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The Evolving Context of
Global Environmental Governance

1960s to mid-1980s

mid-1980s to today


Most issues are related to point-source pollution and protection of endangered species. Problems are usually seen as within national boundaries.

Examples include:

  • Air and water quality
  • Noise and nuisances
  • Contaminated land
  • Wastes and recycling
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Radioactivity
  • Marine mammals protection

Most issues are transboundary or global. Pollution problems are generally non-point source. Emphasis is on building international regimes to govern common property resources rather than just domestic legislation.

Examples include:

  • Climate change
  • Food security (topsoil)
  • Fisheries
  • Forests
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Persistent organic pollutants
  • Biotechnology, genetically modified foods
  • Sustainable development/resource management


Simple -- issues are less interlinked and government agencies are primarily negotiators between victims/problem and polluter.

Need is clear and sense of urgency higher because problems and their impacts are more apparent, immediate, and measurable.

Complex -- issues are often cross- cutting, involving a host of affected and interested parties so that negotiations are more difficult.

Need is unclear and sense of urgency lower because problems and their impacts are long-term, more diffused, and less easily perceptible.

Policy actors

Governments and intergovernmental organizations.

Governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental international organizations, nonprofit organizations, citizens groups, indigenous peoples, and industry.

Policy tools

Mainly laws and regulations.

More sophisticated tools other than laws and regulations, e.g., using market forces in emissions trading schemes and modeling.

Public driver

Immediate threats to public health.

Long-term threats to strategic natural resources and common property resources, in addition to public health.

Resolution mode status


Significant progress -- problems are simpler and can be addressed quite effectively through government regulation.


Little progress -- problems are more complex and require more than government regulations to mitigate.

Industry view

Environment is mainly a technical issue.

Environment is an externality so that addressing environmental concerns adds to cost of production.

Environment is mainly a business issue.

Environment holds business opportunities. Environmental actions create financial benefits (efficiency gains) and nonfinancial gains (positive public opinion on corporate social responsibility).


Adequate -- centers round national government agencies and a few intergovernmental bodies and treaties, e.g., UNEP and CITIES.

Higher public confidence in institutions.

Inadequate -- fragmented. Many multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) concluded in the last 25 years but no larger structure or framework to coordinate policies and collective responses among them. Increasing interface with nonenvironmental institutions, such as the multilateral development banks (e.g., World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank) and international trade organizations (e.g., World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement).

Lower public confidence in institutions.


Science as main criteria in assessing problems and guiding mitigation strategies.

Social impact and economic costs are equally important as science in assessing problems and guiding mitigation strategies.

Adapted from OECD (1998), Globalization and the Environment: Perspectives from OECD and Dynamic Non-Member Countries.

Next section: Greater Transparency and Participation by Civil Society

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New World, Old Order?: Front Page
Finding Global Environmental Solutions
The Evolving Context of Global Environmental Governance
Greater Transparency and Participation by Civil Society
Functions Needed for Environmental Governance: What Functions Do You Think Are Important?
Future Paths: A Look at Four Leading Concepts

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Multilateral Environmental Agreements/Secretariats
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Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
Convention on Biological Diversity
Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Convention to Combat Desertification
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