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

Feeding a Growing Global Population

Presentation by Jonathan Foley from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

How will nine billion people be able to eat without undermining the very basis for food production? This was the starting point for a seminar in Stockholm on 7 November.

The seminar, which was organised by the Swedish International Agriculture Network Initiative (SIANI) brought together international leaders with early-career researchers working on global food security.

In this presentation, Jonathan Foley articulated the key challenges to global food security and highlight the latest trends and projections.

Foley recently co-authored together with centre director Johan Rockström and others the article Solutions for a Cultivated Planet which was published in Nature in October 2011.

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

December 5, 2011   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

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