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You are here: Home / News / Changing environmental governance in a changing world

Changing environmental governance in a changing world

Climate change, growing consumption and urbanisation, spiralling resource use and new health risks are just some of the global pressures the world will face in the 21st Century. These are the findings from the Assessment of Global Megatrends, launched in November 2010 as part of the State and Outlook of the European Environment Report (SOER) and now published in a new book version.
Conservation: often managed by NGOs

Conservation: often managed by NGOs  Image © Brian Scott

All kinds of organisations should be involved in environmental protection, particularly as environmental problems become more complex and interlinked. However, this change in the nature of governance also brings new challenges, regarding the sources of evidence used in policy-making.

Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA

Changing environmental politics

The pressures on the environment are becoming increasingly interlinked and globalised, requiring a new kind of environmental governance.  The EEA has also released a supporting background report to the Global Megatrends assessment entitled Global Governance: the Rise of the Non-State Actors, which considers the implications of this phenomenon.

It describes how non-state actors such as multinational corporations (MNCs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and scientific organisations are increasingly involved in global governance.

These relatively new actors are now take part in formulating, negotiating and implementing policy at local, regional and global levels.  Evidence of this change can be seen in the number of NGOs holding advisory status to the UN Economic and Social Council, which has increased constantly from approximately 700 in 1992 to almost 3,200 now.

Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA, said: “The involvement of NGOs and other non-state actors in governance has increased dramatically over the last few decades. One of the main discussion points at next year’s Rio 2012 sustainable development summit will be environmental governance, and we expect the model of multi-level, multi-stakeholder governance pioneered within the EU to be increasingly important globally.

“All kinds of organisations should be involved in environmental protection, particularly as environmental problems become more complex and interlinked. However, this change in the nature of governance also brings new challenges, regarding the sources of evidence used in policy-making.”


New challenges on the horizon

Other highlights from the Global Megatrends assessment include:

  • Resource shortages – the EU has identified 14 materials which may be critical over the next 10 years, as resources within the EU are limited. They include several which are essential for hi-tech applications, such as gallium (used in photovoltaics and microchips), tantalum (microelectronic capacitors), germanium (fibre glass cables) and neodymium (high performance magnets). Another critical element is phosphorus, which is needed for manufacturing fertiliser. Many of these materials are only found in a handful of countries, potentially triggering political disputes.
  • Human capital  and quality of life– the populations of most countries will age significantly over coming years, demanding structural societal responses, to adapt to changes such as a shrinking workforce. Nonetheless, many developing countries will have substantial youth bulges in the short term. These demographic differences across the world, combined with growing economic and health disparities and climate change, are an increasing driver of migration.
  • Technology is changing at an exponential rate, driving an “accelerating race into the unknown”. Innovation is of key importance for the environment, but environmental and health risks need to be regulated and managed appropriately. One example of this change is reflected in the growing number of patents in emerging economies. In addition, the mass adoption of new technologies is shortening. The telephone was invented 35 years before it was adopted by a quarter of the US population. This period is becoming shorter – the CD achieved the same widespread use within 12 years, and the Internet only seven years.
  • Pollution is no longer a local or regional issue. Recently a plume of particulate matter-rich pollution was detected over Europe, where it had traveled from Asia across the Pacific, North America and the North Atlantic in only eight to 10 days. These atmospheric ‘brown clouds’ are predicted to increase, particularly across Asia. Chemicals burden to environment and human is rapidly expanding with effects which are poorly understood.

These are some of the contributions from the EEA towards the ongoing preparation for the Rio 2012 global conference on sustainable development, which will focus on the linked aims of creating a green economy and global environmental governance.

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