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Krueger, Jonathan. 2000. "Information in International Environmental Governance: The Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Trade in Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper 2000-16. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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Information can be critical to the influence and effectiveness of international institutions. Yet the exact role of such information and how it influences both state and non-state actors is not yet well understood. What factors determine the credibility of the information? What factors affect whether the information is deemed sufficiently legitimate and relevant to lead to changes in the behavior of significant actors – such as industry and states? Does the institutionalization of information provision improve the capacity of recipient states to process and make use of that information as intended? This paper addresses these questions by examining the functioning of the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure for chemicals and pesticides, as represented by the 1989 voluntary UNEP/FAO PIC procedure and the 1998 legally binding Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. A prior informed consent system generates and distributes information about chemical properties, their environmental and health effects, and national regulations that have been taken; after this information is distributed internationally, importing countries must inform exporters of their decision to consent or refuse imports of a given chemical or pesticide. In other words, export of a chemical can only take place with the prior informed consent of the importing country.

The PIC procedure should be seen as an information and decision support system. That is, it manages assessments of chemicals by providing specific, authorized and regularized information and provides a framework for decision-making in the use of the ‘informed consent’ mechanism. This study measures the effectiveness of the PIC procedure in terms of the credibility, legitimacy, salience and relevance of the information that it provides, as well as the process by which it is provided. This is done by examining changes in information flows, such as data on notification and response rates. Given the nature of this procedure – intended to improve decision-making rather than decrease or eliminate an environmental hazard directly – it isn’t easy to measure ‘effectiveness’ by whether there are fewer pesticide poisonings, for example. The paper finds that the legally binding procedure has improved the clarity, transparency, and process by which information about PIC chemicals is exchanged. Standardization of information is important for its credibility, as is transparency important for political legitimacy. And perhaps most clearly illustrated by this case is that the salience and relevance of the information provided by this institution is very high for those countries that lack domestic capacity to otherwise obtain that same information. The paper concludes with some general observations about the role of information provision in international relations and draws some more specific lessons for the future development of international environmental policy from the PIC case.


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