Global Governance and Sustainable Development: more than à Buzzword?

La gouvernance, une simple mode ?
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Science's take at governance
Governance arrangements

Global governance has become a buzzword throughout the social sciences. The influence of civil society on international decision-making and the role of inter-governmental organizations and transnational corporations in world politics, are all having an impact on global governance. Yet there seems to be no commonly accepted definition of the concept and disagreement about the nature of governance severely limits its utility in analyzing sustainable development policy. Consequently, this chapter looks at global governance as a useful scientific concept for assessing large-scale transformations in Europe and around the world with an emphasis on sustainable development.

Global governance that supports sustainable development is one of the great challenges facing political decision makers, in Europe and beyond. The vital question for European societies is to design effective, stable and legitimate governance systems at local, national and international levels that ensure sustainable development. A major obstacle in achieving “global sustainability governance,” however, is the ambiguity surrounding the concept. As Lawrence Finkelstein (1995: 368)1 argues, “we say ‘governance’ because we don’t really know what to call what is going on,” and that “‘global governance’ appears to be virtually anything.” As a result, there is no commonly accepted definition. This conceptual confusion limits our ability to analyze and influence global governance for sustainable development. This chapter analyses different views of and the links between global governance and sustainable development; it also spotlights key trends, and identifies future challenges.

What is global governance for sustainable development?

A fundamentally different context. The early years of the new millennium are often described as an era of profound transformation. The end of the Cold War altered the international system from a bi-polar world to one of multiple spheres of power.Technological developments have changed the ways we process and distribute information, while economic globalization constantly integrates an ever increasing number of people into the world economy. At the same time, humankind is no longer limited to simply modifying local and regional environments, but has entered into a phase of change of a truly planetary dimension so profound that some scholars are using a new label to describe our time: the anthropocene.

In this context of large-scale transformations, social scientists of all stripes are concerned about the perennial question of governance, how humans regulate their affairs to achieve common goals and react to an increasing environmental threat. In particular, attention has focused on steering politics in the nation state and the international community. Global governance has become a true buzz word: for example, a search conducted using the ISI Web of Science Database shows the increase of the term “global governance” in journal article titles and abstracts from 1995 to 2008. Yet despite an abundance of writings, the concept remains highly contested and its actual uses reflect the divergence of approaches existing today. This chapter questions the current state of affairs in global governance studies and attempts to clearly define the term, and in doing so provides a preliminary answer to the question: What is global governance for sustainable development?

Governance: central concept, divergent interpretations.

From the influence of civil society on international decision making processes to the role of inter-governmental organizations and transnational corporations in world politics, there are many manifestations of global governance.2 But what precisely ‘governance’ means, and when it qualifies as ‘global’ is rarely discussed in detail. The different under standings of ‘global governance’ in various contexts come from disagreement about the precise meaning of both the terms ‘global’ and ‘governance’. While ‘global’ can at least refer to the top-level scale of human activity or the sum of all scales of activity, the term ‘governance’ has at least of ten separate connotations, ranging from the mini mal state, redefining the nature of public responsibilities and private interests in providing public goods and services, to good governance in providing national and multinational foreign aid through such agents as the World Bank.

Governance and globalization.

Etymologically, the term ‘governance’ derives from the Greek kybernetes and kyber nan, relating to navigation and helmsmanship. The Latin expression gubernnare and regere, both describe the steering of a ship as well as that of the state, are also linked to the modern English, French and German word for steering: to govern, gouverner, and regieren. Governance in the social sciences generally refers to the lasting process of steering a technical or social system through distinct mechanisms and components. In political science, governance has risen to prominence in close relation to the real or perceived decline in the institutional strength of the modern nation state and the increase in societal interdependencies. As a result of this transformation, interests are no longer simply public or private, but frequently shared across public authorities and a wide range of non-state actors. With this blurring of the lines, a growing awareness is emerging that governments are only one of the many potential actors active in addressing societal issues. Today the question of governance rests on “what new instruments and new forms of exchange between state and society can be developed to ensure political control and societal support”.3 In short, governance is first and foremost a political strategy arising out of the ongoing transformation of the liberal state, which in part grew out of the fundamental restructuring of the Westphalian states system through the process of globalization.

