The Failure of Scientific Expertise to Influence the Desertification Negotiations

Corell, E. (1996). The Failure of Scientific Expertise to Influence the Desertification Negotiations. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-96-165

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Desertification is a complex environmental issue and expert advice should play an important role when negotiating an international agreement to deal with the phenomenon. Yet in practice, scientific expert influence was marginal in the development of the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD). This paper explores why.

It argues that low scientific expert influence mainly reflects two factors. First, some Southern countries, who were keen to have a post Rio convention that focused on developing countries, resisted complex scientific advice since it could jeopardize the whole convention. Second, the International Panel of Experts on Desertification -- the main institution for providing expert advice to the negotiations -- was small and emerged only late in the process. By the time the CCD was to be negotiated, most of the issues on which experts could have some influence were already settled.

Moreover, the expansion over time of the definition of "desertification" to a widening range of environmental conditions eroded the focus of the concept and made it less useful for policy. Donors, who were apprehensive because earlier action plans on desertification had failed, became reluctant to support international anti-desertification projects. Thus the issue became tied to the general political debate about development aid.

Although scientific experts did not have much influence, other non-governmental actors who participated in the CCD negotiations were influential. The active encouragement of the participation of non-governmental organizations, their long-standing interest and expertise on these issues, and homogeneity of their interests all contributed to their influence. That NGOs had more influence suggests that it is more important to focus on actors who have issue competence, rather than on formally appointed scientific experts, when analyzing the influence of expert advice in international environmental agreements.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: International Environmental Commitments (IEC)
Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:07
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:15

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