Monday, April 27, 2015

Sausage Grinding School

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.


Hank Roberts said...

> build trust and work towards
> common goals

Worth some study:
Some Business-Related Ethical Issues in Engineering John Hooker
Carnegie Mellon University May 2000

(written for engineers; page down to the international commerce section for discussion relevant for any cross-cultural agreement, and especially tricky for climate issues. One trusts one's country's diplomats are aware of all this, at least below the appointed ambassador level ...)

--- excerpt ---

"Westerners sometimes have difficulty making the adjustment, because they are universalists. They deeply hold the conviction that all peoples should be basically the same (i.e., similar to them), although some may be further along the path of development than others. Whatever Westerners may believe, peoples are in fact very diverse. Cultures have developed fundamentally different and equally legitimate solutions to life’s problems. The key to working in a multicultural setting is to acknowledge the possibility of radically different approaches to life....
In much of the world, one routinely lets contracts to one’s friends. The reason, again, is that business is based on trust relationships with individuals. They take different forms in different countries. In China one speaks of guanxi (the Putonghua word for “relationship”), which is a long-term association based on mutual obligation. In Mexico business relationships reflect bonds of friendship and affection. In Japan or Korea they are based on an old-boy network formed during college days.

The West refers to this as cronyism and complains of lack of transparency. ... This relationship-based system can work quite well, however. It sustained great civilizations for thousands of years; Western capitalism has existed only 500 years. A business commitment based on a proper relationship is as solid as anything in this life (although the parties often ask each other to renegotiate)....
In much of the world, cronyism provides the social glue that makes business possible. Far from being immoral, it reflects a highly developed moral sensibility that is often missing in the West. It occurs in relationship-based cultures, in which people place high priority on solicitude for the welfare and feelings of their associates. Maintaining courtesy, respect, loyalty and honor is a fine

It must be acknowledged, however, that many countries have evolved an uncomfortable blend of Western and indigenous practices. It may be hard to evaluate such cases, and one must look at each one individually....

----end excerpt-----

Barton Paul Levenson said...


Anonymous said...

OT, but what does the chemist in Eli think of this:

Of course, it's not CO2 sequestration as the article says, but rather recycling. However, if it stops us from pulling more of that black stuff out of the ground, it can't be all bad.

Sounds too good to be true to this cynical old codger - too much like perpetual motion... though perhaps not, because there *is* energy being being input into the process. But it had better be 100% renewable energy else you're just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Also, one can wonder about the by-products of the 'Processing' stage, and also what the water requirements of the entire process are.

Anonymous said...

Aha, wait. I see where the "and here some magic happens" is: collecting the CO2 from the atmosphere. That takes a *lot* of energy and *building materials* to make the collectors :-)

Brian Dodge said...

"Of course, in the US, this is a double edged sword in states that have banned the words climate change."
As an interesting aside, despite its public governmental disavowal of global warming, Florida leads the nation in adding Sacrificial Hardened Infrastructure Technology to its barrier islands to mitigate storm surge damage to inland properties; they also are doing this at no cost to (most) taxpayers, using the free(ish) market instead. That they call these structures "beachfront condominiums" or "beachfront hotels", and credit the tax dollars that are spent to "tourism" or "economic" development probably helps &:>)


Could we have a look at the other side of the sty- not too close please ?

Anonymous said...

Aaaaannd now the GOP is going after the NASA Earth Science budget, cutting it from $1.77 billion currently to at most $1.45 billion in fiscal 2016 in the committee mark-up.