Bismark is rumored to have pointed out that one should never look took closely at the fabrication of producing sausages and laws. In the March 6 issue of Science a number of worthies from various conservation oriented organizations first authored by S.L. Maxwell, add environmental treaties to the list, but with a twist worthy of consideration. (Free range version here)
They point out that conservation treaties have strived for targets that are specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time-bound (SMART), but that for the most difficult problems a better goal might be to leave a whole lot more wiggle room.
Because different parties have different objectives each of which will be passionately defended science, no matter how well established, is not necessarily going to help much. In such a situation, it is, the author's say, and Eli agrees, much more important to build trust and work towards common goals than it would be to impose them at the beginning.
The Montreal Protocols provided the wiggle room by setting out different classes of nations, with different goals and schedules for each. Because the Protocols built trust over two decades, in no small part through financial aid in helping the developing countries to meet their goals (and yes, accepted a degree of chicanery by China and India in particular) it has been successful.
The problem is
A primary focus for international environmental accords should be to promote collaboration, trust and innovation between stakeholders to enable long-term measurable action toward environmental sustainability. SMART targets provide a potential pathway for achieving this, but the process of building consensus and collaboration when working toward SMART targets is vital.So what are the principal rules of wiggle for negotiating environmental treaties
Without this, contentious environmental issues can force environmental policy makers to build flexibility into targets as a way to secure agreement. We identify three common pathways for providing this "wiggle room": targets that are ambiguous in definition, ambiguous in quantification or clearly unachievable.This is basically a half a loaf strategy, which may not be sufficient, but as is pointed out, such treaties and actions in support of them change the playing fields in the direction of SMART treaties that can be established at a later stage. Moreover, bilateral agreements with SMART goals can be much easier to negotiate in a global "wiggle room".
Game theory can provide insights into why stakeholders adopt certain positions, the conditions under which they are likely to cooperate, and the likelihood that agreement can be achieved. Smead, et al, used a game theoretic approach to examine failures of, and prospects for, international climate agreements. They demonstrated that very high initial demands for greenhouse gas reductions made by numerous countries led to negotiations breaking down. They suggested that future agreements are more likely to succeed if countries (particularly large emitters) reach bilateral reduction agreements before major international meetings as happened in late 2014 between the United States and China.Maxwell, et al, hold that the targets for international environmental treaties should focus first on building trust and establishing collaborations amongst the parties. They see local and regional lawmaking on environmental issues as being a better model for negotiation international treaties and point out the role that scientists have played. Of course, in the US, this is a double edged sword in states that have banned the words climate change.