Science's take at governance

The word "global governance" has asserted itself in the scholar litterature since 1995.
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Governance: multiple definitions.

Authors define governance in quite different ways. For Gerry Stoker (1998: 17),4 governance “refers to the development of governing styles in which boundaries between public and private sectors have become blurred.” Specifying these governing styles, Rhodes (1997: 15)5 talks about “self-organizing, interorganizational networks characterized by inter dependence, reource exchange, rules of the game and significant autonomy from the State.” For Ronnie Lipschutz (1997: 83),6 one of the “central issues facing human civilization at the end of the twentieth century is governance: Who rules? Whose rules? What rules? What kind of rules? At what level? In what form? Who decides? On what basis?.” Christian ReusSmit7 believes the central question is: “How can human beings organize their social relations to enhance individual and collective security and physical well-being…?” (1998: 3). And in a similar way, Kooiman (2002: 73)8 defines governance simply as “solving problems and creating opportunities, and the structural and procedural conditions aimed at doing so.” Three key features emerge from the literature. First, governance involves rules, organization and the conditions for order in a broad sense. Second, governance stipulates, to various degrees, new processes and mechanisms of problem solving. Finally, there is a new relationship between public and private actors and a broadening of governing capacities, often in the form of self-organizing networks. To conclude, one reason for the current preoccupation with governance is that it includes a wide range of phenomena. However, this strength can be a weakness Taking a governance approach is a kind of catchall intellectual home for many scholars with considerably different research agendas and theoretical underpinnings that therefore lacks a clear direction.

Historical roots of the global governance and sustainale development debates

Recent debates about the growing political influence of non-state actors, multiple interconnected policy levels and new functional mechanisms of steering beyond the nation state can all be subsumed under the headline of global governance. These debates have opened up new perspectives on large-scale transformations, which profoundly alter our understanding of ‘who is doing what for whom’ in world politics. Although there is neither an uncontested definition of global governance, nor a common understanding in terms of structure, processes and outcome, the highly controversial debate highlights some empirical observations that go beyond tradtional accounts of international politics. However, the current fashion of global governance research is firmly grounded in previous debates. This section briefly introduces three parallel areas of research that have either influenced the concept of global governance or have developed in close There is a new relationship between public and private actors and a broadening of governing capacities, often in the form of self-organizing networks relation. First, is the literature on globalization and global change that points to transformative processes as a cause for increasing interest in the socio-political order beyond the state.

The need to guide globalization.

Almost all accounts of the world at the beginning of the 21st century acknowledge that social, political, economic and ecological environments are fundamentally changing. Attempts to grasp the nature of this transformation along with the structures and qualities of the emerging new order make frequent reference to two central concepts: globalization and global governance. Their relationship, however, is less clear. One valuable approach to delineating the two phenomena says the process of globalization creates the demand for global governance.

In simple terms, globalization may be thought of as the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of social life, ranging from the cultural to the economic and spiritual. This interconnectedness is a key reason for government failures. As sovereign borders are getting porous and the frontier between national and transnational forces are blurring, external effects have a much greater im pact on the responsiveness and problem-solving capacity of nation States. In this view, global governance has emerged as the social, political and economic reac tion to the process of globalization, incorporating many of its ontological assumptions. In short, global governance is a distinct form of sociopolitical steering in the era of globalization. The academic debate on the role of the state. A second source of the current global governance debate can be found in the transnational relations literature that dates back more than three decades. Not only is politics a dialectic process, but an aca demic debate, too. Whereas the 1990s and the new millennium have brought considerable preoccupation with topics such as the end of the state, the transformation of sovereignty, the emergence of global civil society and governance without govern ment, the 1980s were dominated by state-centric approaches, especially Waltzian neo-realism. Turning back another ten years in time, the picture changes again. The 1970s were a time of transnationalism challenging mainstream international relations. The two approaches—state-centric inter-governmental relations and transnationalism—represent two distinct heuristics that presuppose many scholarly assumptions about the phenomena being studied.

Reforms of the multilateral system.

