Multilevel Governance: Toward a New Paradigm for Sustainable Development

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Although the State has long been the cornerstone of national and international policy, it is no longer able to meet the transnational challenges posed by sustainable development. The predominant place now occupied by non-state stakeholders and their growing ability to interconnect are leading to the emergence of multi-level governance mechanisms in current policy design and delivery. As a result, the State's role is shifting from controlling policies to coordinating them.

Governance and development, two key dimensions characterizing human activity, are increasingly being studied in juxtaposition within the sustainability discourse. Sustainable development requires concerted action at all levels of political activity, and conventional governance mechanisms across states are beginning to feel the strain of pursuing a sustainable growth paradigm. A number of functions that were traditionally identified as state prerogatives are today executed by a host of state and non-state actors. This realignment has fundamentally altered the political landscape of governance in terms of the key actors and processes managing sustainable development issues. This chapter seeks to engage with the range of agents and processes that are likely to influence the formulation and implementation of environmentally sustainable policies. It studies the interface between territorially rooted entities located at the national, regional, and local level, and the transnational challenges that sustainable development generates.

The chapter is divided into three broad sections. The first section sets the context by examining the uneasy fit between the conventional governance paradigm and the imperatives of sustainable development. The second section explores the concept of multilevel governance for its potential to accommodate the multi-pronged strategy that sustainable development demands. Finally, the chapter examines the roles of a host of actors: the state, the epistemic community, the civil society, and the citizen, along with their transformative potential for policy-making on development issues.

Sustainable Development and the Conventional Governance Discourse

Sustainable development is an inherently integrative concept, which emphasizes the interlinkages between the environmental, economic, and social facets of development (George, 2007). Understanding these interconnections is vital to the management of renewable natural resources. The logic of renewable resources turns on the simultaneous rate of depletion and replenishment, and the regulation of their use has a direct impact on resource-dependent communities. Resource systems such as oceans, freshwater bodies, and fishing sites can replenish their stock if the extraction from these systems (or resource units) does not surpass the rate of regeneration. It is by maintaining this balance between utilization and reproduction that a potentially renewable resource becomes sustainable (Ostrom, 1990).

Although the literature on sustainable development is a distinct genre in itself, the concept can be better understood in terms of transnational issues that transcend boundaries, including energy security, water, and climate change. Their reach and complexity pose considerable challenges to existing governance structures around the world. The conventional paradigm on governance takes the state as the key frame of reference in domestic and international politics. It stresses a rigid understanding of sovereignty, which is articulated not just in a narrow statist perspective on security but also in the management of natural resources that is seen solely as a sovereign prerogative. In this hierarchical structure, the relationship between the citizen and the state is skewed, particularly in terms of access to resources. However, this conventional state-centric understanding of governance and its accompanying top-down linear mode of policy-making have been challenged by the spread of globalization, improved communication technologies, and a growing concern over transnational global issues.

Sustainable development is complex due to the different scales involved, as the level at which action occurs (leading to environmental change, for instance) often differs from the level at which decisions regulating such action are taken. The disjuncture occurs because resource systems are collectively owned and used but the appropriation of resource units is not. It is the clash between public use and individual consumption of common resources that leads to unsustainable development. Hence, resource extraction bears an affinity to the theory of private goods whereas strategies to coordinate utilization activities, distribute benefits, and enforce an acceptable arrangement approximate the theory of public goods (Ostrom, 1990).

