Institutional Framework for Sustainability

The notion is simply that our recommendations in the "Institutional Framework for Sustainability" need to recognize the institutional reality (and legitimacy) of the multiple faces of global intergovernmental governance; but also that the forces giving rise to that reality are forces that civil society broadly writ (including all the major groups) are uniquely positioned to overcome. Happy to see these thoughts reflected as text takes shape, and happier still to stimulate discussion... Tom
IEG Topics 2, 5 & 6
The following provides a general overview of the rational for devoting specific attention in any global institutional changes to the roles being cultivated by major groups and civil society, generally, in advancing environment and sustainability. These ideas are developed more fully in the attachments:

  • Governance & Sustainability – TRJ.ppt – PowerPoint with some simple schematics.
  • tomjacobfinal.pdf – “A Brief Thought Piece:  An Evolutionary Perspective on Sustainable Development Governance” – a more complete discussion, packaged by The Stakeholder Forum.

A Common Theme:  Civil Society’s Role.  IEG Issue Forum topics #2 (IEG Options), 5 (IEG & Green Economy) and 6 (Institutions for Sustainability) all tap similar dimensions of institutional governance. None has yet really been coherently formulated; and there will be significant differences that will emerge among us as we dig deeper into them. One common theme among us will be the integral role civil society (broadly writ to encompass all major groups, inc. Business & Industry, Labor, Indigenous Peoples, etc.) must play if we are to significantly enhance the pace of progress toward global sustainability.

A Common Reality:  It’s Not a Blank Slate.  In considering the role of civil society in governance, it is important to remind ourselves that we are not writing on a blank slate. The global, regional and national governmental landscapes of today reflect deeply invested realities in all three dimensions of the sustainability triad. Neither are we starting from scratch in terms of change. The evolution of institutional responses to environmental concerns, specifically, and sustainability more generally has been substantial since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in all corners of the World. It is perhaps fair to say that none of those institutional responses has been more significant than the rise of civil society, globally.

The Key Driver: Nation-States in a Globalizing World
Any change in the “Institutional framework for sustainable development” must begin with a realistic view of the Institutional World and the forces shaping our global challenges. That is the starting point. The fundamental dynamic is a huge tension between the nation-state and the forces of globalization. There are certain characteristics of each that dominate the question of global institutional structure, and which point toward the key roles to be played by civil society:
The Nation-State

  • The nation-state remains the dominant organizing institution of governance and will continue to be the key decision-making level.
  • Nation-states are inherently limited in their ability to directly impact global forces, as each is constrained by its own sovereign bounds.

Every nation-state has a first priority to defend its unique and valued social, economic and institutional realities. The institutional realities of global intergovernmental governance will continue to reflect the “multiple realities” of the nation states that have shaped the global intergovernmental architecture.
Forces of Globalization

  • Globalization is driven by dramatic acceleration in communication, transport, and market linkages that transcend sovereign bounds.
  • Trans-boundary impacts on environment and sustainability have resulted; but these are least-amenable to direct regulatory governance.

Governments face a very high hurdle in accepting extraterritorial regulation of their key institutions. While there are many MEAs, agreements to truly implement such regulation are enormously challenging and often erode under pressures of compromise driven by the systematic protection of sovereign interests by the nation-states.

Civil Society: Adding the Global Dimension
The important dimension of civil society is that, compared to the governments, it has been able to leverage the technological, transportation and market linkages driving globalization across sovereign boundaries.  To be sure, each of the major groups does so with different ends and means, but notionally, these strengths fall into two categories.  Civil society is able to mobilize ideas and (esp. Business & Industry) is able to mobilize resources across sovereign bounds.  It is in the common-interest of the nation-states and civil society that any shaping of “Institutional framework for sustainable development” be designed to leverage these strengths.
These strengths are already evident, globally. The global proliferation of civil society organizations of all types and their convergence around common concerns ranging from rights of indigenous peoples to climate change to global standards emerging independently of governments through vehicles such as ISO, all testify to the efficacy of these global linkages in mobilizing ideas.
Similarly, the mobilization of resources, esp. by business & industry, has long been a notable dimension of globalization.  Increasingly, we are seeing this ability to mobilize resources focusing on global diffusion of environmental and sustainability practices.  Globalization of markets and supply chains is most efficient when practices are consistent and applied consistently.  That is why you’ve seen proliferation of environmental practices within global enterprises (e.g. the numerous environmental practice standard tailored to specific industry sectors), and are seeing those practices increasingly driven into value chains that penetrate deeply around the globe.
The pace of such change and extension into more of the social dimensions of sustainability are the latest evolutionary developments in this trend.  Again, this is driven heavily by the global mobilization of ideas propagated largely by civil society broadly.  This has typically led the evolutionary chain, shaping ethical expectations with nation-states adapting to those changing expectations.  The challenge in the current context is to accelerate and leverage these evolutionary changes.  That demands capitalizing on the unique global capabilities of all the major groups and civil society, generally.  This should be a primary aim of any change in “Institutional framework for sustainable development.
Tom Jacob
T. R. Jacob & Associates, LLC