The third main line of debate is by scholars advocating reform to the United Nations and multilateralism more broadly. From this perspective, the UN system is the organizational and normative core of efforts to bring more orderly and reliable responses to so cial and political problems that are beyond the capacities of states to ad dress by themselves. Hence, it is seen as the most ambitious institutional arrangement for the multilat eral management of global problems. For many people, practitioners and scholars alike, the end of the Cold War marked the beginning of a profound transformation in the structure of world politics. Expectations were high that the international community could bring about peace, prosperity and sustainable development. The fact that many of these big issues have at least been addressed can be seen in the series of world conferences on issues ranging from the envi ronment and sustain able devel op ment to the state and status of women.

In sum, the concept of global governance is closely linked to debates about the UN and its reform for two reasons. First, as the only truly global organization that counts almost every state as a member, the UN commands a significant amount of the organizational resources required to govern world affairs. Second, through its encom passing web of specialized agencies, organizations and commissions, it External effects have a much greater impact on the responsiveness and problem solving capacity of nation states touches on the vast majority of current global problems. As a result of the transformation of the in ternational system in 1989-1991 and the high expectations for a ‘new world order’ of cooperation, the early global governance debate focused on governments as the primary actors, while cooperation, special regimes, international organizations— in short multilateralism—were consid ered the chief instruments for executing policy.

Global governance: one phenomenon or many ?

Analytical, normative and discursive understandings of global governance. The following section discusses three paradigmatic understandings of the global governance concept and provides specific examples in the sustainable development debate. All three can be ob served in current academic and policy-oriented circles and differ according to the line of reasoning employed to justify the use of the concept. They are stable over different issue areas and therefore also apply to the realm of sustainable development.

The first sees global governance in close relation to the phenomenon of globalization, but in contrast to a political under standing, and presumes that global gov ern ance is an analytical concept to make sense of current socio-politcal transformations. Consequently, it highlights distinct qualities of the governing process, such as non-hierarchical steering modes and the relocation of authority to non-state actors.

The second focuses on the necessity and adequateness of political answers to the challenge of globalization. In this perspective, global governance is first and foremost a political program to re gain the necessary (state-based or normative) steering capacity for problem solving in the post-modern age.

And the third high lights the discursive nature of the cur rent global governance debate and analyzes the concept first and foremost as a hegemonic discourse to rhetorically conceal the negative implications of the neo-liberal economic and political agenda. The following three sections discuss each of these approaches in turn.

Global governance as an analytical perspective.

From this perspective, global governance is generally believed to encompass different systems of rule at dif fer ent levels of human activity as an organizing social principle beyond hierarchical steering and the sovereign authority of nation states. Key features are the non-hierarchical nature of the governing process and the centrality of non-state actors in this process.


BOX 1 | Sustainable development : an old idea

The debate over sustainability goes back at least to the early 1970s when several publications and the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment became interested in the relationship between human development and the environment. Other important contributions to the debate came from the Global Strategy for Conservation and the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Global Strategy for Conservation published in 1980 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) was based on a systematic approach to development focused on the ecological management of living resources, with the aim of preserving biodiversity and satisfying present and future human needs. The World Commission on Environment and Development was created in 1983 to deal with the critical issues that the Global Strategy for Conservation had not covered, especially the causes of the overexploitation and degradation of the environment, as well as the failure of development policies to combat poverty. Led by Gro Harlem Brundtland, it was responsible for defining a common vision of the most urgent environmental issues and for developing a long term strategy for attaining sustainable development by 2000 and beyond. The final report, entitled Our Common Future and better known as the Brundland Report, has had an important influence on the subsequent international debate on global governance of sustainable development.

Al though the analytical approach to global governance is hardly monolithic—in fact, it displays considerable theoretical and methodological diversity—a number of common as sumptions can be recognized. Hence, as an analytical tool for making sense of the complex and increasingly segmented nature of world politics, of the concept of global govern ance first ascribes special relevance to non-state ac tors; second, analyzes multiple spatial and functional levels of politics and their interaction; third, is concerned with new modes and mechanisms of pro ducing and maintaining global public goods; and fourth, high lights the establishment of new functional spheres of author ity beyond the nation state and inter national cooperation.