The democratization of non-state organizations introduced another crucial layer in governance that needed to be factored in when policies on sustainable development were to be deliberated upon. Moreover, the growth of grassroots NGOs highlighted the local costs of unbridled development in a manner that the highly specialized multilateral bodies could not approximate (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). Unsustainable development has taken a toll on what constitutes sources of livelihood for many people: saline land, polluted rivers, and denuded forest cover. Operationally, the concern with sustainable development at the local level is entangled in a host of related issues. Thus it would be unreasonable to expect an affected population to consider the merits of living in a clean local environment if it comes at the cost of losing a source of livelihood. For instance, a polluting local factory on the verge of a shutdown would affect the job prospects of the local population. Adequate compensation measures to address such local concerns therefore need to be factored in when policy makers formulate a sustainable strategy (Irwin, 1995). Thus exploring the link between citizenship and sustainable development shifts the frame of reference from state security to human security. Adil Najam argues that, pervasive as they are, these issues affecting human security are more domestic than external in nature. The local ramifications of an environmental issue have a direct impact on the lives of the marginalized groups, and the challenge is therefore to elevate a local issue to the national and regional levels (Najam, 2005).

Furthermore, weak governance institutions com­pound environmental crises. The lack of robust implementation and monitoring agencies can worsen degradation by failing to check resource abuse. One of the key reasons why large development projects often end in environmental disasters is that policy makers do not observe due process when giving their approval for these ventures. With environmental impact assessment reports (EIARs) and public engagement being frequently overlooked prior to project commencement, conviction and penalization of officials following a non-viable venture is highly unlikely. As Goetz and Jenkins argue, "when the institutions of ex post enforcement are lacking, ex ante answerability has almost no chance of serving its ostensible purpose" (2005: 64). Thus, the key to sustainable development is more about finding effective social solutions through responsive governance mechanisms than about implementing solely technical measures (Najam, 2005).

Gauging the human and environmental costs of unsustainable development is to a great extent entangled in social and political dynamics within a particular society. Besides the hurdle of information inadequacy that prevents the public from forming an understanding of environmental impacts, the course of striking a balance between competing perceptions of people's interests is a political one. For sustainable development to be a viable and functional alternative to our current development practices, it is imperative that we value each pool of common resources as a public good independently of its economic worth (George, 2007).

Multilevel Governance: The New Development Paradigm

Garrett Hardin's notion of "the tragedy of the commons" captures the apocalyptic state toward which the selfish process of appropriating benefits from the global commons is taking us. As Hardin states, "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons" (1968: 1244). Escaping the prospect of selfish appropriation of resources in a way that concurrently addresses the needs of the environment, the society, and the state requires moving beyond the conventional mode of governance. Contrary to the traditional governance paradigm, the state is not located in opposition to other actors in the system (such as civil society, industry, and international organizations) but in conjunction with them in its efforts to achieve a public good such as sustainable development. The state is embedded within layers of political control, a notion that is elaborated within the literature on multilevel governance. As Gamble writes, "What is emerging in place of the old narratives is the idea of a multilevel polity which stresses the variety of institutions and processes through which societies are governed" (2000: 290).

The enhanced prominence of actors outside the formal hierarchy of state structures coupled with their increasing interconnectedness points to the emergence of multilevel governance mechanisms in world politics today. Multilevel governance refers to the various strata of overlapping influence that typify policy-making processes in the present global order. States find themselves having to share the policy-making function with a host of non-governmental actors, whose increased participation in policy processes has redefined the role of the state from policy control to policy coordination. This form of governance offers a wide canvas within which the roles of various actors-state and non-state-participating in the decision-making process on a particular issue can be better understood. Hence, there is a need to revisit the conservative interpretation of governance given the very nature of the issues at stake. Sustainable development issues, which affect both human security and the security of the state, transcend political borders, and their complexity requires diverse actors operating at multiple levels to negotiate and forge issue-based linkages. This diffusion of decision-making across different political levels has signaled the emergence of a multilevel polity. Thus there is a growing imperative to move toward a new framework of governance that incorporates this diverse set of actors operating at different levels (global, regional, subregional, national and local).

