Summer School 2011 - Environmental governance: Institutions for sustainable development

In this course participants will expand their insights into the core theory and practice of environ-mental governance. The main focus will be on the institutional foundation of environmental governance and how issues at global, national and local scales are linked. We will moreover emphasise specific challenges related to creating sustainable development.

Institutions and institutional development are core aspects of environmental governance. Institutions encompass the rights and responsibilities of the various agents involved – governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, firms etc. They include the rules and norms for how these interact, in terms of developing and putting policies or agreements into practice. They provide the framework that shapes actors’ behaviour and the costs associated with interaction. An overarching aim of this first course will be to develop participants’ understanding of institutional theory and the role institutions play in environmental governance.

The dynamics of environmental governance lies, however, with the agents – especially those that have decision-making power. They shape the priorities and form the institutions that guide behaviour. Nation-states/governments play a key role in environmental governance – both as participants in international negotiations and through formulating the practical policies within their jurisdictions. While governments play a crucial role, other agents are also of great importance, not least business and civil society organisations. This interest structure creates the ‘landscape’ in which environmental governance is crafted. The course will give the participants the opportunity to expand their insights concerning how various interest constellations influence the content of policies in diverse fields of environmental policy-making. 

The concept of sustainable development focuses on the long term capacities of a socio-economic system to maintain and expand the capacity to meet human needs. While the concept is defined in different ways, the issue of inter-generational equity is central. Given the vast inequality within the present generation, it is, however, impossible to study the issue of sustainable development without taking intra-generational aspects into account. 

The role of science is important in environmental governance. The production of scientific knowledge and its interpretation are, however, not neutral. Results are uncertain and open to different kinds of interpretations. Since environmental governance is a field characterised by political conflict, the way knowledge production is organised and incorporated into the decision-making process is another issue of core importance that will be covered.

Environmental policy does not only rely on a natural science basis. It is also very much a social science subject. There are many controversies within the social sciences. Different schools of thought produces a diverse set of interpretations of environmental problems, which concern both the processes causing the problems and the ways we should go about handling them. Participants in the course will be offered the opportunity to engage in discussions about different strands of thought and to critically evaluate their merits.

Environmental governance is both theory and practice. Throughout the course several policy fields will be examined, such as biodiversity, climate change, pollution, and land use. These empirical fields form the ‘blood and flesh’ of environmental governance. Each field has its unique characteristics both physically and interest-wise. In addition to lectures, seminars, discussions and specifically organised case studies, students will also get the opportunity to write papers on concrete areas of environmental governance that they find interesting. 

On the basis of the above the following topics of the course are defined: 

Theoretical aspects

  • The theory of institutions and human action. Coordination, conflict and conflict resolution. Resource regimes
  • Environmental governance – from the local to the global. The role of markets, hierarchies and networks
  • The theory of sustainable development – the economic, social and environmental dimensions 
  • The science – policy interface
  • Linking governance across scales

Empirical applications

  • Biodiversity protection (CBD, WTO/SPS)
  • Climate change (UNFCCC, post Kyoto negotiations, REDD) 
  • Pollution
  • Land use

The empirical cases are chosen to emphasise issues where the global, national and local levels are involved in distinct senses.