Information and (random) thoughts on environmental governance
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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

Untangling international agreements in the Coral Triangle

Deutsch: Lagekarte des Korallendreiecks

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A new article on international governance arrangements relating to the Coral Triangle has just been published in Marine Policy. Using a network approach, P Fidelman, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, and J Ekstrom, University of California Berkeley, examine whether and how institutional complexity can be conducive to large-scale marine management.  They show that regional marine governance is marked by jurisdiction and functional overlaps, and suggest inter-institutional learning and institutional synergy as processes to cope with complexity and fragmentation. The abstract reads:

The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI), adopted recently in response to the degradation of coastal and marine environments in the Southeast Asia-Pacific’s Coral Triangle, emphasises the need for using existing international and regional fora to promote implementation. Large-scale marine initiatives, including the CTI, very often must contend with a remarkably complex institutional system. This raises the question of whether and how such complexity can be conducive to marine resources management. To answer this question, this paper aims to better understand the governance context in which the CTI was established (i.e., map governance fragmentation/complexity), and explore how such a context may support the implementation of the CTI goals (i.e., examine normative interplay). To conduct this examination, it uses an objective method that allows users to view and explore institutional arrangements through a network approach. By documenting the system of existing institutions in the Coral Triangle, the study shows that the Coral Triangle governance system is illustrative of those of international environmental governance. It involves multiple policy domains, and features different institutional arrangements and variability in terms of geographical scope and main subject matter. Such a system is complex and fragmented, marked by jurisdiction and functional overlaps. The paper suggests interplay management, such as inter-institutional learning and enhancing institutional synergy, as a promising process to promote inter-institutional coordination.

Source: FIDELMAN, P.; EKSTROM, J. 2012. Mapping Seascapes of International Environmental Arrangements in the Coral Triangle. Marine Policy, 36(5): 993-1004; doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.02.006 or download manuscript version.

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March 15, 2012   No Comments

Are Governments Ready for Rio 2012?

Guest post by Carole Excell

Photo credit: flickr/David Berkowitz

Though the next Earth Summit, Rio+20, will take place next June, few governments have started to seriously assess their progress towards achieving the internationally agreed upon sustainable development goals outlined in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, according to a recent survey from the Access Initiative.

Time is running short. In order to have a successful Rio+20, governments must submit meaningful and ambitious goals to the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document by November 1, which will outline the agenda and discussion points for Rio+20.

At the 1992 Earth Summit, governments gathered to rethink economic development, protection of the environment, and empowerment of people. Two of the most notable outcomes were the Rio Declaration, which outlined the principles needed to support sustainable development, and Agenda 21, the action plan for reaching these sustainable development goals (see box).

The 1992 Earth Summit was a great success in that it established a new perspective on the relationship between humans and the environment, however its legacy has been waning. Monetary policies have not balanced environment and development concerns, capacity building is a sidelined pillar of sustainable development, and governments have not progressed consistently in implementing refined ecosystem management practices.

The inability of the international community to implement the environmental and development objectives laid out 20 years ago in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 requires governments to critically reflect on why these internationally-agreed upon objectives were not or could not be fulfilled.

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is comprised of 27 principles that lay out objectives to achieving environmental well-being and reduction of poverty and waste.
  • Agenda 21 is the “blueprint” for global partnership to address specified challenges facing the international community: how to link society, economy, and nature (2) protection of natural resources, and inclusion of the public in decision-making.
  • Principle 10 states that environmental decisions are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.

The 5 Questions Campaign

In late spring 2011 The Access Initiative (TAI), a network of civil society organizations promoting the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, submitted five questions to governments focusing on how states were progressing in their preparations for Rio+20 and implementing this principle nationally. The “5 Questions Campaign” asked 24 governments questions related to Rio+20; governments were given 60 days to respond. Fifteen of the 24 governments responded with information directly related to the questions; most provided indefinite progress reports and were non-committal in their preparation efforts. (A detailed write-up of each of the countries’ responses can be found on the TAI website. Eight Latin American, three African, three European, and one Asian country responded.) In summary governments:

  • Made broad statements supporting citizen participation, information access, and justice but did not provide examples of how Principle 10 had been implemented, practiced, or protected, making no reference to improving commitments for Rio+20.
  • Advocated the importance of a “green economy” and “sustainable development,” but warned against a conference dedicated to the issue of the green economy which would derail the theme of improving the institutional framework for sustainable development.
  • Acknowledged that they had not yet begun forming committees or councils to reach out to the public about Rio+20; some cited resource constraints, while one government department responsible for the environment acknowledged they were unaware of Rio+20.