What is required is a broader understanding of governance factors as a diverse array of actors in addition to the state: the citizen (citizen forums, community based organizations), industry (business players, multinational corporations), the epistemic community (research community, scientific organizations), civil society (NGOs, media, unions, transnational social networks), and regional and global cooperative structures (forums and regimes). Participatory multilevel governance holds significant implications for the manner in which issues are framed, negotiated, and addressed. It is based on the underlying principle that the more participatory policy-making becomes (involving actors on whom decisions have a direct bearing), the more likely it is to be responsive to local requirements (Bache ''& Flinders, 2004b). It also allows us to progress beyond the formal interpretation of citizenship to study its active and living expression by people as they seek to realize their rights and address their needs within its participatory framework. Multilevel governance implies the increased participation of non-governmental players in public policy-making and delivery. It denotes a progressively complex state-society relationship in which network actors assume prominence in policy-making and the state's key role shifts from policy control to policy coordination (Bache and Flinders, 2004a).

Hooghe and Marks (2001) enumerate two central characteristics of multilevel governance with regard to the European Union. Firstly, while states remain central actors in decision-making, competencies are shared and contested by actors operating at different territorial levels rather than monopolized by national governments. Secondly, political domains are interconnected through both formal and informal networks. Sub-national actors function in national and supra-national realms simultaneously, creating transnational networks in the process. Neera Chandhoke (2003) refers to the rise of "network governance," wherein a host of non-state actors above and below the state level are sharing policy-making and implementation functions with the state. Put succinctly, network governance embeds the state in a network of actors that extends both horizontally (to other actors in civil society and industry) and vertically (from the global to the subregional and local levels). Furthermore, the network primarily thrives on cooperative partnerships rather than conflictual stances. As against the formal state apparatus, these partnerships are adaptive, fluid, and flexible in nature (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005). The concept thus contains both vertical and horizontal dimensions, with increased vertical interdependence among actors operating at different territorial levels as well as growing horizontal interdependence between government and non-government actors. Within multilevel governance, as Gary Marks describes it, "supranational, national, regional, and local governments are enmeshed in territorially overarching policy networks" (1993: 402-403) However, not all linkages are hierarchical in terms of passing through every level of political control. Today, sub-national and supra-national actors often communicate directly through transnational networks without linking through the national level.

Institutional responses are multilevel because the environmental problems they seek to address are so. Environmental degradation, by its very nature is comprehensive in its reach, making it an endemic source of conflict. A transboundary issue, such as water, is subject to contestations at all levels, from the international to the national and local. From ozone depletion at the global level to the more localized problem of air pollution, environmental crises affect all levels of political activity, thus warranting a multi-pronged approach that encompasses global initiatives (such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change-UNFCCC) as well as neighborhood protection drives (such as NIMBYs). A good example would be the local solution that policy makers in Alanya in Turkey arrived at in the 1970s to check unregulated fishing whereby the national level authorities gave local cooperatives sufficient leeway to find innovative solutions to counter the problem (Ostrom 1990). In the arrangement they eventually devised, fishing sites were allotted to eligible fishers on a rotational basis according to the migratory seasons of the stocks. What was ingenious about the arrangement is that while it regulated individual activities, it also optimized output since the fishers were spread out in an organized fashion. This example serves to demonstrate that the governance of common pool resources requires power sharing at all levels, often involving actors outside of the state apparatus. Devising localized solutions is an important step in tackling global problems and recognizing that the intrinsic linkage between the global and the local is central to any understanding of sustainable development.

There is another crucial way in which the different levels of political control are interconnected in processes of sustainable development, requiring a layered approach to governance. For instance, the resilience and adaptive capacity of households at the local level to cope with the effects of unsustainable development (climate change, for instance) is dependent upon the functioning of systems at the higher levels (national and global) such as information flows, federal structures, markets, and delivery systems that are meant to facilitate the timely passage of information and resources. The nature of the political system has two significant implications for the way environmental change is tackled domestically. Firstly, more open political systems that allow for expression of protest and flow of information compel government agencies to respond to environmental crises. Scholars such as Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen (Dreze and Sen, 1989) argue that a vigilant civil society can act as an early warning system, which, together with inputs from other specialized agencies, draws the attention of the government to imminent crises requiring urgent action. Secondly, the functioning and efficiency of a political system directly affects the approach to environmental change. For instance, watershed management in India has seen heavy investments in structural activities such as building check-dams, whereas expenditure on activities aimed at capacity building of local communities through watershed management groups is relatively low.

