Who governs the global environment?

Who governs the global environment?

Summarising key lessons from social science research in the area of global governance

Planet-wide environmental problems like climate change and depletion of the ozone layer first became common knowledge and mainstream political concerns in the early 1990's, partly through the public and media debates surrounding the Earth Summit. Many assumed that solutions would mainly be up to governments co-operating at international level. Some progress has since been made in this intergovernmental arena, yet many feel frustrated by its slow pace.

Key lessons of the past decade have been that:

  • International agreements are rarely easy to establish, implement and enforce. We should view them not as magic bullets, but as political frameworks for long-term co-operation and learning
  • To be effective and fair, environmental law-giving must recognise that capacities, interests and priorities are not the same in 'Southern' developing countries as they are in 'Northern' countries. Most current environmental strategies, rules and institutions skate over development issues
  • International agreements on trade and on the environment are largely separated. Linking the two more closely would give national and international environmental policies more muscle
  • International agreements are not a universal remedy for global environmental problems and are no substitute for local commitment. The nature of the problem and its causes should decide the level at which action is most urgently needed
  • As powers to make political decisions become more distributed and diffuse, governments have to act more and more as strategists and go-betweens whose mandate is to reconcile the plural interests of different stakeholder groups
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    See also companion documents: Risky choices, soft disasters and Producing greener, consuming smarter

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