Leading scholars say global governance overhaul needed for earth's sustainability

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 7:40:00 PM

Steven Bernstein
(Photo: www.news.utoronto.ca)

A group of the world's leading environmental scholars are sounding the alarm that human societies need to transform their national and international environmental institutions into a more coherent and robust planetary stewardship model to steer away from rapid and irreversible changes to the Earth's subsystems.

Professor Steven Bernstein (Dept. of Political Science and Director of the Master of Global Affairs Program at the Munk School of Global Affairs) is one of the authors of a paper which appears in the journal Science on March 16, 2012.  (Link to full article available to U of T faculty and students.)

In the article, more than 40 of the world's top scholars warn that incremental change is not sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed necessary. "Structural change in global governance is needed, both inside and outside the United Nations (UN) system and involving both public and private actors."

Their recommendations include the following:

  • Reform and upgrade the environmental agencies and programs of the UN to ensure a strong environmental organization with a sizeable role in agenda-setting, norm-development, compliance management, science assessment and capacity-building.
  • More strongly integrate the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development from local to global levels and create a new mechanism that gives special predominance to the largest economies - the Group of 20 - as primary members that hold at least half the votes.
  • Close remaining regulatory gaps at the global level, including in the development and deployment of emerging technology like nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geo-engineering, to ensure transparency, information-sharing, engage multiple stakeholders in policy dialogues and ensure that environmental considerations are fully respected.

Possible reforms of the intergovernmental government system will be a key focus of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

"The institutions left us from the Earth Summit twenty years ago have proven woefully insufficient for the challenges of this century. Rio +20 presents an historic opportunity to build more effective governance - the only question is whether there is the political will to do so," says Professor Bernstein.

The Science paper is based on a comprehensive assessment conducted in 2011 by the Earth System Governance Project, the largest social science research network in governance and environmental change. Its international research program explores political solutions and novel, more effective governance systems to cope with the current transitions in the biogeochemical systems of our planet.

Read more: How Rio+20 can herald a constitutional moment by Frank Biermann and Steven Bernstein, The Guardian.

This is an edited excerpt of an article from www.news.utoronto.ca.