Key Actors in Sustainable Development

The institutional scene on sustainable development is diverse. As far as international organizations are concerned, environmental issues were fragmented among the UN's many agencies at its inception. From intergovernmental agencies (specialized bodies such as the FAO and the UNDP) to treaty organizations such as the International Whaling Commission and development banks such as the World Bank, multilateral organizations have pursued environmentalism in the last two decades through a variety of modes. These intergovernmental bodies are supplemented by national environmental programs that established linkages on a broad panoply of issues that come under the heading of sustainable development: resource use, human rights, and social development, to name a few. However, problem solving requires key actors to move up and down the decision-making structure to make policies responsive to conditions at the local level.


The state: negotiating the governance agenda . Making the security discourse more environment-sensitive was an evolutionary process that went through several phases. The early writings displayed a penchant for redefining security by broadening its agenda to include environmental concerns. The connection was not self-evident, a lacuna that prompted the next generation of scholars to drift away from security altogether and explore instead the linkages between conflict and environment through case studies. Although the frame of reference shifted from interstate issues toward more intrastate ones, the focus on human security developed later (Najam, 2005).

That the development discourse is steeped in statist terms is evident from the fact that differences over the distribution of rights and responsibilities are often arrayed between the developed and developing countries. While disparities between countries pose a real divide that has to be acknowledged and negotiated in dealing with environmental issues, states are anything but homogenous entities. Internal constituencies that are more vulnerable than the rest of the populace to a given environmental issue exist within all countries. When transnational networks vault over sovereign divides to link up affected segments, the heterogeneity of experiences comes into sharp focus, and these experiences in turn may develop into alliances between countries otherwise divided by economic disparities (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). As environmental movements demonstrate, political activity includes informal processes such as issue-based citizen mobilization that is distinct from official decision-making institutions (Irwin, 1995).

Yet the state remains a key actor in international politics in more ways than one. Although we see enhanced levels of institutionalized transnational activity in the form of international and regional organizations, the state continues to be either the sole unit of representation in these fora (such as the UN) or is the prime mover toward the creation of a new integrated entity (such as the European Union). Moreover, no actor or agency is truly transnational in international politics today. Transnational networks and multinational corporations depend on the infrastructural base and the security of the state to run their operations, even though much of their activity would run counter to and remain beyond the reach of state power. The significance of this formal structure is underlined by the fact that protests and demands by local movements are normally directed toward the state apparatus, calling for action or inaction, as the case may be.

The state level of analysis is instructive in studying country-wide spatial patterns of unsustainable development. Focusing on the state throws up some compelling statistics that point toward shifts in production and consumption trends. Developed countries have been significant contributors to global warming and its attendant concerns as a result of large scale industrialization and urban growth. Demographically, developing countries such as China and India constitute 35% of the total world population. While China has today become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide-16 out of the world's 20 most polluted cities are located there-India is the third largest polluter globally (Phillips, 2008).

In terms of water pollution, the biggest polluting industry is iron and steel, accounting for over 87% of the total load. At 34%, the cement industry is the largest air-polluting industry. Among the Indian states, seven states together emit nearly 70% of total industrial pollution in the country. Of them, the state of Maharashtra leads, accounting for nearly 16% of the total pollution load, followed by Gujarat and Tamil Nadu (Najam, 2005).

From a comparative perspective, the four emerging powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the "BRICs") will be major consumers of energy and production centers in the next fifty years, and any initiative toward sustainable development should seek to have these key states on board.