The 5 Question campaign illustrates that governments’ preparations for Rio+20 are insufficient; if Rio+20 is going to implement legitimate action plans on goals for sustainable development, governments need to quickly begin:

  • Reflecting on internal progress on Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.
  • Articulating to stakeholders how to become engaged with Rio+20 preparation process and how the government itself is preparing for next year’s summit.
  • Outlining their national, regional, and international goals relating to both Rio+20 themes with a specific focus on strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development.

TAI maintains that there will be a missed opportunity at Rio+20 if governments do not carefully address improvements needed to national environmental governance. TAI’s ultimate goal is getting governments on record stating specific, measurable objectives, such as implementation of access laws or opening up more space for public participation. TAI wants governments to articulate how they will capitalize on Rio+20 to achieve their national-level goals– and to hold these governments accountable for action (or lack thereof) taken.

TAI partners will work with governments who have acknowledged civil society’s important role to discuss improving implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. TAI also seeks to use Rio+20 as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of civil society participation to governments who have yet to formerly recognize the role of civil society. National-level preparation and goal-setting is essential for serious international action and a successful Rio+20.

The Five Questions

  1. What is the most important outcome that the government would like to see from Rio 2012?
  2. Is the government currently undertaking a process to review its progress to date in achieving commitments outlined in Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation?
  3. What are the government’s current plans to include stakeholder input into the discussions on the two themes for the conference, a green economy and sustainable development governance?
  4. Would the government support a call for the development of regional conventions to implement Principle 10 (P10), guaranteeing citizen rights of access to environmental information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental decision-making?
  5. Has the government designated officials responsible for organizing and preparing for Rio 2012?

Read more about the implementations TAI is pushing for at Rio+20.

This piece was written with Emma Smith, an intern with The Access Initiative.

July 13, 2011   No Comments

Trouble in the Triangle

Source: modified from  Stockholm Resilience Centre

Protection of the Coral Triangle is complicated by a spectrum of differing interests and actors

Solenostomus paradoxus Harlequin ghost pipefish

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So-called common-pool resources are notoriously difficult to govern and the Coral Triangle region is not an exception. This archipelagic region, which consists of of Indonesia, Malaysia (Sabah), the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, contains 76 percent of the world’s reef fishes and is regarded as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity and abundance.

Differing perspectives
In a paper recently published in Marine Policy, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Stockholm Resilience Centre analyse the diversity of factors that affect new governance initiatives of large-scale marine commons such as the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), an intergovernmental agreement between the countries in the Coral Triangle.

The agreement is a legally non-binding document setting out core goals, targets and actions for the protection of the Coral Triangle region over the next ten years. That all sounds good, but common to most of the countries involved is the failure to coordinate developmental and environmental policies. The reality across the region is that political, economic and cultural perspectives are extremely diverse.

“Political and ethnic conflict as well as conflict over resources themselves has often defined relations in the Coral Triangle region. Poor understanding or narrow perspectives can lead to simplified judgements about resource systems. This in turn can lead to failures in conservation efforts,” the researchers say.

Confront competing objectives
Marine and coastal ecosystem services provide essential contributions to the national economies in the Coral Triangle countries, but there has been increasing tension between different stakeholders due to competition over declining and overexploited fish stocks, and different perceptions among actors on the benefits and costs of conservation and tourism.

The paper highlights the need to confront competing objectives such as biodiversity conservation and development goals, or regional governance and community-based management.

“The CTI will need to demonstrate how regional coordination and financing of governance can contend with a multitude of pressures, perspectives and existing activities. It needs to be inclusive of the many fisheries, tourist groups, scientists, sub-national governments and community groups that are all involved in the region,” the authors say.

A healthy dose of experimentation and inclusiveness, please
Being successful in this endevour might prove a tricky one. The CTI as a whole focuses on the centralisation of coastal and marine governance, whereas most of the countries involved apply a more decentralised approach with community-based and co-management as the primary model for coastal resource management.

To cope with this complexity, CTI will need to be innovative in finding new ways to include the many perspectives and actors, and enable effective connections between different institutional arrangements and stakeholders.

“Large-scale governance initiatives such as CTI will need to allow for a great deal of experimentation and regular adjustments to governance arrangements to account for the dynamic nature of this region,” the researchers conclude.

