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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 24: Science and International Environmental Governance

Peter M. Haas


Peter M. Haas* Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? (T.S. Eliot) While Speaking Truth to Power has long been a major theme in political science and policy studies (Wildavsky, 1979) commentators are increasingly sceptical about whether modellers and scientists are capable of developing truth, and whether power ever listens to them anyhow. Indeed, at the international level, IR (international relations) scholars tend to be surprised by the occasions when it does. This chapter applies the political science literature to the related question of when power does listen to science, particularly with regard to the management of complex environmental issues associated with sustainable development. Sustainable development is now one of the major mantras invoked in the area of international environmental governance. Sustainable development was popularized in the seminal 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development report Our Common Future. The report served as the justificatory document for the 1992 World Conference on Environment and Development, and put forward a new doctrinal approach to economic development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainable development requires a reorientation of collective understanding and of formal institutions to focus on the key intersecting and interacting elements of complex problems. Technically efforts to cope with environmental threats must be comprehensive if they are to address the complex array of causal factors associated with them. Yet comprehensiveness is difficult to...

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