The epistemic community: realizing the transformative potential of knowledge . The framing of an issue is crucial to how it is communicated and hence perceived by the target audience. In most instances, environmentalists offer analyses steeped in data and information, which people do not easily identify with. When the issue is presented in terms of its impact on human populace such as displacement due to development projects, popular mobilization becomes possible. A good example of repackaging an old cause would be the case of the Amazon forests, in which the crusade for local land rights proved ineffective. However, the campaign shot into prominence when it was framed in terms of widespread deforestation (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). While in this instance, a human rights campaign was reinterpreted as an environmental issue, there are other instances in which an environmental concern won more support when it was seen as a social justice cause.

The contested nature of science comes to the fore when opinion is divided over the nature and magnitude of a particular environmental crisis. For instance, scientists differ sharply on whether glacial melt is occurring at a worrying enough rate to warrant urgent concerted action on the part of the international community. In such a scenario, what counts for credible evidence becomes significant, and a presumably 'scientific' issue is now open to interpretation, thereby becoming a controversy. Irwin (1995) takes the British case in the early 1980s of the carcinogenic substance 2,4,5-T used as a pesticide. When the pesticide's toxic properties became public, the risk perceptions of stakeholders differed on the basis of how much credence was attached to the cited evidence. Being the most vulnerable section of society, the farming community found the evidence credible enough to demand a ban on the substance. On the other hand, the expert committee (the Advisory Committee on Pesticides) ruled that until more reliable evidence was presented before its panel, proving conclusively its toxic properties, the pesticide should not be banned.

Another good example of this heterogeneity in action would be the phenomenon of acid rain, which can only be addressed with expertise from disciplines such as chemistry, meteorology, and agriculture, to name a few. Such an intellectual amalgam then runs into several social uncertainties about whether prescribed solutions can be implemented in a manner that is satisfactory to policy makers, environmentalists, and local rights groups. Locating the scientific community within the social context thus lowers science from the high pedestal on which the conventional developmental model had placed it and instead highlights its negotiated and restrained nature (Irwin, 1995).

A crucial step in this regard would be the establishment of science shops that would act as intermediate entities between the citizenry and the scientific community, making socially useful technical information available to the public.


Transnational networks: forging webs of connectedness . Demarcation is often presumed to delineate self-contained and bounded actors whose interactions are characterized by orderly conduct. In reality, as actors that are concurrently involved in domestic and international politics, transnational networks are one among many means through which the porosity of actors and institutions is reinforced. Transnational networks are an uneasy phenomenon that eludes ready categorizations. Keck and Sikkink (1998) describe transnational advocacy networks, which thrive in the interstices between functionally and spatially demarcated entities.

The phenomenal growth of environmental NGOs can be expressed in numbers. From two in 1953, these organizations grew to 90 in the space of 40 years, making up nearly 15% of the total number of groups, up from less than 2% in 1953 (Keck and Sikkink, 1998).

A close-knit web of intensive information sharing characterizes these networks. Information becomes a potent tool in two key ways: it can be wielded to counter ambiguity on certain issues or used to frame an existing issue as a new concern. These networks are distinct because of their unique characteristics that include above all the prominence of core values that become the rallying point for the mobilization of support. The significance attributed to certain principles and values enables networks to assume a moral stance on issues. From information transmission to the movement of specialized manpower within the network, transnational networks straddle the domestic and international spheres in their processes and resource management.

In addition, transnational networks establish linkages with actors located within the state apparatus, civil society, and international organizations through which access paths are amplified, both internationally and domestically.

Access here is implied by the availability of both information and resources, be it in terms of material reinforcements or simply the logistical ease that a local campaign partner would bring to it.

These networks are what Keck and Sikkink call 'communicative structures,' which seek to connect with other agencies in the field (1998: 3). Indeed, one of the key ingredients of a successful campaign is the effective amalgamation of actors seeking to achieve different objectives around the same issue. Keck and Sikkink refer to the 'boomerang effect' to explain how the network operates from its origins in domestic politics (1998: 12). The lack of communication between domestic organizations and the state leads to an inability to exert influence on policy making. In such a scenario, domestic organizations may circumvent state channels and mobilize international partners to exert external influence on the state. This impact on the rebound is possible through the strategic deployment of information, as many human rights campaigns demonstrate.

