Monday, May 4, 2009

Ecology of Governance

by Alan S. Cajes

The fundamental problem that the world faces today is how to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This fundamental problem involves two components: One, the ecological problem, which covers the degradation of the ecological systems and reduction in the natural capital stock, and two, the political problem, which includes ineffective governance. The juxtaposition of the terms "ecology" and "governance" is, therefore, both meaningful and relevant considering that among "the most urgent tasks of our time is to understand the implications of ecology for social and political thought[1]." Here, governance is being summoned to address the ecological problem. On the other hand, ecology, both as a science and a paradigm, is seen as a philosophy that can enhance the art and science of governance.

It is clear that the basic problem has something to do with governance, which may be defined as "the capacity of the institutional environment" to manage the interaction among and between individuals and social groups, as well as the public agencies[2]. Robert N. Stavins explains the relevance of governance to ecological issues:

"The fundamental question that needs to be addressed by public policy in the area of environmental protection as we move into the next century is 'What is the appropriate role of government?' This question emerges along three fundamental dimensions in relation to environmental protection... (1) What is the appropriate degree of government activity; (2) what form should government activity take, and (3) what level of government should be delegated responsibility[3]?"

There is a need therefore to develop a new framework for governance or what might be called a way for governing governance. This suggestion takes off from the observation that "contemporary societies are unprepared for global transformations, and present forms of governance are in varying degrees obsolete and not equipped to cope with the needs and opportunities now emerging." Thus, novel approaches are needed to deal with the recent manifestations of traditional problems like "what constitutes 'the good life' and how governance should promote it [4]"

As an initial idea, two general approaches to governance may be distinguished following Hayward: the reformist approach and the radical approach. The reformist approach generally holds that the ecological problem "can be appropriately and adequately be taken up within prevailing modes of thought and action." The radical approach proposes that a "whole new trajectory of development must be sought: one where economy and technology are ecologically sensitive, one whose values and attitudes are 'ecocentric,' one whose politics are 'ecologistic' and whose view of ecology is deep rather than shallow[5]". These approaches are at the center of the intellectual debate on how to best manage our remaining natural resources to meet the needs of the present generation and the generations yet to come.

Discussions that point towards a rethinking about the role of governments are prevalent in recent literature in economics, politics and sociology. Yehezkol Dror, for instance, made this observation:

"Many governance issues require fundamental reconsideration as a result of global transformations, for example, notions of human rights and responsibilities, cultural pluralism and solidarity. How and to what extent should governance promote moral education? How should advancement of democracy be combined with recognition of the right to prefer alternative regimes? Imaginative political thinking is needed on a wide range of topics to assist governance as it faces unprecedented problems and tasks[6]."

A re-evaluation about the nature and role of governance is in order, especially that it "impacts directly on the lives of poor people who are less able to avoid the adverse consequences of poor governance and therefore bear a disproportionate share of the ill effects of systems and structures of governance that do not reflect their interest[7]." Such need to rethink the meaning of governance is brought about by the emergence of the ecological paradigm, which locates the State within the sphere of a larger system - ecology. And perhaps, it is only through ecological governance -- one that considers the findings of ecology as a science and as a paradigm -- that society can make sense out of the present condition and do something to address the challenges and problems of a new world order.

[1]See Tim Hayward, Ecological Thought, An Introduction (UK: Polity Press, c. 1994).
[2]See Joachim Ahrens, Prospects of Institutional and Policy Reform in India: Toward a Model of the Development State? in Asian Development Review, vol. 15, no. 1, 1997, pp. 111-146
[3] See Robert N. Stavins, Environmental Protection: Visions of Governance for the Twenty-First Century, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, July 23, 1998.
[4] See Yehezkel Dror, The Capacity to Govern, Report to the Club of Rome (Executive Summary). Ciculo de Lectores, July 1994.
[5]See Hayward, 1994.
[6]See Dror, July 1994.
[7] See Andres Gouldie, Is a Good Government Agenda Practical? An Approach to Governance. Talk given at Overseas Development Institute, March 25, 19998.

No comments: