Research Profile

Environmental Governance

In many ways the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was about environmental governance. In particular, the sustainable development goals that were articulated in Agenda 21, deal specifically with issues that societies must confront to improve governance for sustainable development.  Agenda 21 addressed such issues as incorporating environmental and sustainable development considerations into trade; empowering women in decision; and providing voice to non-governmental organizations in policy making.

Ten years later, the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit once again focused global attention on world progress (or lack there of) toward meeting the sustainable development goals that were articulated at the UNCED.  The Johannesburg Earth Summit ended with a rather dismal assessment of global progress towards stemming the destruction of ecologically sensitive habitats, protection of biological diversity, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, elimination of extreme poverty, and control of some disease pandemics.

This dim appraisal overlooks progress that has been made in past decades in addressing some sustainable development concerns, such as the phase-out of leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons, the reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions that has been achieved in many advanced industrialized states, and the banning of some carcinogenic substances.  It also misses the reduction of poverty that was achieved in some regions.

Nevertheless, it begs an examination of the short-comings of existing approaches to pollution control and environmental protection in developed, developing, and transition economies. In the more developed economies, many pollution and natural resource problems have grown worse or remain problematic (greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen oxide emissions, waste flows, production of toxic chemicals, species extinction).  In developing and transition economies, governments are often struggling to deal simultaneously with the kinds of pollution problems the richest countries began to tackle already in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the many new transnational and global environmental problems that have arisen in recent decades.

Thereason that issues of “governance” are getting so much attention these days is that there is a growing realization among policy makers, environmentalists, and industry that environmental performance improvements require more thansimply establishingthe right environmental administrative bodies and regulations. While these remain important parts of the policy process, good governance also requires the ability to win the cooperation of industry and individuals in achieving environmental goals.

There is also growing awareness that addressing environmental degradation requires cooperation among different actors at all levels: local, regional, national, international and global; as well as among different stakeholders: governmental, corporate, non-governmental, and societal.  While it is widely recognized that there is an important place for national and local technology and process standards, emission caps and timetables, and penalties for non-compliance, there is also a growing recognition that by themselves there are limitations to how effectively regulations can and will change the behavior of industries and individuals.