of transnational political consensus on the need for and feasibility of meaningful action'. States are ready to confer authority to advisory processes only after their uncertainty about the future course of the regime has been reduced. Political consensus on the need for action (however achieved) determines the strength of the mandate.
  2. The way managers and participants of advisory processes interpret their mandate is also subject to change over time: In the early stages of regime formation there is a tendency to ‘policy activism’, i.e. the experts tend to make policy statements which are not completely based on scientific findings. Once the issue is on the political agenda and debated controversially, they turn back to a more ‘conservative’ approach.
  3. The optimal level of the policy proximity of advisory processes has to be identified case by case. The two issue areas explored in this paper offer little scope for generalization. However, there was no clear evidence that expert advice was perceived as too close to policy. In some cases there rather seemed to be scope for a higher level of integration of decision making and advisory processes.

 

 
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