|United Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 14, Number 2, 1993 (UNU, 1993, 12 pages)|
By Oran R. Young and Konrad von Moltke
The terms "government" and "governance" may seem interchangeable - and indeed some dictionaries would have it so, listing the one as synonym to the other. But as defined by Oran Young and Konrad von Moltke in the following article, government is an organizational construct that is too often stalled in bureaucratic or political gridlock. Governance, on the other hand, implies afar broader social act that calls on a variety of agents and values to deal with the fierce demands of global interdependence. Our goal in stimulating sustainable development efforts, they argue, is to develop means of governance which do not have to rely on governments - and they cite several examples of such regimes already working.
Oran Young is the Director of the Institute on International Environmental Governance at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (the United States), which is jointly backed by the UNU. Konrad von Moltke, a Senior Fellow of the Institute, is editor of International Environmental Affairs. - Editor
Critical threats to the habitability of the Earth demand that humankind rise to the challenge of creating new systems of international environmental governance. These threats are largely anthropogenic - they are the track of man - and they take now familiar forms: deforestation, desertification, ozone depletion, climate change, loss of biological diversity, disruption of the global hydrological cycle. Ultimately, perhaps, the threat of worldwide ecological crisis through simultaneous and linked perturbations in atmospheric, land and ocean systems.
These threats have precipitated an unprecedented growth in the demand for governance at the international level. Protecting the stratospheric ozone layer, for example, will call for a sustained cooperative effort from both the already wealthy of North America, Europe and Japan, and those yet aspiring to be affluent in India, China and other developing countries. The former must find substitutes for their current reliance on chlorofluorcarbons and related chemicals; the latter must resist the temptation to increase dramatically their consumptions of refrigerants containing these chemicals.
Similarly, avoiding global warming calls for the development of effective and coordinated emission control systems to limit the release of greenhouse gases - including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorcarbons - from a wide range of sources in every corner of the globe. The accelerating loss of biological diversity may centre in regions of moist tropical forests - but stemming this loss will entail the harnessing a number of driving international socio-economic forces such as transboundary trade and monetary flows.
At the same time, many environmental problems that transcend local boundaries demand cooperation between countries to protect vital ecosystems. In these instances, the need is not for global approaches, but for regional action, sometimes only local cooperation across national borders.
This does not mean (as many well-intentioned observers have concluded) that there is a compelling need for immediate action to form a world government - or even some central organization or public authority capable of placing limits on the sovereignty of individual states and bringing pressure to bear to comply with rules enforcing cooperation in environmental matters.
Governance vs. Government
It might be helpful, as a start, to try to make a clear distinction here between two separate notions - governance and government - which otherwise are sometimes used interchangeably.
Governance, as we have come to understand it, is a social function crucial to the viability of all human societies. It centres on the management of complex interdependencies among many different actors - individuals, corporations, interest groups, nation states - involved in interactive decision-making that affect each other's welfare.
Governments, by contrast, are organizations - material entities possessing offices, personnel, equipment and budgets and are often infused with powerful political ideologies. We have come to take government for granted as a vehicle for the supply of governance, because we are so accustomed to the idea of their performing this role in domestic societies.
Alternatives to Government
There is nothing sacred about the connection between governance and government. In many social settings, governments are not only poor providers of governance, but they also are - or may become - instruments of bureaucratic paralysis, environmental degradation, and the repression of human rights. But even more to the point, our preoccupation with the actions of government has led us to overlook striking developments in alternative mechanisms for handling the function of governance in international society.
There are, for example, institutions or regimes which are focused on specific issues - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) would be one of the best known - that can and often do perform the function of governance in the absence of central government. They set the rules of the game which define social practices, assign roles to participants in a scenario, and help guide interactions among the actors.
UN Photo/M. Tzovaras
Another case would be the Antarctic Treaty System, which defines the limits of state action in the southern polar region. There is also the rapidly evolving regime for the protection of stratospheric ozone. More regional arrangements would include the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution in Europe or the Regional Seas Programme. Small wonder, then, that one of the most intriguing developments in recent thinking about international society centres on the emergence of systems of "governance without government."
Lest we jump to the comforting conclusion that the creation of international regimes offers an easy way out of the environmental dilemma, a number of warnings are in order. Those engaged in interactive decision-making frequently fail to devise effective regimes - even when the mutual gains to be had are substantial and conflicts of interest are not intense.
When we turn to complex environment problems - such as climate change or the loss of biological diversity - the barriers to sustained cooperation are far more substantial than they appear to be in the simple scenarios often used to illustrate the idea of interactive decision-making. More often than not, these issues prove contentious, both with regard to the nature of the underlying problem and to the substance of solutions of addressing the equity concerns embedded in them.
It is not easy, for instance, to devise international jurisdictions that satisfy, at one and the same time, the concerns of those whose aim is to spread the benefits of economic growth to the needy and those who are convinced that sustainable development requires profound changes in the materialistic lifestyles of people everywhere. Much the same can be said of the difficulties in reconciling emerging Northern concerns about the growing pressures on the Earth's physical and biological systems and the increasing insistent Southern demands for a restructuring of economic imbalances to meet reasonable standards of equity.
Widening the Network
The IIEG welcomes expressions of interest on the part of those desiring to participate in its worldwide network.
Contact may be established by writing to the Institute on
International Environmental Governance, 6182 Steele, Dartmouth College, Hanover,
New Hampshire 03755, USA, by telephone to (603) 646-1278, or fax to (603)
A New Initiative: IIEG at Dartmouth
Whatever its achievements in other areas, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 demonstrated beyond doubt that there is a pressing need to devote more - and more concentrated - attention to these institutional issues. These concerns are not transient.They cannot be dealt with through simplistic efforts to apply intellectual capital derived from domestic experience to the environmental issues now arising in international society. Progress in this realm will require a concerted and sustained effort to draw on the expertise of practitioners and scholars, scientists and policy makers representing both North and South.
One initiative designed to meet this need is the Institute on International Environmental Governance (IIEG), located at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, the United States. The Institute is a non-governmental organization, jointly backed by Dartmouth, the United Nations University and the Woods Hole Research Center, whose primary mission is to activate and administer a worldwide network of individuals who have strong ongoing interest in matters of international environmental governance.
The IIEG provides guidance in addressing the institutional dimensions of a wide range of global environmental issues. Specifically, it seeks to.
(1) achieve effective communication between practitioners and scholars working on questions of international environmental governance;
(2) ensure compatibility among the many projects dealing with these matters which are now under way or about to begin;
(3) provide up-to-date training for those assuming roles in the creation or administration of specific governance systems, and
(4) offer informed advice regarding environmental governance issues of current concern.
With its administrative centre at Dartmouth, the Institute conducts its business through the operation of electronic conferences, working groups, a small grants programme, and a newsletter circulated at a regular intervals to members of the network and other interested persons.
More scholarly papers are published in International Environmental Affairs, a quarterly journal sponsored by the IIEG and edited at Dartmouth A steering committee composed of one representative each from Dartmouth, the UNU and Woods Hole, three members of the network at large, and the Director of the Institute set priorities and handle issues of governance for IIEG itself.