EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems

11.3 The Positive and Negatives of Governance Fragmentation

We are past the point of discussing whether or not these emerging actors should have a place at the table, as they have come to occupy voids in the governance infrastructure of most nations. The discussion at this point is centered on the advantages and disadvantages that this pluralistic governance may have. Biermann and Pattberg (2008) discuss these points:


  1. Rapid response and flexibility. Free from regulatory framework of national governments, both non-profit and for-profit private actors have a larger potential for adaptability to local needs and practices. Flexibility also derives from organizations formed to address emerging problems, instead of having a general stewardship agenda. This problem-driven approach has potential for rapid identification, and tailored plans for mitigation, and adaptation to the relevant issue. However, it lacks capacity for foresight that can allocate research and resources to issues before their negative effects become obvious.
  2. More expertise than governments can provide. In particular, networks of scientists can provide timely, original and meta-analytical research in support of policy-making bodies.
  3. There is a potential for decoupling of the triple bottom line from the local political landscape. Since global governance actors are not subject to the local election cycles, their decisions do not necessarily reflect the immediate economic needs of the local population. Obviously, this has both advantages and disadvantages. These actors are removed from the democratic processes and their consequences.


  1. While corporate influence on global environmental governance is not inherently negative, at all scales the corporate sector has a less than illustrious history of resource stewardship. In particular, many companies dedicated to extractive processes have a history marred with treating pollution, loss of biodiversity and landscapes, unemployment, loss of community, and damage to health as externalities (not commodified) (Giddings et al. 2002).
  2. Introducing foreign actors into the governance landscape of development nations has a potential for reinforcing mistrust. North-South fault lines are based on sovereignty concerns, as well as difference in philosophies, levels of public support, and organizational capacity for management and enforcement of environmental policy. In addition, developing nations are often excluded (and self-excluded) from science and policy-making debates, resulting in questions of credibility, legitimacy, and relevance.
    • (I have observed much of this first-hand, growing up in Venezuela. From the early days of oil extraction when Standard Oil and other American and European companies worked in developing the fields to numerous joint ventures to refine the Orinoco belt tar sands, foreign companies have played a central role in the rise of Venezuela to become one of the world's largest oil producers. Particularly in times of economic and political upheaval, the role that these companies have played has made them the target for both deserved and not deserved criticism. The reservations that the Venezuelan government has had regarding foreign intervention in governance resulted in the impetus to create the OPEC. When it comes to the general public, some sectors of the population have opinions that are much more extreme. As a consequence, even the most liberal environmental-protection practices are often more scrutinized than business transactions, if they come as a recommendation from foreign organizations. Biermann and Pattberg (2008) touch on these concerns. The environmental and public health consequences of this mistrust have been devastating. The level of contamination in some of the mining towns in the Amazon and the Orinoco delta are extremely poor and there are no plans for remediation or mitigation.)
  3. Legitimacy and accountability of private actors and corporations can be easily questioned. Biermann and Pattberg (2008) discuss the unusual arrangement in which private actors engage in "governing, without sovereign authority," which is traditionally confined to the purview of nation-states. This capacity to direct and modify internal decision-making processes by non-democratic means can and have been called into question.
  4. Lack of consistency in decision-making and responses. The diversity of actors has introduced variability in organizational structure, funding mechanisms, coordination, management, and compliance mechanisms.
  5. Biermann and Pattberg (2008) have also conducted research that shows that non-governmental organizations lack in effectiveness in participation, implementation, and environmental regulation.