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The Environment and Global Governance

Can the Global Community Rise to the Challenge?

Uma Lele, Aaron Zazueta, and Benjamin Singer

May 2011, English

In this paper, Uma Lele, Aaron Zazueta, and Benjamin Singer address the nature and magnitude of global environmental challenges and the responses of international environmental and aid agencies. They evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the global governance structure based on selected independent evaluations of the performance of international organizations. Although progress was made in the past in generating international consensus on policy issues, they argue that the current structure is inadequate and that an emergence of strong leadership to deal with the political economy issues of climate change is unlikely. They highlight four major challenges.

First, the traditional programs for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) focus primarily on forest carbon storage, but do not consider biodiversity, watershed protection, forest production, income generation, and other social and cultural values. Although there has been a gradual shift away from the traditional approach to new expanded programs (the so-called REDD+), these projects still need to incorporate some broader issues—such as commodity trades in the world markets, private capital flows, technology transfers, and adaptation to climate change—into their agenda. The authors assert that these factors are most important for poverty alleviation in forested areas where legal or illegal logging takes place. As observed by the authors, the increase in the number of actors involved in global environmental governance has complicated rather than facilitated the process of searching for a consensus on policy priorities.

Second, in addition to refining the REDD+ approach, mitigation in the housing, transport, and energy sectors is needed in all countries. Although investment and financing of mitigation in these sectors by both public and private organizations have been substantial, implementation issues abound, including cultural and institutional resistance to new technology, the lack of supply-side analyses and political economy approaches to reforming policy, and insufficient consultation with affected parties.

Third, with increasing attention to promoting mitigation in developing countries, parallel efforts in developed countries may receive less attention. The costs of mitigation are believed to be less in developing nations than in industrialized ones. Thus, it seems cost-effective to finance emissions reduction in emerging economies where emissions are increasing rapidly and where abatement costs are lower than in developed countries.

The authors estimate that private investors in the United States will have little incentive to invest in emissions reduction technology unless carbon prices reach $40 a ton. Fourth, the capacity for conducting research and development on agricultural and natural resource management is limited and concentrated in developed countries. The biggest challenge will be increasing disbursements for the REDD+ programs. These projects, which target the poor and require patient capital, will be competing with traditional capital investments in the energy sector. In view of these four impediments, Lele, Zazueta, and Singer argue that unless the REDD+ program can broaden its agenda and become more inclusive in decision making, it will have little impact on the global environment. They also suggest coordinating efforts across environmental and aid agencies with joint projects subject to careful monitoring and evaluation.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s Land Policy Conference of 2010 and is Chapter 14 of the book Climate Change and Land Policies.