What does environmental governance look like? In short: Layered and networked.

By Theresa Jedd

Since I began my Ph.D. at Colorado State University in 2009, I have been interested in international forest politics from a global governance perspective. My interest in this area was sparked by coursework in my home department, political science, in which we debated the various meanings of and policy implications for environmental sustainability and the intricate networks of governmental, civil, and market-based actors involved in the provision of global governance. Additionally, my coursework in ecology and forestry both broadened and deepened some of these same discussions; I found that many of the debates in these different departments were similar. Many of them centered on determining the proper role of science vis-à-vis policymaking and political debate, the contested nature of sustainability, and— most intriguing to me—the way ecological problems present themselves and the various solutions that arise to ameliorate these problems. It is quickly apparent that solutions are not one-size-fits-all, nor do they always arise from one sector.

Instead, some of the most effective governance solutions hinge on combining the authority of states and government, civil society and non-governmental organizations, and market-based actors—a governance “trifecta” which borrows on the strengths and innovations of each. Stemming from these interests and observations, my dissertation work sketches the ‘landscape’ of global forest governance (no pun intended) and outlines the various and sometimes overlapping mechanisms that constitute the nascent global forest “regime.” In brief, the major mechanisms include certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council, UNCED “Forest Principles” and Agenda 21, UN-led REDD-related agreements and carbon-market plans, “soft” (non-binding) international law such as Criteria & Indicator Processes for Sustainable Forest Management, and normative frameworks.

In order to make sense of what has been called a “fragmented” regime, I build upon the global governance architectures literature, with a focus on mechanisms—specifically, hierarchies, markets, and networks. Networked forms, in particular, have been under-studied, while much of the focus has been on hierarchical forms of international cooperation, such as multilateral global initiatives (e.g. the “Forest Principles”), or market-based interactions such as carbon markets or certification schemes. What is missing is a focus on emerging networks.

My work is centered on building our understanding of networked forms of governance—or non-heirarchical relationships across sectors (government, civil society and markets). Networks really are another way to talk about collaboration. Networks, as flexible and transparent mechanisms, offer hope for closing the current gap between environmental problems and governance solutions. Because participants form relationships that are non-coercive and based on trust and information-sharing, it is possible to overcome some of the traditional barriers to cooperation. If the international forests regime, much like the climate regime, has suffered from countries’ unwillingness to make binding commitments, the puzzle emerges: where should we turn for examples of promising governance arrangements?

Here’s somewhere to start. The Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent–the “Crown Roundtable”–is a collaborative conservation project that is in its third year of formally bringing together a diverse body of participants who all share a basic desire for conserving an 18 million acre forested landscape that stretches from Montana to British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. The Crown is home to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, tribal lands, and designated wilderness areas. Public lands comprise 83% of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem (CCE), and are managed for multiple uses, including recreation, biodiversity, water supply, timber extraction, and fish and wildlife habitat. International, national, state/provincial, municipal, and private lands make up the varied ownership and management jurisdictions. These variegated ownership patterns pose management challenges; “jurisdictional fragmentation” makes for complications in that management at the landscape level requires cross-agency collaboration. The Roundtable is a promising arrangement with the aim of minimizing the distance between organizations, agencies, and individuals interested in conservation.

Even though it has only been in place since 2010, with more than 100 participants spanning the public and private sectors, this “network of networks” has already built an impressive foundation for connecting a wide variety of interests in one of the most intact and pristine landscapes in Northern America. Networked governance at the landscape level represents both scaling up and scaling down. In terms of international forest governance, it represents moving away from the global-level UN Forum on Forests’ “Forest Principles” and far-reaching international agreements on sustainability reporting, but it also represents a shift for smaller conservation efforts toward thinking at the larger landscape level. In the case of the Crown ecosystem, for example, smaller private groups such as the Blackfoot Challenge and the Water Matters Society of Alberta, which have already worked hard to unite divergent interests in their locales, and are already functioning networks, must now think about how their interests fit within the even larger geographical, ecological and political scales. If the Crown Roundtable is functioning as it was designed—to “test new forms of governance”—then we should see that landscape-level conservation provides a viable channel to “think regionally, but to act at whatever scale makes sense.”

This innovative class of networked governance solutions could provide a way out of a global cycle of deforestation and resource depletion by uniting diverse actors and interests around a common identity—an international shared landscape.