What Can Be Learned from Experience with Scientific Advisory Committees in the Field of International Environmental Politics?
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Scientific advisory committees (SACs) are a critically important part of global environmental policy. This commentary reviews the role of SACs in six global and regional environmental regimes, defined here as the set of rules, norms, and procedures that are developed by states and international organizations out of their common concerns and used to organize common activities. First, SACs play a critical role in putting issues on the political agenda and the creation of an overarching regime. Second, the effectiveness of a given SAC and the associated regime is highly variable. Third, there is also considerable variation in the extent to which the regime is driven by an overarching scientific consensus, for example, high in the case of climate change, lower in the case of whaling. Fourth, the role of science in a given regime is also a function of whether the problem being addressed is relatively benign or more malign, that is to say, marked by deep political disagreements (i.e., climate change). Finally, the cases examined here suggest that the institutional design of the SAC matters and can influence the overall effectiveness of the SAC and by extension, the regime, but it is seldom decisive.