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New Dynamics in Global Environmental Governance

Report | 20-06-2018

In the face of urgency of addressing global sustainability challenges and limited political will and capacity at national and international governmental levels to take effective action, new agents of change and new forms of global governance have emerged. This paper aims to provide a better understanding of the new dynamics of global environmental governance.

A new governance landscape

Business and the civil society sector, but also local and regional governments and engaged citizens organise themselves in international collaborative initiatives. Recent studies confirm the trend towards bottom-up governance, while also international agreements start to reflect this trend, as for example can be seen in the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Altogether, this has resulted in an international governance landscape in which new forms of transnational governance coexist next to traditional multilateral governmental policies and public-private partnerships in which power and steering capacity is dispersed between a plethora of public and private actors and initiatives. This landscape has been characterised as a ‘distributed global governance landscape’ or a ‘polycentric’ governance landscape.

Key factors for understanding

From a literature review we identified five key factors that may help to understand the workings and performance from new, non-state, transnational governance arrangements:

  • building on co-benefits, non-state governance arrangements are essentially based on collaboration between various actors and build on co-benefits;
  • disclosure and accountability, through disclosure, actors and institutions can be held accountable by stakeholders and this becomes a self-steering mechanism;
  • clumsiness and experimentation, this expresses a readiness to fail with the aim to capture new forms of learning and experience to address a problem;
  • upscaling potential, the enabling environment, mechanisms and strategies through which initiatives can expand their impact;
  • directionality, this relates to a need to bring guidance and coherence in a polycentric governance domain with a plethora of (bottom-up) initiatives in view of public goals.

This study concludes by briefly addressing the question of what the role of governments and inter-governmental organisations can be in such a polycentric governance landscape, and how governments may enable the performance of non-state action. Many new governance arrangements operate in the shadow of hierarchical state action, which reflects that transnational and state-led governance are often tightly interconnected. Without delving much deeper, we suggest three elements that can be seen as enabling conditions for ICIs that governments can provide to support a pragmatic policy approach at the international level: creating convergence and providing vision, reframing, and orchestration.

Author(s)Kathrin Ludwig, Marcel Kok
Report no.3253
Publication date20-06-2018