Environmental governance is a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability (sustainable development) as the supreme consideration for managing all human activities—political, social and economic. Governance includes government, business and civil society, and emphasizes whole system management. To capture this diverse range of elements, environmental governance often employs alternative systems of governance, for example watershed-based management.
It views natural resources and the environment as global public goods, belonging to the category of goods that are not diminished when they are shared. This means that everyone benefits from for example, a breathable atmosphere, stable climate and stable biodiversity.
Public goods are non-rivalrous—a natural resource enjoyed by one person can still be enjoyed by others—and non-excludable—it is impossible to prevent someone consuming the good (breathing). Nevertheless, public goods are recognized as beneficial and therefore have value. The notion of a global public good thus emerges, with a slight distinction: it covers necessities that must not be destroyed by one person or state.
The non-rivalrous character of such goods calls for a management approach that restricts public and private actors from damaging them. One approach is to attribute an economic value to the resource. Water is possibly the best example of this type of good.
As of 2013 environmental governance is far from meeting these imperatives. “Despite a great awareness of environmental questions from developed and developing countries, there is environmental degradation and the appearance of new environmental problems. This situation is caused by the parlous state of global environmental governance, wherein current global environmental governance is unable to address environmental issues due to many factors. These include fragmented governance within the United Nations, lack of involvement from financial institutions, proliferation of environmental agreements often in conflict with trade measures; all these various problems disturb the proper functioning of global environmental governance. Moreover, divisions among northern countries and the persistent gap between developed and developing countries also have to be taken into account to comprehend the institutional failures of the current global environmental governance.”
What is Environmental Governance?
Environmental governance refers to the processes of decision-making involved in the control and management of the environment and natural resources. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), define environmental governance as the ‘multi-level interactions (i.e., local, national, international/global) among, but not limited to, three main actors, i.e., state, market, and civil society, which interact with one another, whether in formal and informal ways; in formulating and implementing policies in response to environment-related demands and inputs from the society; bound by rules, procedures, processes, and widely accepted behavior; possessing characteristics of “good governance”; for the purpose of attaining environmentally-sustainable development’ (IUCN 2014)
Key principles of environmental governance include:
Embedding the environment in all levels of decision-making and action
Conceptualizing cities and communities, economic and political life as a subset of the environment
Emphasizing the connection of people to the ecosystems in which they live
Promoting the transition from open-loop/cradle-to-grave systems (like garbage disposal with no recycling) to closed-loop/cradle-to-cradle systems (like permaculture and zero waste strategies).
Neoliberal Environmental Governance – is an approach to the theory of environmental governance framed by a perspective on neoliberalism as an ideology, policy and practice in relation to the biophysical world. There are many definitions and applications of neoliberalism, e.g. in economic, international relations, etc. However, the traditional understanding of neoliberalism is often simplified to the notion of the primacy of market-led economics through the rolling back of the state, deregulation and privatisation. Neoliberalism has evolved particularly over the last 40 years with many scholars leaving their ideological footprint on the neoliberal map. Hayek and Friedman believed in the superiority of the free market over state intervention. As long as the market was allowed to act freely, the supply/demand law would ensure the ‘optimal’ price and reward. In Karl Polanyi’s opposing view this would also create a state of tension in which self-regulating free markets disrupt and alter social interactions and “displace other valued means of living and working”. However, in contrast to the notion of an unregulated market economy there has also been a “paradoxical increase in [state] intervention” in the choice of economic, legislative and social policy reforms, which are pursued by the state to preserve the neoliberal order. This contradictory process is described by Peck and Tickell as roll back/roll out neoliberalism in which on one hand the state willingly gives up the control over resources and responsibility for social provision while on the other, it engages in “purposeful construction and consolidation of neoliberalised state forms, modes of governance, and regulatory relations”.