As we have seen above in the discussion about the intellectual sources of the cur rent global governance ‘paradigm’, transnationalism highlights the increasing importance of non-state ac tors in exercising political influence. An analytical understanding of global governance takes this no tion further. In search of a new ontology of the current global order, Rosenau (1999: 287)9 explains: “A depleted toolset suggests that understanding is no longer served by clinging to the notion that states and national governments are the essential underpinnings of the world’s organization.”

In fact, the range of different actors engaging in global governance for sustainable development has substantially widened to include transnational lobbies and advocacy coalitions, epistemic communi ties, sovereignty-free actors, social movements, transnational rule-making and standard-setting organizations, and all sorts of business actors, from large multinationals to smallscale consultancies and service-firms.

The second focus of the analytical perspective is on the multi-level nature of current social interact ions and resulting institutions for govern ance. In this view, the interconnectedness of different levels of the political process, different timeframes and different geographical spaces call for a re-concep tualization of the state-centric, two-level model of traditional international politics. The observation that the separation of domestic and inter national policy lev els should no longer be ac corded the central heuristic status it occupied for much of the history of political science, has been most strongly emphasized by Rosenau. He argues that “in a rapidly changing, interdependent world the separation of national and international affairs is problematic”; that “to probe the domestic as aspects of ‘comparative politics’ and examine the foreign as di men sions of ‘international politics’ is more than arbi trary: it is erroneous”; and that “we can no longer allow the domestic-foreign boundary to confound our understanding of world affairs” (1997: 3f).10

As a consequence, the notion of ‘multi-level governance’ has gained currency not only among scholars of European governance, but also among academics address ing global governance. This focus links well with the understanding of social and natural spheres being integrated as an ‘earth system’, calling for the analysis of these interlinkages through a newly emerging earth system science and study of earth system governance.

An analytical perspective on global governance allows the third observation that gov ernance beyond the state occurs in multiple modes utilising multiple instru ments and logics. On this account, there is neither a single unifying principle underlying global governance nor a clearly defined end-state to wards which all actors will converge. Rather, global governance is the sum of the various mechanisms used for problem solving at the global level. One central feature of the ‘new modes of global govern ance’ that researchers have identified is their fundamentally non-hierarchical nature. Unlike governing by govern ments, who possess, at least in theory, the necessary means of coercion to enforce compliance with exist ing laws, global gov ernance has to rely exclusively on non-hierarchical steering modes. In the context of sustainable development, questions of norm diffusion, social learning and organizational adaptation acquire a central importance. Hence, learning among and across different actor constellations has become a key concern for policy-makers, illustrated for example in the United Nations Global Compact, a learning partnership between the UN and business actors that focuses on sustainable development.

A fourth characteristic of the analytical global governance paradigm is the emer gence, loca tion and persistence of autonomous spheres of authority beyond the states-system. Hence, the key feature of governance is the fragmentation of political au thority. Thereby, it is possible to distin guish governance as an ideal-type of fragmented authority from government as centralized authority. What fol lows from this perception is that authority is stripped of its two modern-day characteris tics: territo riality and totality. The first characteristic refers to the ability of rule-makers (governments) to control a distinct territory within defined boundaries without external interference. The second describes the ability to control all aspects of economic, social and political life. A global governance perspective, however, analyzes emerging spheres of authority as both geographi cally and functionally fragmented.

Such a ‘sphere of authority’ defines the range of a formal or infor mal rule system’s capacity to generate compliance among those parties affected. As a consequence, and contrary to the preoccupations of much of the traditional literature, the core of the global governance argument centers on the acquisition of authority by non-state and supra-state actors. In the context of global governance for sustainable development, attention has been paid to the recent institutionalization of governance for sustainable development beyond the international sphere, in the form of non-state, marketbased governance schemes (for example, the Forest Stewardship Council or the Marine Stewardship Council).

Global Governance as a Political Program.

