Friday, August 12, 2011

Polycentrism, Fragmentation, and the Role of Linkages in the Decade on Biodiversity

The United Nations has declared 2011-2020 the Decade on Biodiversity and the Convention on Biological Diversity has adopted a Strategic Plan for this period. The plan suggests an emphasis on national and regional action with support from the international level. The approach fits generally within the concept of polycentric governance that is receiving increased attention as an approach to climate change (for legal literature advocating this approach, see here and here).



Polycentric governance, a concept that grows out of social science studies of municipal governance in the mid-twentieth century, provides a useful framework for thinking about how to address complex global collective action problems at a time when the chances of agreement on an overarching top-down treaty are nearly nonexistent. It proposes that governance can be more effective by creating multiple nodes of authority, and urges that trust among participants is among the most important factors for success in addressing collective action problems.



The existing structure of international environmental law is highly fragmented and, thus, might lend itself to a more polycentric approach. However, the issues addressed by international environmental law are often closely linked to each other in an ecological sense. Thus, one of the challenges for developing a more effective approach to biodiversity preservation over the Decade of Biodiversity is to ensure that efforts give appropriate attention to these linkages among issues. One way to do this will be to target program development, under CBD or elsewhere, and funding to programs that make progress on multiple fronts. I develop this idea further in an article recently posted to SSRN. This issue linkage based approach to new initiatives can compliment the diffusion of authority characterizing polycentric governance by countering the negative impacts of institutional fragmentation while enhancing the overall effectiveness of internationally financed or initiated programs.

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