There has been a growing interest in the effects of neoliberalism on the politics of the non-human world of environmental governance. Neoliberalism is seen to be more than a homogenous and monolithic ‘thing’ with a clear end point. It is a series of path-dependent, spatially and temporally “connected neoliberalisation” processes which affect and are affected by nature and environment that “cover a remarkable array of places, regions and countries”. Co-opting neoliberal ideas of the importance of private property and the protection of individual (investor) rights, into environmental governance can be seen in the example of recent multilateral trade agreements (see in particular the North American Free Trade Agreement). Such neoliberal structures further reinforce a process of nature enclosure and primitive accumulation or “accumulation by dispossession” that serves to privatise increasing areas of nature. The ownership-transfer of resources traditionally not privately owned to free market mechanisms is believed to deliver greater efficiency and optimal return on investment. Other similar examples of neo-liberal inspired projects include the enclosure of minerals, the fisheries quota system in the North Pacific and the privatisation of water supply and sewage treatment in England and Wales. All three examples share neoliberal characteristics to “deploy markets as the solution to environmental problems” in which scarce natural resources are commercialized and turned into commodities. The approach to frame the ecosystem in the context of a price-able commodity is also present in the work of neoliberal geographers who subject nature to price and supply/demand mechanisms where the earth is considered to be a quantifiable resource (Costanza, for example, estimates the earth ecosystem’s service value to be between 16 and 54 trillion dollars per year).
Main drivers of environmental degradation
Economic growth – The development-centric vision that prevails in most countries and international institutions advocates a headlong rush towards more economic growth. Environmental economists on the other hand, point to a close correlation between economic growth and environmental degradation, arguing for qualitative development as an alternative to growth. As a result, the past couple of decades has seen a big shift towards sustainable development as an alternative to neo-liberal economics. There are those, particularly within the alternative globalization movement, who maintain that it is feasible to change to a degrowth phase without losing social efficiency or lowering the quality of life.
Consumption – The growth of consumption and the cult of consumption, or consumerist ideology, is the major cause of economic growth. Overdevelopment, seen as the only alternative to poverty, has become an end in itself. The means for curbing this growth are not equal to the task, since the phenomenon is not confined to a growing middle class in developing countries, but also concerns the development of irresponsible lifestyles, particularly in northern countries, such as the increase in the size and number of homes and cars per person.
Destruction of biodiversity – The complexity of the planet’s ecosystems means that the loss of any species has unexpected consequences. The stronger the impact on biodiversity, the stronger the likelihood of a chain reaction with unpredictable negative effects. Another important factor of environmental degradation that falls under this destruction of biodiversity, and must not be ignored is deforestation. Despite all the damage inflicted, a number of ecosystems have proved to be resilient. Environmentalists are endorsing a precautionary principle whereby all potentially damaging activities would have to be analyzed for their environmental impact.
Population growth – Forecasts predict 8.9 billion people on the planet in 2050. This is a subject which primarily affects developing countries, but also concerns northern countries; although their demographic growth is lower, the environmental impact per person is far higher in these countries. Demographic growth needs to be countered by developing education and family planning programs and generally improving women’s status.
“Pollution” – Pollution caused by the use of fossil fuels is another driver of environmental destruction. The burning of carbon-based fossil fuels such as coal and oil, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One of the major impacts of this is the climate change that is currently taking place on the planet, where the earth’s temperature is gradually rising. Given that fuels such as coal and oil are the most heavily used fuels, this a great concern to many environmentalists.
“Agricultural practices” – Destructive agricultural practices such as overuse of fertilizers and overgrazing lead to land degradation. The soil gets eroded, and leads to silting in rivers and reservoirs. Soil erosion is a continuous cycle and ultimately results in desertification of the land. Apart from land degradation, water pollution is also a possibility; chemicals used in farming can run-off into rivers and contaminate the water.
The crisis by the impact of human activities on nature calls for governance. Which includes responses by international institutions, governments and citizens, who should meet this crisis by pooling the experience and knowledge of each of the agents and institutions concerned.
The environmental protection measures taken remain insufficient. The necessary reforms require time, energy, money and diplomatic negotiations. The situation has not generated a unanimous response. Persistent divisions slow progress towards global environmental governance.
The global nature of the crisis limits the effects of national or sectoral measures. Cooperation is necessary between actors and institutions in international trade, sustainable development and peace.
Global, continental, national and local governments have employed a variety of approaches to environmental governance. Substantial positive and negative spillovers limit the ability of any single jurisdiction to resolve issues.
