What is environmental governance?

Environmental governance is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in the academic and applied literatures on conservation and environmental management in the last few years. However, there remains a significant amount of confusion about what governance is, how governance is different than management, and what topics and questions governance scholars examine. In this open access extended review in the journal Conservation Biology, I provide answers to these questions while reviewing Peter Jones’ book “Governing Marine Protected Areas: Resilience through Diversity“. Excerpts from the text of “Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world” follow below.

What is governance?  – “Governance is an umbrella term that refers to the structures, institutions (i.e., laws, policies, rules, and norms), and processes that determine who makes decisions, how decisions are made, and how and what actions are taken and by whom.”

How does governance differ from management? – “Although the umbrella of governance facilitates (or undermines) effective environmental management, it can be differentiated from management as the resources, plans, and actions that result from the functioning of governance (Lockwood 2010). The objectives of both environmental governance and management are to steer, or change, individual behaviors or collective actions and, ultimately, to improve environmental and societal outcomes. Without good governance combined with effective management, [environmental management and conservation initiatives] are unlikely to succeed socially or ecologically (Bennett & Dearden 2014).”

What topics do environmental governance scholars examine? – “Scholarship on environmental governance has grown significantly over the last few decades, ranging in ecological scale from individual species (e.g., whales) to resources or ecosystems (e.g., forests, coral reefs) to global concerns (e.g., climate, oceans). Specific policy realms (e.g., fisheries, agriculture, or MPAs) are also the subject of governance analyses and planning. Environmental governance studies focus on 2 central and interrelated areas: governance design and implementation and governance performance…Environmental governance can be evaluated either or simultaneously on whether processes are fair and legitimate and whether outcomes are socially equitable or ecologically sustainable…Disagreement remains about whether outputs of governance analyses should be descriptive or prescriptive.”

What questions do environmental governance scholars explore? – “Questions and ideas that have been taken up by environmental governance scholars…[include]: How are individual and collective behaviors shaped by different governance institutions? What is the ideal governance structure for managing people and resources: community based, top down, or comanagement? How and why do governance institutions change and to what effect? What decision-making processes are more socially acceptable and lead to better ecological outcomes? What are the roles of different actors and organizations (e.g., governments, NGOs, private sector, local stakeholders, and resource users) in shaping governance processes and determining outcomes? How can governance address interconnected social-ecological systems and interactions across ecological, social, and institutional scales? How can governance be designed to fit different sociopolitical and ecological contexts? What limits are placed on governance by different social, political, and ecological factors? What norms or ideals (e.g., transparency, accountability, trust) should guide governance? What is the appropriate scale for governance to occur? How can collaboration and cooperation be facilitated most effectively? How can governance be designed to be stable and also to adapt to mounting social and ecological changes and unpredictable circumstances? These are not merely academic concerns. Insights provided by answers to these questions would help in the formulation of appropriate, acceptable, and supportive environmental governance policies and processes, enabling more effective management and ultimately enhancing…social and ecological outcomes.”

The full text of the article can be downloaded from the blue links below:

Bennett, N. J. (2015). Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world. Conservation Biology, 29(1), 303–306. http://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12458 [OPEN ACCESS]

Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management

A paper titled “Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management” co-authored by Sarah Klain, Rachelle Beveridge and myself was just published in Ecology & Society. The article asks: a) whether natural resource management can be ecologically sustainable but unjust at the same time, and b) if distribution of harvesting rights and socio-economic benefits and inclusion in management is unfair, how might access to resources and governance institutions be re-oriented. We explore these questions through a case study of indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada using Elinor Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework and common pool resource design principles.

Central Coast Fishing Boat

Klain, S., Beveridge, R, Bennett, N.J. (2014). Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management. Ecology & Society 19(4), 52.

ABSTRACT: Under appropriate conditions, community-based fisheries management can support sound resource stewardship, with positive social and environmental outcomes. Evaluating indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, we found that the current social-ecological system configuration is relatively ecologically sustainable according to stock assessments. However, the current system also results in perceived inequities in decision-making processes, harvesting allocations, and socioeconomic benefits. As a result, local coastal resource managers envision a transformation of sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries governance and management institutions. We assessed the potential robustness of the proposed institutions using Elinor Ostrom’s common-pool resource design principles. Grounded in the region’s legal, political, and historical context, our analysis suggests that greater local involvement in these invertebrate fisheries and their management could provide more benefits to local communities than the status quo while maintaining an ecologically sustainable resource. Our research highlights the importance of explicitly addressing historical context and equity considerations in social-ecological system analyses and when renegotiating the institutions governing common-pool resources.

The article can also be downloaded from this page.