INSIGHTS | PERSPECTIVES
1076 6 MARCH 2015 • VOL 347 ISSUE 6226 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
progress toward a common goal (e.g., as
achieved by the Ramsar targets—more than
208 million hectares of wetlands protected
as of February 2015). However, agreeing on a
target that lacks transparency and accountability can lead to failed implementation as
unhappy stakeholders look to “wiggle out”
of their environmental obligations [e.g., the
2010 Convention on Biological Diversity
targets (2)]. For this reason, we view wiggle
room as a potentially deleterious response
to the symptoms of difficult target setting
negotiations and not an effective solution to
the underlying problems that diverse stakeholder perspectives can cause.
BUILDING CONSENSUS. To improve prospects for developing implementable and
environmentally relevant targets, a sole
focus on SMART-ness is not required. The
strengths of natural and social science should
combine, marrying ecological understanding
with conflict resolution, consensus building, and negotiation tools to move toward
target setting. A number of tools have demonstrated potential to increase the influence
of scientific advice in negotiations, accelerate
the process by reducing conflict, and lead to
more effective science-driven targets.
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 (8). Smead et al. (9)
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.
Management strategy evaluation (MSE)
uses socio-ecological models to test alternative management strategies under uncertain states of the world (10). For example,
MSE improved management of a complex
multispecies fishery in southeastern Australia. Before implementing MSE, there
was little consensus in this fishery on what
strategies and targets were needed to improve ecological, social, and economic performance. MSE led to substantial reduction
in the time required for stakeholders to
agree on a management strategy from several weeks to a few days, and improved system performance (11).
Collaborative learning (CL) is a frame-
work that encourages joint learning, open
communication, and constructive conflict
management between diverse stakeholders.
Instead of demanding absolute consensus on
contentious issues, CL assists stakeholders to
work through issues that constrain progress
toward achieving goals for the common good
(12). By acknowledging conflict as inherent in
most decisions, CL manages conflict so that
negotiations are not soured by resentment.
CL has been used in the United Kingdom to
encourage biodiversity and recreation stake-
holders to agree on evidence about effects of
domestic dogs on bird populations, and to
jointly produce a map showing areas of con-
flict and opportunity (13).
In both MSE and CL, rather than science
being used selectively by opposing sides to
support or refute arguments based on normative positions, frameworks are developed
that enable stakeholders to separate factual
information from normative views. This facilitates joint exploration of consequences of
PRIORITIZE THE PROCESS. The geopolitical landscape makes it very difficult to
change the way targets are set. To catalyze
improvements in the process for future environmental agreements, those formulating
targets for negotiation should consider setting explicit targets for the improvement of
trust and collaboration. This is particularly
important between conflicting stakeholders, given the pivotal role that trust plays
at the negotiation table. Scientists can help
achieve this by applying negotiation tools
that have successfully resolved contentious
environmental issues at local and national
levels to international negotiations. Because
these tools focus on improving processes,
this approach may also provide support
for translating internationally set targets
into national scale implementation, which
can be made difficult by a lack of political
support or stability or a failure to integrate
biodiversity issues into other policy sectors.
There are existing conduits for enabling
scientific expertise to inform international
policy, such as Future Earth and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and
Ecosystem Services. With its Summary for
Policymakers, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change demonstrates that con-sensus-building approaches can produce
results that are acceptable for governments
while retaining scientific credibility (14).
Such initiatives could recruit researchers
who study negotiation and conflict resolution and provide them a platform to support
international environmental negotiations.
Science needs to inform environmental
targets, to ensure their credibility and effectiveness in reducing environmental degradation. For example, Aichi Target 11—that
17% of terrestrial land area should be protected by 2020—was a negotiated compromise, rather than being based on the best
available scientific advice (15). But agreeing
on science-based targets requires scientists
to take responsibility for ensuring that
information is understood and constructively used; greater scientific engagement
in improving the process of target-setting
could help to achieve this. Rather than just
providing ecological evidence to inform
targets and monitor progress, scientists
could have more of a role in supporting the
processes of setting ecologically relevant
targets and implementing resultant environmental policies.
It may be too late to avoid wiggle room
in environmental targets within the SDGs.
However, for the SDGs and other future environmental accords, simply arguing for quantified targets may be missing the point that
vagueness serves a political purpose that is
not resolved by greater quantification alone.
Evidence from environmental negotiations
suggests that failing to focus on the process
of agreeing on targets will lead to stalled negotiations; targets that are ambiguous in definition or quantification or are unachievable;
and a subsequent loss of momentum toward
measurable environmental sustainability. ■
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. D. P. Tittensor et al ., Science 346, 241 (2014).
2. C. Perrings et al ., Science 330, 323 (2010).
3. M. Stafford-Smith, Nature 513, 281 (2014).
4. J. B. Skjaerseth, Glob. Environ. Change 2, 292 (1992).
5. Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions
of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation
and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly
Migratory Fish Stocks. New York, 24 July to 4 August 1995.
6. J. Bull et al ., Biol. Conserv. 178, 2 (2014).
7. Convention on Wetlands, Resolution VIII.25: The Ramsar
Strategic Plan 2003-2008, Valencia, Spain, 18 to 26
8. S. M. Redpath et al ., Trends Ecol. Evol. 28, 100 (2013).
9. R. Smead et al ., Nat. Climate Change 4, 442 (2014).
10. N. Bunnefeld et al ., Trends Ecol. Evol. 26, 441 (2011).
11. E. A. Fulton et al ., PLOS ONE 9, e84242 (2014).
12. S. E. Daniels, G. B. Walker, Working Through Environmental
Conflict: The Collaborative Learning Approach (Praeger
Publishers, Westport, CT, 2001).
13. R. Pou wels et al ., Ecol. Soc. 16, 17 (2011).
14. N. K. Dubash et al ., Science 345, 36 (2014).
15. L. M. Campbell et al ., Glob. Environ. Polit. 14, 41 (2014).
ACKNO WLEDGMEN TS
The authors thank the Australian Research Council Centre of
Excellence for Environmental Decisions and Imperial College
London Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment
initiative for funding. They thank reviewers for comments.
“… [V]agueness serves a
political purpose that is
not resolved by greater