NOT all the talk about the environment revolves around the greenhouse effect or the ozone layer. A few weeks ago, a group of people concerned with environmental issues met in Bad Reichenhall, West Germany, to discuss process instead of substance. How, they wanted to know, can the process of negotiation be speeded up and the results become more meaningful? Bradford Morse, president of the Salzburg Seminar, helped the prenegotiation negotiators (including this editor) hammer out a series of proposals called the Salzburg Initiative.
The proposals are intended to influence environmental negotiations already on the horizon in the 1990s, beginning with the Conference on Environment and Development scheduled for 1992 in Brazil.
Most environmental issues have global ramifications. Yet there has been considerable criticism of the time taken with some major environmental agreements thus far and with the final results.
Some of the 23 participants had taken part in previous environmental talks. James Sebenius, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, was a member of the Law-of-the-Sea Conference. Winfried Lang of Austria was president of the United Nations Conferences on the Protection of the Ozone Layer at Vienna in 1985 and Montreal in 1987.
Members of the Salzburg Initiative came from the United States, Britain, West Germany, Austria, the Soviet Union, Japan, and India. The conference was sponsored by the Greeley Foundation of Concord, Mass., whose president, Ruth Salinger, and executive director, Warren Salinger (no relation) participated in the meeting.
The general criticism of the process to date is that it takes too long (Law of the Sea took 14 years), the ratification process is tenuous, and there is a tendency to settle for the lowest common denominator to reach agreement among nations.
The strategic suggestions contained in the Salzburg Initiative are as follows:
Adopt a new approach to developing formal drafts of proposed treaties. There should be early conceptual papers, developed by ``cross-cutting clusters of countries and nongovernmental interests.''
Establish a regional support structure for the UN Environmental Program (UNEP). These regional clusters should cut across the traditional rich-poor divide to avoid needless clashes.
Offer smaller countries prenegotiation support to prepare better for a conference.
Design constructive linkage in agreements to give countries positive economic incentives that balance the costs of putting environmental restrictions into effect.
Consider creating different categories of countries, depending either on the degree to which they cause an environmental problem or possess the resources available to fight the problem.
In the absence of agreement, use in advance a base-line year approach. When an agreement is reached, countries would get credit for whatever corrective action they had taken subsequent to the base-line year. This would remove any incentive to hold off on actions that a nation feels it will eventually have to take anyhow.
To avoid the use of ``advocacy science,'' negotiate contingent agreements. Much about the environment is uncertain; keep the scientists involved with the politicians in monitoring the progress of an agreement and the development of ongoing scientific data concerning the issue.
Expand the use of nongovernmental interests (NGIs). Give NGIs observer status at a negotiation. Consider using them as the official monitors for compliance with an agreement.
Stress the educative role of the media, especially in developing countries.
Consider changes in international institutional arrangements. UNEP could be upgraded to agency status within the UN. Or, other agenices created by the UN could have their charters amended to include a responsibility toward the environment in their decisionmaking.
Details of these proposals are scheduled to be discussed in New York in early June. After wider discussion, the Salzburg Seminar plans to advance the ideas further at a meeting of former heads of state to be held in Salzburg this autumn.