With the wider acknowledgement that human pressure on the planet is propelling Earth into a new geological epoch, calls for improved governance of Earth's resources is gaining momentum. Structural change is needed, both inside and outside the UN system.
Seven building blocks
In an article recently published in Science, centre science director Carl Folke, along with an international team of Earth System governance experts, present seven reform measures that can improve global sustainability governance.
First, the environmental agencies and programmes of the United Nations must be reformed and potentially upgraded. Creating a governance body equivalent to the UN Security Council is largely believed to be too centralised and top-heavy, but turning the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) into a UN agency for environmental protection on par with the World Health Organization or the International Labour Organization is considered a better option.
"We need a strong, environmental organisation with a sizable role in agenda-setting, norm-development, science assessment and capacity-building," says Carl Folke.
Integrate social, economic and environmental aspects
Second, it is crucial to strengthen the integration of the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development. The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) has not become the influential reference point decision-makers hoped it would be.
"The most promising route is creating a high-level UN Sustainable Development Council directly under the UN General Assembly," says lead author Frank Biermann of VU University Amsterdam.
To be effective, such a council should give special predominance to the 20 largest economies in the world but also welcome access for civil society representatives.
"Only such a strong novel role for these countries will allow the council to have a meaningful influence in areas such as economic and trade governance."
As for international institutions in general, Biermann, Folke and their colleagues argue for a stronger reliance on qualified majority voting to speed up international governance and norm setting. Political science shows that majority-based governance systems are quicker to arrive at far-reaching decisions and that consensus-based systems are too limited to the preferences of the least ambitious countries.
"Weighted voting mechanisms can ensure that decisions take all major interests among governments into account without granting veto power to any country," Biermann says.
Give civil society stronger rights
But amid calls for stronger intergovernmental institutions there are concerns that legitimacy and accountability will be compromised. Global governance through UN-type institutions tends to give a larger role to international and national bureaucracies rather than national parliaments and concerned citizens.
To strengthen accountability, the authors suggest that stakeholders gain better access to information and decision-making through special rights enshrined in agreements or stronger participation in councils that govern resources.
"Stronger consultative rights for civil society representatives in intergovernmental institutions would be a major step forward," they argue.
Time for a "constitutional moment"
Overall, the authors conclude, there is a need for a major transformative shift in governance similar to what happened after 1945 when the UN and several other international organisations were established.
"We need similar changes today, a 'constitutional moment' in world politics and global governance," Folke and his colleagues proclaim.
Source: Biermann, F., K. Abbott, S. Andresen, K. Bäckstrand, S. Bernstein, M.M. Betsill, H. Bulkeley, B. Cashore, J. Clapp, C. Folke, A. Gupta, J. Gupta, P.M. Haas, A. Jordan, N. Kanie, T. Kluvánková-Oravská, L. Lebel, D. Liverman, J. Meadowcroft, R.B. Mitchell, P. Newell, S. Oberthür, L. Olsson, P. Pattberg, R. Sánchez-Rodríguez, H. Schroeder, A. Underdal, S. Camargo Vieira, C. Vogel, O.R. Young., A. Brock, and R. Zondervan. 2012. Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance. Science 335: 13.06-1307
General news | 2017-12-12
See video from eminar with Professor Rashid Sumaila, one of the world’s most innovative researchers on the future of the oceans
Research news | 2017-11-30
The PECS-II conference showcased place-based research and how it can help us work towards global sustainability in the Anthropocene
Research news | 2017-11-28
How urban greening and civic ecology projects can improve human well-being and restore crucial ecosystem services
Research news | 2017-11-27
What plantain farmers in Costa Rica can teach us about the inconsistent links between access to ecosystem services and well-being
Research news | 2017-11-23
Centre science director well established among world’s most top-cited and influential scientists
Research news | 2017-11-21
Large-scale changes in Arctic marine food web can be expected within 50 years, some good, but in the long run several critical