Working Group III: Mitigation

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First, it introduces a distinction between the “basic game” itself (i.e., the system of activities to be regulated) and the “policy game” through which decisions about regulations are made. The policy game generates its own stakes; certain kinds of behaviour—notably behaviour that meets the expectations of domestic “clients” and important others—are rewarded, while moves that violate these expectations are punished. Governments also consider such political stakes. Where such stakes exist, a political scientist expects government behaviour to deviate to some degree from what national economic interests indicate. Such deviance may go both ways; the wish to placate politically important domestic “clients” most often leads to a more restrictive policy, while the momentum generated towards the end of a successful international conference can lead a lone “laggard” to go the extra mile to accommodate the majority.

Second, political science emphasizes (more and more) the relevance of “social norms”, “social learning”, and the operation of “social roles” in regime processes (Young, 1999). These approaches recognize that all international environmental regimes are “social institutions” that develop particular (social) dynamics and induce behavioural consequences: the matter of social norms refers to behaviour that roots in considerations of legitimacy or authoritativeness. Actors, who regard the rules of regimes as legitimate, often comply without engaging in detailed calculations of the costs and benefits (of their doing so). One important effect of international regimes is that they initiate social learning processes. Already, the start of global negotiating generally has resulted in the generation of new facts, ideas, and perspectives that reduce uncertainty and lead to changes in the prevailing discourses, values, and actual behaviour of actors. The operation of social roles refers to the observation that actors regularly take on new roles under the terms of institutional arrangements that shape identities and interests.

Third, norms of fairness are assumed to serve as (1) frameworks of soft constraints upon the pursuit of self-interest, and (2) as decision premises in situations in which interests provide no clear guidance. Studying international negotiations we can observe some rather general norms that are frequently invoked and very rarely disputed—at least on principled grounds. These norms seem to constitute a soft core of widely, though probably not universally, accepted ideas about distributive fairness. This core is described in summary fashion below.

The default option in international co-operation is the norm that all parties shall have equal obligations, usually defined in relative terms. The principle of equal obligations has a firm normative basis if all parties involved are roughly equal in all relevant respects. This condition is never met in global negotiations, although it usually applies to subgroups. When the range of variance exceeds a certain threshold, attention shifts to some notion of equity. The common denominator for equity norms is that costs and/or benefits be distributed in (rough) proportion to actor scores on the dimension(s) that led the parties to think about differentiation in the first place. Several such dimensions can be identified, but in international co-operation attention focuses primarily on two. One is the role that each party played in causing the problem or providing the good in question, the other refers to the consequences that a particular obligation or project would have for the various parties involved. This gives a matrix with four key principles (see Table 10.3). In a global setting, however, the range of variance in terms of criteria such as “guilt” or “capacity” is most often so large that even the notion of soft proportionality leads to “unfair” burdens upon the poorest countries. When the latter threshold is reached, attention tends to shift to the simple principle of exemption; more precisely, exemption from any substantive obligation for which a party is not (fully) compensated.

Table 10.3: Key principles of equity in the political science context
Focus on Object to be distributed
Costs (obligations) Benefits
Cause of current state of affairs “Guilt” or responsibility (for causing the problem) Contribution (to solving the problem or providing the good)
Consequences for actors Capacity (ability to pay) Need

This leaves a somewhat complex and elastic framework, but the bottom line is clear enough. A global agreement has to be at least roughly consistent with (1) the general pattern of differentiation outlined in the preceding paragraph, and (2) the combined implications of the equity principles of “guilt”, “capacity”, and “need” (i.e., implications that can be derived from all three principles).

These points are important to consider in the design of international environmental regimes. Political scientists focus on sociopolitical dimensions and processes that current game-theory models neglect or are unable to capture adequately. Nevertheless, the policy-relevant conclusions from game theory remain valid and useful for the policy process.

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