However, it must be added that advocacy for sustainable development does not automatically translate into consensus among the different participating actors, who sometimes end up working at cross purposes with one another. As the campaign against timber logging in Sarawak, Malaysia demonstrates, the research community attempted to pitch the case on the basis of scientific information and reasoned arguments. NGO networks, on the other hand, politicized the campaign by not only redefining what makes information credible (the inclusion of testimonies, for instance) but also sought to enhance its clout by drawing more actors into the negotiation process. Even when the source of a transnational threat is easily established, extraneous factors cause states at both ends of an environmental disaster to play down its consequences. A good example would the Southeast Asian haze that affected the region in the mid 1990s. The haze was caused by the practice of forest burning in Indonesia to clear land for cultivation, and it gradually extended to the neighboring countries of Singapore and Malaysia. Despite its failure to enforce an existing ban on the burning of forestland by plantation owners, the Indonesian government blamed poor farmers for the pollution. Meanwhile, the Malaysian government did not divulge information on the magnitude of the damage caused by the haze for fear of an adverse impact on tourism (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005; Keck and Sikkink, 1998).


Industry: observing sustainable practices. The discourse of sustainable development is incomplete without taking into consideration the role of the private sector, both in terms of the business lobbies that operate transnationally and the sub-national and local business actors. Private sector players, by dint of their trade ties, are well-networked entities not only within their community but also within policy-making circles. Given that industry plays a key role in production and service delivery coupled with the political influence it wields (which varies according to the area of operation and economic capacity), it becomes a significant player whose cooperation is vital for the success of any paradigm for sustainable development. That industry matters is demonstrated by the fact that large scale unsustainable environmental practices (water pollution or excessive logging and mining, for instance) are to a great extent responsible for the environmental stress we see around us today.

Of course, states share the blame in no small measure for their complicity in providing permissive regulatory structures and lax enforcement of quality standards. However, the point worth noting is that eliciting industry's cooperation is vital in stemming the damage wrought by unregulated development. In this regard, the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is predicated on the assumption that business interests and social ethics are not mutually antithetical, is central to the development discourse. CSR implies that corporate actors assume responsibility for the larger social impacts of their actions. It also requires them to proactively undertake measures that make their association with the rest of the society and the environment sustainable in the long run. Despite its wide acceptance, the concept is not yet fully developed within national discourses on development. For instance, in India, CSR still largely remains an arena for self-regulation. This is largely due to the lack of concerted pressure from the civil society to develop credible co-regulatory mechanisms involving multiple stakeholders.

At the international level, the first governance initiative in CSR was the UN Global Compact (UNGC) launched in 2000, which sought to elicit multi-stakeholder participation in the formulation of the CSR policies of participating companies.

The Ten Principles of the UNGC include undertaking initiatives that foster environmental responsibility and facilitate the diffusion of eco-friendly technologies. For details, see

However, one of the key challenges facing the UNGC is the broad representation and effective participation of industry players. The initiative has also seen poor representation of other stakeholders such as labour organizations. This trend is reflective of the bigger concern that CSR in general has seen only low representation from industry. The business entities engaged in CSR initiatives constitute a small proportion of the 61,000 multinational corporations that dominate global business today. The number drops even further if the value chain of commodity production as a whole is taken into account (Chahoud et al., 2007).

This brings us to the larger issue of accountability within given formulations of international and multilevel governance structures. Responsive as a multilevel governance system may be, the diffusion of power has brought in its wake accountability concerns. When diverse actors are responsible to different constituencies (as in the case of private security firms, for instance, which are not directly accountable for their actions to the public) and decision-making becomes a collective activity, then holding a particular actor responsible for an outcome is difficult (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005). One of the ways out of the accountability conundrum with regard to pinning down corporate responsibility is foreign direct liability, a form of transnational litigation. This allows affected states and citizens to hold firms accountable in their home country including for the activities of their subsidiary companies in other countries. Cases fought on the basis of transnational litigation are many, including the suing of Rio Tinto in the UK for mining-induced pollution in Namibia and Union Carbide in the US for the Bhopal gas disaster. In sum, corporate governance ultimately rests with the sovereign state, which by dint of being the home country, must be penalized for the transnational excesses committed by multinational corporations based in their territory.