Source: Fidelman P., et al. Governing large-scale marine commons: Contextual challenges in the Coral Triangle. Marine Policy (2011), doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2011.03.007 or download manuscript version

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June 14, 2011   No Comments

Identifying Governance Strategies that Support Conservation Outcomes

pnas 29 March 2011

This week’s issue of PNAS brings an article on the performance of governance strategies in achieving three conservation outcomes: provision of ecosystem services, sustainability of resource use, and conservation of biodiversity. In the article, R. E. Kenward and colleagues develop an analytical framework that attempts to explain how economic, societal and ecological impacts of different governance strategies are influenced by three broad categories of variables : (1) initial capacity, (2) management priorities and (3) main processes and tools aimed at those priorities. Thirty four local and international case studies were used in the analysis. The findings support the benefits of adaptive management and the role of leadership. The conservation outcomes investigated were associated with different sets of governance strategies. It means that a combination of strategies will be required for achieving simultaneously provision of ecosystem services, sustainability of resource use, and conservation of biodiversity. In that case, some compromise would be expected because governance strategies that benefit one outcome may not necessarily be supportive of the other two. For example, strategies featuring ecological priorities seem to benefit biodiversity conservation whereas those featuring economic priorities seem to benefit ecosystem services.

Kenward et al. 2011. Identifying governance strategies that effectively support ecosystem services, resource sustainability, and biodiversity. PNAS 118(13): 5308–5312. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1007933108

March 31, 2011   No Comments

Multilateral Governance in Large-scale Marine Systems

Purple anemone (Heteractis magnifica) and resi...

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The Reefs at Risk Revisited, a report by the World Resources Institute released late last month, warns of a “global coral crisis” with 75% of coral reefs currently in danger from overfishing, pollution and climate change. If these threats persist, it is estimated that more than 90% of reefs will be at risk by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

At the centre of this “global coral crisis” is the Coral Triangle, a region regarded as the epicentre of marine life diversity – with 76% of all known coral species and 53% of the world’s coral reefs, where more than 100 million people depend directly on marine and coastal resources for income, livelihood and food security.

In 2009, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands adopted the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) as an attempt to reverse the decline in the marine environment and pursue a more sustainable use of marine resources in the region. The governance of large-scale marine systems, such as the Coral Triangle can be remarkably complex and fragmented. At the regional level, it is critical to consider the governance “seascape” in which large-scale action is designed and implemented.

Dr Julia Ekstrom presented this morning at the Resilience 2011 Conference, Arizona State University, the paper “Navigating Multilateral Governance in the Coral Triangle”, which examines the extant governance for the CTI region and how multilateral arrangements relate to the priorities of the CTI (seascapes, ecosystem approach, marine protected areas, climate change adaptation and threatened species). In the paper, it was undertaken a multidimensional exploration of 190 documents (conventions, treaties, agreements, action plans, memoranda of understanding etc.) by using text analysis and network diagrams.

Several multilateral arrangements apply to the priorities of the CTI; for example, fisheries is a topic covered in 69% of the arrangements. The Coral Triangle appears to suffer from “Treaty Congestion” that can generate tensions between environmental regimes, characteristic of ineffective responses to environmental degradation. The paper suggests that the CTI should seek to coordinate its actions with those of related efforts to maximise implementation and reduce overlaps and conflicts.

 

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March 16, 2011   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

Elites and Institutional Persistence

Recent publication from UNU-Wider:

Particular sets of institutions, once they become established in a society, have a strong tendency to persist. In this paper I argue that understanding how elites form and reproduce is key to understanding the persistence of institutions over time. I illustrate this idea with a simple political economy theory of institutions and through examples from Liberia, the US, South Africa and Germany I show how elites influence institutions. To change institutions requires having an understanding of how reforms influence the preferences, capabilities and strategies of elites.

PDF version available here

September 20, 2010   No Comments

Carbon Governance in Asia: Bringing Scales and Disciplines

The workshop on ‘Carbon Governance in Asia: Bringing Scales and Disciplines’ is calling for applications. The workshop will be jointly organised by the Global Carbon Project, the Earth System Governance Project and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) in Yokohama, Japan, on 1-3 November 2010. The workshop is supported by the Asia-Pacific Network on Global Change Research. The deadline for application is 8 July 2010.

For more information see:
http://www.earthsystemgovernance.org/events/2010-06-07-workshop-carbon-governance-asia

June 18, 2010   No Comments

Key Issues on Earth System Governance

December is shaping up to be an important month for the debate, and hopefully some decisions and actions too, on global environmental change. From the 7th of December, environmental ministers and officials from 192 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, in an attempt to agree a new climate treaty, a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The week before, about 200 researchers and practitioners from around the world will gather at the 2009 Amsterdam Conference on Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change to attend to the Earth System governance. Though not associated with, and much smaller than the Copenhagen meeting, the Amsterdam conference is expected to play an important role in the debate about global environmental governance. [Read more →]

December 3, 2009   No Comments