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The essentially open-textured quality of political discourse that an equivocal (equi-vocal) norm suggests does not simply allow for many voices to be heard – it mandates it. Likewise, governance benefits from the pragmatism inherent in a norm that eschews absolutes and formulaic solutions in favor of bespoke designs, tailormade for environmental problems that vary in character by location and time. The forces of globalization make legislative oversight of administrative action difficult, if not impossible, by multiplying accountability challenges across multiple governance levels and processes. Using existing administrative competencies, a deliberative model of transnational democratic accountability can build on the functions that intergovernmental organizations already perform tolerably well without relying on new legislative inputs or continuous monitoring by elected officials. Two features of democratic deliberation – its tendency to reduce moral disputes and to promote consensus – can reduce the costs of organization maintenance in stakeholder communities that offer non-legislative alternatives for administrative oversight. The EU is a pioneer of transnational democratic oversight and administrative accountability, and its incremental and trial and error innovations, as inadequate as they still are, offer lessons for the problem of accountability in the absence of effective legislative authority.
Over the course of a little more than a decade, an unusually coherent and comprehensive literature has emerged on the demands of effective earth system governance. Informed by the insight that humanity is no longer (and can no longer be) a spectator with respect to global environmental change, the concept of earth system governance recognizes that human actions have had an impact on our planet that has driven, and is driving, its primary ecological systems beyond the range of their natural variability. As a result, humans face a challenge like no other – the necessity to actively and self-consciously govern the environment that sustains us.
Deliberative democracy is well-suited to the challenges of governing in the Anthropocene. But deliberative democratic practices are only suited to these challenges to the extent that five prerequisites - empoweredness, embeddedness, experimentality, equivocality, and equitableness - are successfully institutionalized. Governance must be: created by those it addresses, applicable equally to all, capable of learning from (and adapting to) experience, rationally grounded, and internalized by those who adopt and experience it. This book analyzes these five major normative principles, pairing each with one of the Earth System Governance Project's analytical problems to provide an in-depth discussion of the minimal conditions for environmental governance that can be truly sustainable. It is ideal for scholars and graduate students in global environmental politics, earth system governance, and international environmental policy. This is one of a series of publications associated with the Earth System Governance Project. For more publications, see www.cambridge.org/earth-system-governance.
In the Anthropocene, earth system governance must be effective both within and across identities, and the inescapable equivocality of democratic governance means that discussions can never be closed but merely transformed as old problems and concerns give way to new. The experimental quality that effective environmental governance must possess cannot be a transient quality but, rather, must be a permanent feature of the landscape of democratic decision-making, in which success is realized in a context of identity politics. To take place without distortion and without posing systemic disadvantage, and for intergroup differences to be accommodated, substantial equality of access to decision-making and equitable allocation of fundamental capabilities are essential prerequisites. Institutional arrangements must provide for empowerment of those whose identities are otherwise ill-favored and the embeddedness of environmental decision-making in the communities of fate where people actually determine their shared life experiences.
More than just democracy in the form of aggregation of votes, deliberative democratic practice makes possible the learning, local knowledge, and engagement required by enlightened environmental governance under the conditions associated with the concept of the Anthropocene.
In the context of earth system governance today, experimentation is no longer merely a virtue but a basic survival skill. Administrative professionals – understood to include administrators national, international, and subnational, both governmental and nongovernmental, across the entire range of policy arenas – are in a position to engage in this best practice for learning from experience, perhaps to a greater degree than any other agents of governance. Protected by both their relative anonymity and their institutional affiliations, they enjoy the dual benefits of relative invisibility and administrative discretion. Administrative professionals can experiment with social and political arrangements that are not only adaptive but are also democratic and effective in reconciling humans to their environment. The volatility of their environments has meant that they face devolved responsibility in governance for both acquiring resources and achieving results. Administrative professionals succeed by being scavengers par excellence, such that approaches that work well anywhere are destined eventually to be tried everywhere.