Challenges facing environmental governance include:
Inadequate continental and global agreements
Unresolved tensions between maximum development, sustainable development and maximum protection, limiting funding, damaging links with the economy and limiting application of Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs).
Environmental funding is not self-sustaining, diverting resources from problem-solving into funding battles.
Lack of integration of sector policies
Inadequate institutional capacities
Lack of coordination within the UN, governments, the private sector and civil society
Lack of shared vision
Interdependencies among development/sustainable economic growth, trade, agriculture, health, peace and security.
International imbalance between environmental governance and trade and finance programs, e.g., World Trade Organization (WTO).
Limited credit for organizations running projects within the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Linking UNEP, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank with MEAs
Lack of government capacity to satisfy MEA obligations
Absence of the gender perspective and equity in environmental governance
Inability to influence public opinion
Time lag between human action and environmental effect, sometimes as long as a generation
Environmental problems being embedded in very complex systems, of which our understanding is still quite weak
All of these challenges have implications on governance, however international environmental governance is necessary. The IDDRI claims that rejection of multilateralism in the name of efficiency and protection of national interests conflicts with the promotion of international law and the concept of global public goods. Others cite the complex nature of environmental problems.
On the other hand, The Agenda 21 program has been implemented in over 7,000 communities. Environmental problems, including global-scale problems, may not always require global solutions. For example, marine pollution can be tackled regionally, and ecosystem deterioration can be addressed locally. Other global problems such as climate change benefit from local and regional action.
Bäckstrand and Saward wrote, “sustainability and environmental protection is an arena in which innovative experiments with new hybrid, plurilateral forms of governance, along with the incorporation of a transnational civil society spanning the public-private divide, are taking place.”
A 1997 report observed a global consensus that sustainable development implementation should be based on local level solutions and initiatives designed with and by the local communities. Community participation and partnership along with the decentralisation of government power to local communities are important aspects of environmental governance at the local level. Initiatives such as these are integral divergence from earlier environmental governance approaches which was “driven by state agendas and resource control” and followed a top-down or trickle down approach rather than the bottom up approach that local level governance encompasses. The adoption of practices or interventions at a local scale can, in part, be explained by diffusion of innovation theory. In Tanzania and in the Pacific, researchers have illustrated that aspects of the intervention, of the adopter, and of the social-ecological context all shape why community-centered conservation interventions spread through space and time. Local level governance shifts decision making power away from the state and/or governments to the grassroots. Local level governance is extremely important even on a global scale. Environmental governance at the global level is defined as international and as such has resulted in the marginalisation of local voices. Local level governance is important to bring back power to local communities in the global fight against environmental degridation. Pulgar Vidal observed a “new institutional framework, [wherein] decision-making regarding access to and use of natural resources has become increasingly decentralized.” He noted four techniques that can be used to develop these processes:
formal and informal regulations, procedures and processes, such as consultations and participative democracy;
social interaction that can arise from participation in development programs or from the reaction to perceived injustice;
regulating social behaviours to reclassify an individual question as a public matter;
within-group participation in decision-making and relations with external actors.
He found that the key conditions for developing decentralized environmental governance are:
access to social capital, including local knowledge, leaders and local shared vision;
democratic access to information and decision-making;
local government activity in environmental governance: as facilitator of access to natural resources, or as policy maker;
an institutional framework that favours decentralized environmental governance and creates forums for social interaction and making widely accepted agreements acceptable.
The legitimacy of decisions depends on the local population’s participation rate and on how well participants represent that population. With regard to public authorities, questions linked to biodiversity can be faced by adopting appropriate policies and strategies, through exchange of knowledge and experience, the forming of partnerships, correct management of land use, monitoring of biodiversity and optimal use of resources, or reducing consumption, and promoting environmental certifications, such as EMAS and/or ISO 14001. Local authorities undoubtedly have a central role to play in the protection of biodiversity and this strategy is successful above all when the authorities show strength by involving stakeholders in a credible environmental improvement project and activating a transparent and effective communication policy (Ioppolo et al., 2013).
States play a crucial role in environmental governance, because “however far and fast international economic integration proceeds, political authority remains vested in national governments”. It is for this reason that governments should respect and support the commitment to implementation of international agreements.
