Governance, overuse and under-provision of global commons
Mercator Research on the Global Commons and Climate Change
We define global commons as natural resources requiring global cooperation for their sustainable use and provision, such as the atmosphere, land and forests. Global economic growth has led to the overuse of these assets though: The atmosphere has been overburdened as a depository for greenhouse gases leading to climate change, increasing global demand for agricultural products and urban sprawl has intensified pressure on land and led to rising food prices and the destruction of rain forests.
In addition to this overuse, there is an under-provision of the so-called social commons. These are public goods providing access to health services, education, clean water, sanitation, energy, or transport and communication infrastructure. They are essential for human well-being as the level of provision of these goods has significant effects on both growth and inequality. We therefore include them in our understanding of global commons and in our research work (see figure). Consequently, the role of cities and the infrastructures provided therein is another focus of MCC’s research.
Figure 1: The MCC´s understanding of the global commons (Source: MCC)
The challenge: Governance of global commons
The 21st century challenge of managing the global commons is twofold: first, avoiding the overuse of global commons where no effective governance mechanisms regulating access and use are yet in place and, second, overcoming the under-provision of public goods, such as certain infrastructure, that are essential for human well-being.
To maintain global prosperity and human well-being, a technological, social and political transformation is required that establishes a sustainable governance of global commons. There are three aspects making that inherently difficult:
- First, global commons are either outside national jurisdiction or their conservation and sustainable use conflicts with national sovereignty and regulation. Their use may affect different levels of governance in distinct ways, often requiring global cooperation.
- Second, global commons also interact with one another, i.e. management of one common will most likely impact the use of others, thereby making effective governance a complex task.
- Third, the implementation of policies to govern global commons will conflict significantly with existing patterns of resource use, sovereignty rights and related well-established interests.
While Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and others have made great progress towards understanding the management of local common pool resources, Ostrom pointed out the need for more research into the governance of global commons in order to face the challenge of establishing global institutions to manage biodiversity, climate change, and other ecosystem services.
MCC addresses these multiple-objective, multi-level commons governance problems jointly. It aims to assess trade-offs, to exploit synergies and to address the distributional dimension of the challenge.
The study “Advocates or cartographers? Scientific advisors and the narratives of German energy transition” just published by Anna Leipprand and Christian Flachsland from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) together with Michael Pahle from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in the scientific journal “Energy Policy” examines political narratives, which had originally been in conflict with one another, and that have gradually converged over time. “The studies have supported this process by building bridges between the opposing positions,” says lead author Anna Leipprand. “Together, they now form the basis for a kind of political map of the energy transition, which shows different policy paths and their respective consequences against the background of different values.”
On the basis of their analysis, the authors also suggest that the accelerating debate on German coal phase-out should become a new focus of scientific policy advice. “The current discussion about the path and—primarily—the speed at which the end of coal should come is very controversial,” says Flachsland. “However, if we make explicit the values behind the political proposals, it is easier to find compromises.” The new MCC study is an example of empirical research on the theoretical model of scientific policy advice, which the institute has specifically created for that purpose: the “Pragmatic Enlightened Model” (PEM) assumes that science experts, decision-makers and the society successively learn from each other in a continuous interplay. Together, they can explore alternative policy paths and their chances and risks in order to make social conflicts, synergies and uncertainties transparent, and to present viable political solutions. Leipprand, Anna; Flachsland, Christian; Pahle, Michael (2017): Advocates or cartographers? Scientific advisors and the narratives of German energy transition. Energy Policy, volume 102, pages 222–236.
Climate change, equity and the Sustainable Development Goals: an urban perspective in Environment and Urbanization, 30.01.2017 Peer Review, Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport. Reckien, D.; Creutzig, F.; Fernandez, B.; Lwasa, S.; Tovar-Restrepo, M.; Mcevoy, D.; Satterthwaite, D.
Climate change is acknowledged as the largest threat to our societies in the coming decades, potentially affecting large and diverse groups of urban residents in this century of urbanization. As urban areas house highly diverse people with differing vulnerabilities, intensifying climate change is likely to shift the focus of discussions from a general urban perspective to who in cities will be affected by climate change, and how. This brings the urban equity question to the forefront. Here we assess how climate change events may amplify urban inequity. We find that heatwaves, but also flooding, landslides, and even mitigation and adaptation measures, affect specific population groups more than others. As underlying sensitivity factors we consistently identify socioeconomic status and gender. We synthesize the findings with regard to equity types – meaning outcome-based, process-oriented and context-related equity – and suggest solutions for avoiding increased equity and justice concerns as a result of climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation. doi.org/10.1177/0956247816677778
Climate and Development Working Group
13.12.2016 Addressing policy credibility problems for low-carbon investment 2016, Peer Review, Task Force Public Economics for the Global Commons, Task Force Public Finance, Klimaschutz und Entwicklung, Michael Jakob, Jan Steckel, Director, Ottmar Edenhofer. A combination of characteristics of the climate change problem make the credibility of future commitments crucial for climate policy: the long lifetimes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and of energy infrastructure requires a long term perspective; the inherently global aspects of the atmosphere as a public good requires international coordination; decarbonizing the global economy depends on the incentives for investment in innovation; and persistent uncertainty— both about the problem and potential solutions—necessitate adapting to new information. Even in a first best world, climate policy design needs to navigate a tradeoff between making commitments that are sufficiently credible to stimulate transformation and retaining flexibility to adjust. The goal of this paper is to use the experience in other policy areas to assemble a broad set of possible remedies for addressing credibility problems and then characterize the advantages and disadvantages of each. We first review the theory and practice of addressing credibility problems in monetary, fiscal, and trade policy. From this we derive a taxonomy of four policy design categories. As a preliminary example, we then apply this framework to assess the credibility of climate targets made by selected developing countries as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process. Finally, we evaluate the items in the taxonomy as policy alternatives in terms of their effects on incentives for investment in low-carbon technology. doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.12.004