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Seminar Abstract

Edward A. Parson - May 29, 2002


Can technology assessment drive adaptive environmental policy? Lessons from international protection of the ozone layer.

Depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer is the most successfully managed issue in international environmental policy. This success did not come from the treaty commitments negotiated in the 1987 Montreal Protocol, however, but from the rapid and effective subsequent adaptation of commitments in response to evolving scientific knowledge and technological capabilities.

Central to this adaptation was an innovative process to assess technological prospects for continuing acceleration of reductions in ozone-depleting chemicals. Through this process the ozone regime succeeded at gathering high-quality technical advice and promoting development effort where many prior attempts had failed, principally because it succeeded at engaging the serious, energetic participation of first-rank technical experts from industry. They participated - despite industry's general disinterest in providing technical information to help government regulate them - because the assessment process coupled regime benefits with private benefits, by helping participants to solve technical problems they faced in meeting existing and expected regulatory requirements, and to identify potential commercial opportunities in new related markets.

Similarly structured assessment processes could promote technical innovation and policy adaptation on other issues, including certain aspects of global climate change, but this potential is not being exploited.

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