The normative understanding of global governance is most visible when referring to a political program in a wider sense. It is based on the assumption that the plethora of disintegrative processes attributed to globalization call for a political answer. Global governance is envisaged as bridging the gap between accelerating global transactions in goods, services, capital and people on the one hand and the territorially-bound steering capacity of national governments on the other. This mismatch of political capacity produces not only problems of effectiveness, but also a democratic deficit. As a result, hopes of democracy are pinned on new institu tional arrangements such as global public policy networks. For example, the Study Commission “Globalization of the World Economy: Challenges and Answers” of the German Bundestag (2002: 67)11 states: “As the world becomes increasingly globalized and economic activities grow beyond national regulatory frame works, it becomes more necessary to politically shape economic, so cial and environmental processes on a global scale. How the global challenges can be democratically managed has recently begun to be discussed under the heading of ‘global governance’.” In short, global governance means to steer the process of globalization politically. Another normative understanding of global governance can be found in the work of the Commission on Global Governance. This group of twenty-eight The notion of ‘multilevel governance’ links well with the understanding of social and natural spheres being integrated as an ‘earth system’ eminent public figures, mostly former heads of states, inter national bureaucrats or corporate leaders, emphasizes the crucial importance of building and sustaining a global civil ethic based on shared values. However, at this point in time, global governance is still more of a vision than a de scription of the actual state of the global system. Nevertheless, a number of key characteristics can be attributed to the normative use of global govern ance as predominantly describing a political program to regain at least part of the steering capacity that has been lost after the end of the era of embeddedliberalism. The first is that global govern ance is not global government. Rather than a world-state, global governance envisages a connfederation of independent re publics, a vision already developed by Im manuel Kant. Second, global gov ernance rests on different forms of coop eration, coordination and decision-mak ing at different levels of the international system. In particular, the notion of partnership among actors at different levels of the system is frequently stressed.

Third, global governance acknowledges the essential multi-polar structure of world politics. Hence it places considerable emphasis on de velopments of regionaliza tion from which strong impulses for further integration and coop eration arise. Finally, global governance stipulates the incor poration of non-governmental organizations and major groups as an important pre requisite for increased democratic legitimacy and effective problem-solving. In sum, global governance, in its normative understanding, is frequently seen as a long-term process of global integration that rests on traditional multilateralism, in creasing regional co operation and a multitude of actors.

In the context of sustainable development, the programmatic version of global governance can be found, for example, in the 2002 Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, where governments recognize “that sustainable development requires a long-term perspective and broadbased participation in policy formulation, decisionmaking and implementation at all levels. As social part ners, we will continue to work for stable partnerships with all major groups, respecting the independ ent, important roles of each of them”; and the need to “strengthen and improve governance at all levels for the effective implementation of Agenda 21, the Millennium development goals and the Plan of Implementation of the Summit.”

Global governance as discourse. A third general use of the term global governance refers to it as a hegemonic con cept. Global governance, in this view, is a discursive attempt to conceal the nature of the neo-liberal agenda. The ‘global governance dis course’ serves as a means to deal more effectively with the negative consequences caused by post fordist and neoliberal social trans formations.

This line of thinking has been de veloped, in large part, within the theoretical confines of transnational historical mate rialism. From this perspective, fundamental criticism is in particular raised against nor mative and programmatic under standings of global governance. For one, global govern ance ap pears as a consensual process whose genuine purpose is to cooperatively manage common af fairs. Also, the focus on multiple actors and the resulting plurality of interests conceals the struc tural nature of social relations and the underlying hierarchical configuration of so cial power. And finally, global gov ernance is criticized for being an a-historical concept that overlooks the pervasive nature of gov ernance issues in human history.

As a conse quence, the protagonists of this critical version of global governance see global steering mechanisms beyond the state as deeply embedded in a gen eral political trend to wards re-regula tion of the world economy that conceals the negative tendencies of late capi talism. Consequently, global governance as an attempt to re claim political influence to re shape the institu tional land scape of world politics is not Global governance is still more of a vision than a description of the actual state of the global system understood as a counterforce to globalization, but as its ideo logical com panion. From a critical perspective, global governance for sustainable development has been criticized for being an attempt to conceal the negative implications of economic globalization. Sus tainable development itself has become an empty signifier that serves the purposes of opposing inter ests by offering specific assumptions about each group (the three pillars of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental spheres).

