Information and (random) thoughts on environmental governance
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Elinor Ostrom’s research can inspire Rio+20

 

 

 

 

 

“The late Nobel laureate’s work on handling common resources offers valuable sustainable development lessons”, writes Ruth Meinzen-Dick for the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog. Meinzen-Dick continues:

Elinor Ostrom’s death on 12 June, just days before the Rio+20 conference, is an enormous loss. But her life’s work offers many lessons for the deliberations, decisions and path to progress at and after Rio.

Many of the most crucial resources for a sustainable future are related, in one way or another, to the commons – the subject of much of Ostrom’s work, which earned her the 2009 Nobel prize in economic sciences and led one academic to describe her as “the mother of field work in development economics”. Water, forests, fisheries, biodiversity, oceans and the atmosphere are all, in important ways, common pool resources; it is difficult to exclude people from using them, but some of that usage depletes their availability to others. To be sustainable, usage must be co-ordinated and regulated – but that does not mean government management or privatisation are the only options. Ostrom’s work demonstrated in meticulous detail that people can and do work together to manage shared resources sustainably, and have been doing so for hundreds of years.

Rather than depending on a single, monolithic governance structure, Ostrom’s work shows the importance of drawing on the strengths of many different institutions working together – government agencies, user groups and private actors – and co-operating at multiple scales. When asked about lack of progress on climate change agreements, she replied that, rather than waiting for a grand global agreement, we need to look for action at all levels, from our own homes to our schools, cities and nations. As she emphasised throughout her career, and in the last piece she published, a solution to the problem of climate change will not arrive in a single-stroke panacea, but will require experimentation at multiple levels and diverse approaches.

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June 16, 2012   No Comments

Local Action and Climate Change: Interview with Elinor Ostrom

In a recent interview, Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom talks about the need for efforts at multiple levels and the importance of local action in tackling climate change. Here is a sample of the interview:

Q: You have suggested a polycentric approach as opposed to single policies at a global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Could you explain how that would work? Do you think a similar approach would work to get all countries and their people to believe in, and adopt, sustainable development?

A: We have modelled the impact of individual actions on climate change incorrectly and need to change the way we think about this problem. When individuals walk a distance rather than driving it, they produce better health for themselves. At the same time that they reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that they are generating. There are benefits for the individual and small benefits for the globe. When a building owner re-does the way the building is insulated and the heating system, these actions can dramatically change the amount of greenhouse gas emissions made. This has an immediate impact on the neighbourhood of the building as well as on the globe.

When cities and counties decide to rehabilitate their energy systems so as to produce less greenhouse gas emissions, they are reducing the amount of pollution in the local region as well as greenhouse gas emissions on the globe. In other words, the key point is that there are multiple externalities involved for many actions related to greenhouse gas emissions. While in the past the literature has underplayed the importance of local effects, we need to recognize – as more and more individuals, families, communities, and states are seeing – that they will gain a benefit, as well as the globe, and that cumulatively a difference can be made at the global level if a number of small units start taking action. We have a much greater possibility of impacting global change problems if we start locally.

Click this link for the full interview.

May 19, 2012   No Comments

Is Global Action the Only Solution to Climate Change?

Secretary of UNFCCC Yvo De Boer Opens the Unit...

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For many policy analysts reducing the threats of climate change requires an enforceable global treaty. But, global agreements have proven difficult to negotiate. Just remember the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) held last year in Copenhagen, which fell short of producing a meaningful outcome. Also, reaching a global agreement on climate change involves dealing with sensitive issues, such as the responsibility of developed countries for the current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the “rights” of developing countries to pursue economic growth, and who should bear the costs for solutions. For that reason, an enforceable agreement involving the major emitters of greenhouse gases may take a long time to be reached.

Elinor Ostrom – who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her research on governance – argues that just waiting for a global solution defeats the possibilities of substantial action to prevent dangerous climate change. In a recent paper published in the 20th Anniversary Special Issue of Global Environmental Change(1), she argues that averting climate threats require collective action at diverse levels (local, regional, national and global). By the way, global problems result from cumulative actions of individuals, families, small groups, private firms, and local, regional and national governments.

While a global agreement is yet to be realised, action is being taken by individuals, community groups, NGOs, and local, state and national governments. The examples are many: individuals cycling to work rather than driving; households replacing conventional light bulbs with more energy efficient ones, or installing solar panels; private firms and government investing in better designed buildings; and local and state governments engaging in programs to reduce their carbon “footprint”. While these actions have yet to make a significant contribution to reducing emissions, they create compound benefits – and these benefits are slowly cumulating. Also, action at multiple scales may enhance innovation, learning and adaptation, and the realisation of more sustainable outcomes.

For Ostrom there is no question that a global treaty is a major step that needs to be taken in tackling climate change. However, she challenges the assumption that only the global scale is relevant for policies related to global problems. It is important to take into consideration the potential of climate action at multiple scales too. Global efforts need to be backed by national, regional and local efforts to have a chance to work well. “Think globally but act locally”, does the slogan sound familiar?

(1) Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change. Global Environmental Change, 20: 550–557, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.07.004

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November 7, 2010   No Comments