At the state level, environmental management has been found to be conducive to the creation of roundtables and committees. In France, the Grenelle de l’environnement process:
included a variety of actors (e.g. the state, political leaders, unions, businesses, not-for-profit organizations and environmental protection foundations);
allowed stakeholders to interact with the legislative and executive powers in office as indispensable advisors;
worked to integrate other institutions, particularly the Economic and Social Council, to form a pressure group that participated in the process for creating an environmental governance model;
attempted to link with environmental management at regional and local levels.
If environmental issues are excluded from e.g., the economic agenda, this may delegitimize those institutions.
“In southern countries, the main obstacle to the integration of intermediate levels in the process of territorial environmental governance development is often the dominance of developmentalist inertia in states’ political mindset. The question of the environment has not been effectively integrated in national development planning and programs. Instead, the most common idea is that environmental protection curbs economic and social development, an idea encouraged by the frenzy for exporting raw materials extracted using destructive methods that consume resources and fail to generate any added value.” Of course they are justified in this thinking, as their main concerns are social injustices such as poverty alleviation. Citizens in some of these states have responded by developing empowerment strategies to ease poverty through sustainable development. In addition to this, policymakers must be more aware of these concerns of the global south, and must make sure to integrate a strong focus on social justice in their policies.
At the global level there are numerous important actors involved in environmental governance and “a range of institutions contribute to and help define the practice of global environmental governance. The idea of global environmental governance is to govern the environment at a global level through a range of nation states and non state actors such as national governments, NGOs and other international organisations such as UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). Global environmental governance is the answer to calls for new forms of governance because of the increasing complexity of the international agenda. It is perceived to be an effective form of multilateral management and essential to the international community in meeting goals of mitigation and the possible reversal of the impacts on the global environment. However, a precise definition of global environmental governance is still vague and there are many issues surrounding global governance. Elliot argues that “the congested institutional terrain still provides more of an appearance than a reality of comprehensive global governance.” This meant that there are too many institutions within the global governance of the environment for it to be completely inclusive and coherent leaving it merely portraying the image of this to the global public. Global environmental governance is about more than simply expanding networks of institutions and decision makers. “It is a political practice which simultaneously reflects, constitutes and masks global relations of power and powerlessness.” State agendas exploit the use of global environmental governance to enhance their oven agendas or wishes even if this is at the detriment of the vital element behind global environmental governance which is the environment. Elliot states that global environmental governance “is neither normatively neutral nor materially benign.” As explored by Newell, report notes by The Global Environmental Outlook noted that the systems of global environmental governance are becoming increasingly irrelevant or impotent due to patterns of globalisation such as; imbalances in productivity and the distribution of goods and services, unsustainable progression of extremes of wealth and poverty and population and economic growth overtaking environmental gains. Newell states that, despite such acknowledgements, the “managing of global environmental change within International Relations continues to look to international regimes for the answers.”
Issues of scale
The literature on governance scale shows how changes in the understanding of environmental issues have led to the movement from a local view to recognising their larger and more complicated scale. This move brought an increase in the diversity, specificity and complexity of initiatives. Meadowcroft pointed out innovations that were layered on top of existing structures and processes, instead of replacing them.
Lafferty and Meadowcroft give three examples of multi-tiered governance: internationalisation, increasingly comprehensive approaches, and involvement of multiple governmental entities. Lafferty and Meadowcroft described the resulting multi-tiered system as addressing issues on both smaller and wider scales.
Hans Bruyninckx claimed that a mismatch between the scale of the environmental problem and the level of the policy intervention was problematic. Young claimed that such mismatches reduced the effectiveness of interventions. Most of the literature addresses the level of governance rather than ecological scale.
Elinor Ostrom, amongst others, claimed that the mismatch is often the cause of unsustainable management practices and that simple solutions to the mismatch have not been identified.
Considerable debate has addressed the question of which level(s) should take responsibility for fresh water management. Development workers tend to address the problem at the local level. National governments focus on policy issues. This can create conflicts among states because rivers cross borders, leading to efforts to evolve governance of river basins.
Source from Wikipedia