EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems

11.4 The Role of Nation-States in Global Environmental Governance

Role of Nation-States

Institutionalization of global environmental policy is occurring simultaneously both in series and in parallel at all the different fronts at the supranational, international, national, subnational, regional, and local levels.

Governmental actors continue to fulfill their traditional roles. In addition to these roles, they have acquired new responsibilities to address environmental, social, and economic issues of sustainability across their respective sovereignty boundaries and to coordinate, standardize, support, and regulate private efforts from emerging actors. The Busan Outcome referenced in section 11.1 shows an example of how the role of government has evolved to include new actors.

  1. Role in legislation. Governmental actors also responsible for creating legislation that compels business actors not to use regulatory diversity to minimize their levels of environmental and social responsibility.
  2. Role in experimentation. Subnational, regional, and local governmental actors have made it possible to test innovative models for sustainable development at a small scale, serving laboratories and centers for dissemination.
  3. Role in institutionalization. Needs for significant funding and autonomy have led to numerous proposals for a world environment organization modeled after global economy organizations, such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. Some proposals argue for dismissal of existing supranational and international bodies in favor of a new agency with enforcing powers. Other proposals suggest the use of the existing international regulatory framework, while giving the UNEP full autonomy and necessary legal and monetary resources to implement its mission.
  4. Role in ethics. One of the concerns as new actors emerge is the over representation of the interest of developed nations on the global sphere. One of the roles of nation-states is to oversee that both private and public actors do not leverage existing power differentials between developed and developing nations to further their agendas at the expense of those with more limited resources. In addition, nation-states must ensure that developing nations have a voice in the global scientific, technological, policy-making stages.

Future directions of research:

Biermann and Pattberg (2008) identified the following important areas of research:

  1. Understanding the emergence, evolution, and effectiveness of institutions.
  2. Development of adaptive governance systems. Governance of adaptation to widespread environmental change. Understanding the core functions of global public policy. Integrating scientific meta-analysis into policy-making at all scales of governance.
  3. Quest for democratic global environmental governance systems. In this system, government representatives are the voters and in turn are held responsible by their local constituencies.
  4. Private organizations are accountable to members and/or donors. Membership quotas from developed/developing countries. Transparency.
  5. Fair cause and consequence allocation. Compensation and support to the regions that are most vulnerable to global environmental change.