Consider the example of UNCED in 1992. It was during UNCED that business actors seized this opportunity and influenced the emerging global agenda in their own interests. It is no coincidence that 1992 marks both the founding of the Business Council for Sustainable Development and the publication of Changing Course, an elaborate outline of the role of business in sustainable development. It is noteworthy that is was Canadian businessman Maurice Strong, in his personal capacity as Secretary-General to the Rio summit, who recruited Stephan Schmidheiny, lead author of Changing Course, as the coordinator of the business input to the summit. As a result, corporations became accepted as legiti mate actors within the sustain ability dis course. Rather than being thought of as part of the problem, businesses were increasingly perceived as part of the solution by the early 1990s. In the words of Livio De Simone, chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 1997: “Business used to be de picted as a primary source of the world’s environmental problems. To day it is increasingly viewed as a vital contributor to solving those prob lems and secur ing a sustainable future for the planet.”

CHANGING COURSE : Published in 1992 by Swiss businessman Stephan Schmidheiny under the title Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment, the book explores the methods by which businesses can reconcile their activities with the promotion of sustainable development and environmental protection. Following the publication of his book, the author was named Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General of the Rio Summit and founded the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 1992.

To summarize, current analysis of global governance falls within the three broad categories of normative, analytical and discursive/critical under standings. Confu sion, however, not only arises from the existence of three different uses, but also from the prac tice of using them interchangeably within one and the same ar gument. Hence, different uses should be made explicit to avoid conceptual confusion. As neither a com monly accepted defini tion exists, nor seems to be desirable given the many diver gent conno tations the term car ries, scholars should at least carefully con sider their own un der standing of global gov ernance and attempt to communi cate it as clearly as possi ble. Such a commit ment to clarity would not only advance our knowledge within the social sciences, but also build bridges across disciplines and meta-theoretical orientations.

BOX 2 | Definitions of "global governance"

Sustainable development itself has become an empty signifier that serves the purposes of opposing interests by offering specific assumptions about each group n Club of Rome (1991). We use the term to denote the command mechanisms of a social system and its actions that endeavor to provide security, prosperity, coher ence, order and continuity to the system. [...] Taken broadly, the concept of governance should not be restricted to the national and international systems but should be used in relation to regional, provincial and local governments as well as to other social systems such as educa tion and the military, to private enterprises and even to the microcosmos of the family.
Commission on Global Governance (1995). Governance is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and co-operative action may be taken. It includes formal insti tutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest.
OECD (1996). Global Governance can be loosely defined as the process by which we collectively manage and govern resources, issues, conflicts and values in a world that is increasingly a ‘global neighborhood’ [...].
Rosenau (1995). Global governance is conceived to include systems of rule at all levels of human activity—from the family to the international organization —in which the pursuit of goals through the exercise of control has transnational repercussions.

Key trends and future challenges

The following section has two main objectives: First, to discuss two major trends in global governance for sustainable development: the increasing plurality of actors and the broadening of their functional scope. And second, to highlight two future challenges for effective and legitimate global governance for sustainable development: the increasing segmentation and fragmentation of policy-making, as well as the deepening privatization of sustainability governance.

As we have seen above, global governance is understood and applied in a range of different manners, from outlining a political program to re-embed global economic structures into a political architecture, to a critical view of global governance as a potentially hegemonic discourse, as well as an analytical perspective on world politics.

More actors and broader scope.

Using the analytical framework, two broad trends are revealed. First, global governance for sustainable development features a plurality of actors, in particular the increasing involvement of non-state actors. Global governance for sustainable development there fore includes the activities of governments, but it also includes the many ways in which goals are framed, directives is sued, and policies pursued beyond the governmental realm. In particular, recent debates have centered on the relevance of non-state actors in defining and implementing the norms of global sustainability politics beyond intergovernmental activity. Global climate politics is an illustrative example. Whereas most scholarly attention has been paid to intergovernmental efforts to mitigate anthropogenic climate change, the host of profit and not-for-profit organizations that engage in contemporary climate governance has largely gone unnoticed.



Business used to be depicted as a primary source of the world’s environmental problems. Today it is increasingly a vital contributor to solving those problems However, any serious attempt to solve the challenge of climate change will require that the substantial contribu tions of business and civil society be into account.

The increasing role of non-state actors in global sustainability governance, however, has not gone without conflict, and has indeed become the focal point of major political reform debates. Developing countries, in particular, often object to increases in the influence of non-governmental organizations in international forums because they view these groups as being more favorable to northern agendas, perspectives and interests. Developing countries argue that most associations are headquartered in industrialized countries, that most donated funds originate there, both public and private, and that this makes these groups more accountable to northern interests. However, these potential biases in the work of non-governmental ac tors should not diminish their role in civil society, but rather give rise to mechanisms that ensure a fair and balanced representation of opinions and perspectives.

Second, global sustainability governance is also defined by new forms of cooperation beyond the traditional negotiation under international law. The influence of non-state actors is not confined to lobbying during such negotiations. Increasingly, they become formally part of norm-setting and norm-implementing institutions and mechanisms in global governance. This is a remarkable shift from intergovernmental regimes to public-private and progressively more private-private cooperation and policy-making at the global level.

A more substantial participation of private actors.

Private actors are now partners in implementing international government standards, such as in the quasi-government program agencies that administer development assistance through the World Bank and bilateral entities. At times, private actors even venture to negotiate their own standards, such as in the Forest Stewardship Council or the Marine Stewardship Council, two standard-setting bodies created by major corporations and environmental advocacy groups without direct government involvement. And the new institutions set up by scientists and experts to advise on policy, while formally often under governmental control, also enjoy a large degree of autonomy from state control.

In sum, the scope of governance arrangements in sustainable development has broadened to include the following three functions: First, information sharing is central to many transnational arrangements. In these arrangements, information and knowledge are the prime resources exchanged among participants, building on cognitive, discursive and social-learning processes. In climate politics, for example, we see the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Climate Action Network.a Second, policy implementation by public-private partnerships is a welcomed addition to state-lead implementation. Consider, for example, the over 330 public-private partnerships for implementing sustain ability that have emerged from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable De velopment in Johannes burg. And finally, rule- and policy-making has become a central function of gov ernance arrangements beyond the state. Examples range from private certification schemes for sustainable forest management to fisheries conservation and coffee production.b

a. and

b.;; and


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Key challenges of global governance of sustainable development Consistency in sustainable development policies.

A key challenge for successful global governance is the rapid fragmentation and segmentation of sustainable development policies and clusters of rule-making and rule-implementing, fragmented both vertically among supranational, international, national and sub-national layers of authority (multilevel governance) and horizontally among different parallel rule-making systems maintained by different groups of actors (multi polar governance).

As a result of fragmentation, neither the positive nor negative interlinkages between regulatory approaches at the international level (for example, between the current World Trade Organization round and the climate change framework convention) are sufficiently understood. This has led to renewed debates on political and institutional reform. The powerful interna tional organizations oriented towards eco nomic growth—such as the WTO, the World Bank or the Interna tional Monetary Fund—are hardly matched by UNDP and UNEP.

Therefore, political initiatives are needed that aim at strengthening the institutional core of global sustainability governance at the UN. Greater role of private actors in shaping global policies. A second key challenge for governing sustainable development is the deepening privatization of global policies. As we have seen above, it seems at times that traditional intergovernmental policy-making through diplomatic conferences is being replaced by networks and other more flexible govern ance arrangements, which some see as being more efficient and transparent. Yet the distribution of global public policy networks is often linked to the special interests of private actors that have to re spond to their constituencies, which seriously questions the legitimacy of pri vate rule-making. For ex ample, the World Commission on Dams has been hailed as a new and effective mecha nism that has quickly generated widely accepted standards, which had earlier been difficult to negoti ate due to strong resistance from affected countries. But the success of private rule-making is double-edged because of the inherent legitimacy deficit that is part and parcel of the process and the fact that it fails to convert into democratic elections or other kinds of formal representation.

Governance arrangements

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A final challenge is coordinating policy execution among a wide array of groups with divergent interests. For example, the more than 330 implementation partnerships announced around the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg have achieved few concrete improvements towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals and other targets laid out in the Agenda 21. In particular, public oversight of these governance arrangements is limited to an open registry with the Commission on Sustainable Development, which lacks the resources to verify the statements made there. As a result, it comes as no surprise that almost 21% of partnerships registered with the CSD have virtually no traceable output. To strengthen public control over these flexible governance mechanisms, the CSD not only urgently needs more resources but also needs the general public to openly scrutinize their performance much more carefully.


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