To endure, policies and institutions that both protect the environment and promote human security must have an architecture based on principles that lead to creation and maintenance of a rational relationship between human places and human practices. Flexibility and open texture allow meaning to change and endure over time, as both times and people change, and to remain embedded in its cultural context. In every corner of the globe, people have devised small pieces of institutional architecture that show remarkable creativity and potential for expansion. The objective should not be replicating these experiences at grander and higher scales, nor achieving greater levels of consistency or integration in governance architecture. Instead, consilience is what should be sought in our environmental governance architecture – a greater level of coherence in our knowledge. This is the level of democratic discourse, which depends on a more solid and substantive level of explanation – grounded in holistic social experimentation – for both its subject matter and its evaluative criteria.
If there is no corner of the natural world that is beyond human influence, then no corner of the world lies beyond the human responsibility implied by our moral agency. The question of agency is critical to any strategy of global political transformation one might imagine. Agency is not merely a matter of knowledge (beginning with self-knowledge) or autonomy (as the absence of restraint or coercion) or both. Effective practice presumes capability. For an agent to be held responsible, the capability of effective action must exist. Agents of governance are not merely political actors. They are, rather, any authoritative actors who have both the legitimacy and capacity to act. The agency of those outside of the core governance institutions and processes should not be limited to a support role. Doing so both degrades the quality of decision-making and marginalizes those whose agency should be enhanced by self-governance.
Access and allocation firmly ground the concept of human security in the larger context of social justice, posing serious challenges for equitable earth system governance. The focus on capabilities brings together a range of ideas addressed inadequately in traditional approaches to the economics of welfare. The capabilities approach highlights the importance of real freedoms in the assessment of persons’ relative level of advantage, promoting a more realistic balance of materialistic and non-materialistic factors in evaluating human welfare and a concern for the distribution of substantive opportunities within society. Research on access to and allocation of environmental resources in a deliberative system of democratic governance builds on and extends an existing limited research literature on the implications of deliberative democratic practices for environmental justice policy and governance. More equitable access to and allocation of environmental “goods” should be a focus for a next generation of environmental research characterized by improved normative understanding as well as more meaningful and reflexive potential for sustainability transformation.
The concept of consensus must be understood in a more complex and contingent way than it often is. Consensus is that level of agreement among all parties to the decision process that allows them to “hang together” as they move from one stage of that process to the next. Consensus in governance is not, and never could be usefully thought of as, synonymous with simple unanimity. The major elements of consensus – the normative, the political, and the social – all relate to different kinds of agreement, each with its own regulative standard.
Analysis of the concept of transparency provides an illustration of the role of consensus in democratic earth system governance, which must confront five core analytical problems identified in the first Science Plan of the Earth System Governance Project: architecture, adaptiveness, accountability, access and allocation, and agency. The character of each distinct analytical problem of governance places its own demands and limitations on governance by transparency policy.
Earth system governance is not for the faint of heart. To a considerable extent, governance is a concept that makes sense only within an established legal framework. A plausible argument can be made that no such framework in its modern, constitutional sense even exists outside the confines of the sovereign nation-state (Rabkin 2005). But international law is a complex system of treaties, institutions, and informal governing arrangements that already does exhibit adaptive self-organizing and emergent properties (Kim and Mackey 2014). Greater adaptive capacity might be found, however, by increased reliance on the development of law that is consciously experimental, equivocal, and embedded – a pattern of international law development based on a legal tradition, no less primitive than is contemporary international law, from which emerged a system of law that built an empire and today governs (in whole or part) the lives of nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. This tradition traces the law back, not to scriptural duties or sovereign declarations, but to a gradual and organic accretion of precedent – a process that, more easily than most others, might be imagined as a pattern for the development of global and international law that is truly equivocal, experimental, and embedded.
Environmental rights are a category of human rights necessarily central to both democracy and effective earth system governance (any environmental-ecological-sustainable democracy). For any democracy to remain democratic, some aspects must be beyond democracy and must not be allowed to be subjected to any ordinary democratic collective choice processes shy of consensus. Real, established rights constitute a necessary boundary of legitimate everyday democratic practice. We analyze how human rights are made democratically and, in particular, how they can be made with respect to matters environmental, especially matters that have import beyond the confines of the modern nation state.