The citizen: the human face of development . For development to be sustainable, social relationships tied to the environment need to be sustained. Recognizing that the natural does not exist independently of the social leads us to the argument that environmental crises run deep in society and reflect a flawed worldview of what counts as citizenship, knowledge, and progress (Irwin, 1995).

Rethinking development also implies rethinking what constitutes knowledge. In the conventional mode, development diffuses outward from centers of knowledge generation and dissemination. The public is perceived as the passive recipient of such benefits as development may offer, an equation that places the citizen at the far end of the knowledge generation chain. As Irwin notes, 'citizenship' currently only begins when 'expertise' has set the environmental agenda" (1995: 79). This model places scientific progress at the center of human development to the extent that any tension between the citizen and science is then attributed to public irrationality. This privileging of formal science has accordingly implied the discrediting of traditional knowledge, which finds no place in the general schema. It is this skewed equation that has made development today unsustainable because of its failure to adapt to local needs, both human and environmental. Likewise, sustainability would signify correcting, even inverting the equation in favor of local practices that empower the citizens by recognizing their rights to resources.

What needs to be recognized is that human security is not uniformly valued across all countries, nor is state security respected in all cases. An instructive example would be the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984, in which 19,000 people died over the course of several years after a toxic chemical gas leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. After a protracted legal battle in the US, the compensation awarded to the survivors was a fraction of the over US$3 billion claim originally made. Despite the fact that the Indian state was a plaintiff in the case, the compensation awarded was a paltry US$470 million. In contrast, the Alaskan oil spill caused by Exxon in 1989, which polluted the area's coastal habitat, saw Alaska win US$1 billion in compensation. Thus the affected population in the Alaskan case was better compensated for loss to livelihoods than were the Bhopal gas tragedy survivors. More importantly, a sovereign state had been ineffective in winning adequate compensation and penalization as compared to a set of private litigants from a sub-state actor (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005).

Another instance of unsustainable development practices is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in South Africa (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005) The Lesotho Project was executed amidst allegations of rampant corruption, which resulted in assessment studies on its impact on downstream communities not being undertaken. The project made the water unaffordable for the poor, who have endured water inequality since apartheid days. In a landmark judgment in 2002, not only was the CEO of the Highlands Development Authority sentenced, but the Canadian company involved in bribing officials was also heavily fined. Other human rights violations come into focus when large development projects are placed within the social context. For example, the Sardar Sarovar Dam constructed in India offered compensation packages that discriminated against the marginalized and the dispossessed (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005). As the project did not recognize married women as legitimate land owners, it did not allocate land in their name and also failed to pay them compensation for the income loss they suffered due to its implementation.



Multilevel governance offers great potential for realizing the scope of sustainable development. However, different stakeholders are likely to make competing claims on the governance system. Powerful lobbies have a vested interest in aborting attempts to impose curbs on unregulated resource use, while local populations will want their rights to resources located in their vicinity to be protected. The extent to which sustainable development issues are addressed depends on the nature of a country's political system and the clout that the affected constituencies have internally. The domestic dimension requires that in the face of transnational challenges and with networks to address them, the state remain the arena within which the politics of resources are played out.

We must proceed in the belief that there are no ideal solutions or institutional arrangements waiting to be implemented. Approximations to these (as the notion of multilevel governance embodies) would involve processes rife with conflicts and contradictions, and would by no means be an easy endeavor. Such arrangements, when worked out, are likely to entail a range of solutions to address the multiple facets of sustainable development. The intervention, governance, and implementation of these diverse solutions would involve multiple stakeholders with overlapping mandates, a scenario that makes for a messy arrangement but one that is responsive to the concurrent needs of the society and the environment.


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