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

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

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

It's the Ecology, Stupid

Article by Joshua E. Brown, University of Vermont, USA.

The most obvious fact about ecological economics is that, well, ecology comes before economics.

“For example,” says Joshua Farley, an economist at the University of Vermont, “without healthy ecosystems to regulate climate and rainfall and provide habitat for pollinators, agriculture would collapse.” Which makes it tough to sell cars.

Put another way, “we need economic production to survive, but we also need healthy ecosystems and the service they provide,” he says. No bees, no food, no trip to the grocery store. [Read more →]

October 10, 2009   No Comments

Analysing Socio-Ecological Systems

An updated framework for analysing complex systems has been presented by Prof Elinor Ostrom.

Source: ASUNews

Common framework would aid cumulation of isolated knowledge

The often-used one-size-fits-all approach to policies aimed at achieving sustainable social-ecological systems needs to be updated with a diagnostic tool to help scholars from multiple disciplines better frame the question and think through the variables, asserts social scientist and political economist Elinor Ostrom.

“Scholars have tended to develop simple theoretical models to analyze aspects of resource problems and to prescribe universal solutions,” Ostrom writes in a Perspective article appearing in the July 24 Science special section on complexity. [Read more →]

September 12, 2009   No Comments