The Concept of Global Environmental Governance

The concept of global governance builds on a substantial pedigree of studies that have analyzed international environmental cooperation long before, starting with the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which led to a first wave of academic studies on intergovernmental environmental cooperation and organization [1-3]. The most relevant precursor of the concept of global governance is the debate on international environmental regimes of the 1980s and 1990s [4-7], including the discussions on the creation of environmental regimes, on their maintenance, and on their eventual effectiveness [8-17]. Important earlier research also addressed intergovernmental environmental organizations [18,19] and non-state environmental organizations [20-23], both of which have received new attention in the global governance discourse.

The modern discourse on global environmental governance builds on these earlier debates. The concept of "governance" was developed first within the field of domestic politics [24] for new forms of regulation that differed from traditional hierarchical state activity ("government"). Here, "governance" generally implies notions of self-regulation by societal actors, of private-public cooperation in the solving of societal problems, and of new forms of multilevel policy, especially in the European Union. In the discourse on development policy, the term has also received some relevance in the 1990s, frequently with the contested qualifier "good governance" [25].

The more recent notion of "global governance" tries to capture similar developments at the international level. Clear definitions of "global governance" have not yet been agreed upon: global governance means different things to different authors [26,27]. There are essentially two broad categories of meanings for "global governance",one phenomenological, one normative: global governance as an emerging new phenomenon of world politics that can be described and analyzed, or global governance as a political program or project that is needed to cope with various problems of modernity (the affirmative-normative perspective) or that is to be criticized for its flaws and attempts at global domination of weak states through the powerful few (the critical-normative perspective). Other differentiations seem to be less relevant, for example between governance as a system of rules, an activity, or a process [28,29].

Within the group of writers who employ a phenomenological definition of global governance, definitions differ regarding their scope. Some restrict the term to problems of foreign policy and more traditional forms of world politics. Oran Young, for example, sees global governance as "the combined efforts of international and transnational regimes" [15]. Lawrence S. Finkelstein defines the concept as "doing internationally what governments do at home" and as "governing, without sovereign authority, relationships that transcend national frontiers" [29]. The problem with these narrow phenomenological understandings of global governance is the need to distinguish the term from traditional international relations because it is often not clear what is gained by using the term "global governance" instead of "international relations" or "world politics".

Other writers try to address this problem by broadening the term to encompass an increasing number of social and political interactions. James Rosenau, for example, writes that "the sum of the world's formal and informal rules systems at all levels of community amount to what can properly be called global governance" [30]. In an earlier paper, Rosenau had defined global governance equally broadly as "systems of rules at all levels of human activity—from the family to the international organization—in which the pursuit of goals through the exercise of control has transnational repercussions" [31]. The United Nations (UNs) Commission on Global Governance [32] described governance similarly vague as "the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest." When transferred to the global level, such all-encompassing definitions hardly leave room for anything that is not global governance. Given the increasing international interdependence at all levels, few political rules will have no repercussions beyond the borders of the nation state. In this broad usage, the term threatens to become synonymous with politics.

A different strand of literature views global governance as a political program or "project", mainly in an affirmative sense that demands the construction of a "global governance architecture" as a counterweight to the negative consequences of economic and ecological globalization. Typically, this involves the call for the creation of new institutions, such as multilateral treaties and conventions, of new and more effective international organizations, and of new forms of financial mechanisms to account for the dependence of current international regimes on the goodwill of national governments. The UN Commission on Global Governance [32] adhered also to this understanding of the term and elaborated a plethora of more or less far-reaching reform proposals to deal with problems of modernization: global governance is seen here as a solution, as a tool that politicians need to develop and employ to solve the problems that globalization has brought about. Several authors have adopted the programmatic definition of global governance, yet without its affirmative connotation. These authors can be divided into three broad camps, which all share the same concern: that increasing global governance is subduing national sovereignty through some form of supranational hierarchy. First, some neocon-servative writers see global governance as the attempt of the UN and others to limit the unilateral freedom of action of powerful states (typically with reference to U.S. power). A second group of writers view global governance through the lens of north-south power conflicts. The Geneva-based South Centre, for example, cautioned in 1996 that in "an international community ridden with inequalities and injustice, institutionalizing 'global governance' without paying careful attention to the question of who wields power, and without adequate safeguards, is tantamount to sanctioning governance of the many weak by the powerful few" [33].

Which definition or conceptualization is then preferable? All definitions offered in the current debate have pros and cons, depending on the context in which they are used. Given the increasing complexity and interdependence of world society in the face of economic and ecological globalization, more effective global regimes and organizations are needed, and there is nothing wrong in calling this political reform program "global governance". Also, today's international relations differ from the 1950s and 1960s in many respects, and it seems appropriate to denote these new forms of international regulation as "global governance". The term should be restricted, however, to qualitatively new phenomena of world politics. Not much analytical insight can be expected if all forms of human interaction, or all forms of interstate relations, are relabelled as "global governance". Instead, I argue that empirically, "global governance" is defined by a number of new phenomena of world politics that make the world of today different from what it used to be in the 1950s.

First, global governance describes world politics that is no longer confined to nation states, but is characterized by increased participation of actors that have so far been largely active at the subnational level. This multiactor governance includes private actors, such as networks of experts, environmentalists, human rights lobby groups and multinational corporations, as well as new agencies set up by governments, including intergovernmental organizations and international courts. Second, this increased participation has given rise to new forms of institutions in addition to the traditional system of legally binding documents negotiated by states. Politics are now often organized in networks and in new forms of public-private and private-private cooperation. Third, the emerging global governance system is characterized by an increasing segmentation of different layers and clusters of rule-making and rule-implementing, fragmented both vertically between supranational, international, national and subnational layers of authority and horizontally between different parallel rule-making systems maintained by different groups of actors.

None of this is entirely new. Some non-state actors, such as the Catholic Church, have been influential and engaged in treaty-making with governments for centuries. Politics among nations has always been a multilevel process, with governmental delegations being forced to seek support from domestic constituencies. Also, not all areas of politics follow the new paradigm of global governance, and the term may not aptly describe quite a few real world conflicts especially in the area of war and peace. On the other hand, global governance is there. It is more frequent, and it is on the rise. It is a reaction to the complexities of modern societies and to increasing economic, cultural, social and ecological globalization. Whereas globalization denotes the harmonization and mutual dependence of once separate, territorially defined spheres of human activity and authority, global governance catches the political reaction to these processes. New degrees of global interdependence beget the increasing institutionalization of decision-making beyond the confines of the nation state, with a resulting transformation of the ways and means of global politics. Quantity—the increasing number of functional areas that require global regulation and of international regulatory regimes—creates shifts in quality: new types of actors have trod on the stage; new types of institutions have emerged; with new types of interlinkage problems as a result.

Trade integration, for example, has required international regulation of more and more "trade-related" issue areas beyond the key concerns of custom liberalization; the impacts of this drive for institutionalization then brought the world trade regime on the radar screen of a variety of new actors beyond the traditional world of interstate politics: unions, business associations or environmentalists pay close attention to the emergence of the world trade regime and become actors of global governance in their own right. The globalization of environmental problems, from global climate change to the loss of biodiversity, creates new interdependencies among nation states that require new regulatory institutions at the global level. These institutions, however, do not remain isolated from the continuing debates within nation states, a situation which results in governance systems that stretch from local environmental politics to global negotiations and back. I will now elaborate on the key characteristics of global environmental governance.

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