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Regional environmental governance

From Baripedia


The spatial impacts of political developments can very well demonstrate in the great diversity of regional environmental governance. The term "governance" is part of a current trend, prescribed and analysed by a more open system of state cooperation and coordination involving a multiplicity of agreements, particularly non-state agreements. The "region" is a notion that feeds a lot on social construction. Regions are not necessarily obvious territorial units, but they are often territories and spatial units around which there are competing social constructions. The "environment" is the set of natural conditions likely to affect living organisms and human activities being something rather general and abstract.

Regional environmental governance: challenges[edit | edit source]

Today, when we hear about environmental governance, it is in the context of major treaties such as those on climate change, biodiversity and desertification, but not many have happened recently. Nevertheless, there is an impasse at the global level. There was the Rio Treaty in 1992, treaties that follow the model of a framework treaty and protocol giving concrete form to the framework treaty. In the case of climate change, there was only one protocol, the Kyoto protocol.

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Behind the notion of "global", there is a whole history of regional cooperation which began already in the 19th century, but which really saw an explosion in the 1970s especially after the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) following the Stockholm Conference in 1972. UNEP has established a regional seas programme, a series of international treaties for river protection, and the Alpine Convention for governance in mountain regions, but also the Carpathian Convention. In research, most of the work focuses on "global" treaties. Behind the "global" lies a diversity of regional cooperation that is different in a variety of ways.

Regions are not mutually exclusive units in space, that is, there are regions that overlap. This overlap represents a series of issues that are qualitatively different in terms of conflicts between global treaties. Interest in regions has a long history, but there are different approaches to defining a region. The "traditional" approach focuses on security policy studies and regional economic integration studies with the idea of the region as a collection of states. Since the 1980s, new regionalism has brought a more fluid perspective on regions which is an approach that was on the one hand a consequence of the end of the Cold War, but also a whole new political geography weighing on the social construction of regions. Greater openness towards regional units that do not follow state borders, which may include ecoregions.

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This graph shows the different regions as designed by the safety works. These are regional orders constituted by a collection of states.

The global governance of the environment that is built around the major treaties has evolved. These major treaties were created around the Rio conference in 1992. There have been others, but few and a whole series in global environmental governance. It is not surprising that in the context of regional environmental governance, there are trends and changes. There has been great diversity because there are global conventions that have regional components such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes to regional components that focus on Africa. There are also general regional conventions that have an environmental component such as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, there are regional economic integration organisations such as the European Union or NAFTA with environmental agendas.

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We have tried to identify three axes that are not necessarily a linear progression:

  • territoriality - jurisdictional → ecoregional: these are cooperation bodies which focus on countries or which target natural basins defined on a biophysical basis. There is a trend towards the ecoregion and this will increase because climate change is increasingly understood in the consequences it has for different ecosystems.
  • coordination - state → non-state: cooperation where there is strong involvement of civil society actors. There is more and more involvement of non-state actors.
  • substance - monothematic → multi-thematic: with the idea of sustainable development, there is a trend towards multistate. The great challenge remains ecoregional governance, which involves a multiplicity of actors and is multi-thematic.

Regional cooperation: a typology[edit | edit source]

According to UNEP, in the 1990s, nearly 60% of international treaties were regional treaties. As far as global environmental governance is concerned, there is only one globe. The territorial objective is always the global one, while for regional cooperation this is not necessarily the case. As far as accession is concerned, it is not necessarily the case that those who accede to a treaty are the same countries where the treaty applies. We will create another typology giving four very general cases. We differentiated between two variables, namely "adherence" and "target", and we differentiated "contiguous" and "non-contiguous". Often, regional treaties are preferred to global treaties because they are actors on the ground, but also neighbours.

Source : Balsiger et al. 2012.

Nearly 52% of the treaties were found to have contiguous membership and target. This is the case, for example, of the Alpine Convention, which involves neighbours and applies within the countries that have signed it.

Source : Balsiger et al. 2012.

There are a large number of discontinuities. There may be a large number of treaties that deal with common objects, but not necessarily with the same priority of treatment.

Source : Balsiger et al. 2012.

If we look at the difference between the treaties, 60% of the treaties have a contiguous target, but 40% of the treaties have non-contiguous targets, i.e. still having spatial discontinuities.

Since there are many more regional treaties than global treaties, the conventional categories are not sufficient. In other words, international cooperation in the field of the environment is a heterogeneous phenomenon, i.e. the conventional categories are inadequate. Almost two thirds of international agreements are bilateral and of these, some 60% are regional agreements. Most themes are more likely to be dealt with under a regional agreement. The divergence between membership and target leads to power issues (political, economic, discursive).

Since the 1990s, there has been a fall in negotiations of new environmental treaties both in the regional and global context. It has become more and more difficult, also with the important document, to process the data and also because there is a saturation, on the other hand, the transformation from government to governance means that there is less and less state cooperation.

Regional sustainable development[edit | edit source]

The example of the Alps shows that increasingly there is a difference between physical and functional regions. Functional regions are defined on the basis of exchange or services, but there are also regions that are defined on the basis of migration, fauna or migration flows. The Alpine Convention includes functional themes, so we can speak of a system of overlapping functional regions. The question for regional environmental governance and to know in which way the environment fits into sustainable development, namely by focusing on the environment, breaking the logic of sustainable development that wants to integrate the economic, social and environmental, or does focusing on the environment, which is an integral part of sustainable development, lead to a different conceptualization of governance. There is a tension between heterarchy and polycentricity.

Perspective hétérarchique.

The heterarchical perspective understands "heterarchy" as an organizational structure in the form of a network of cooperation without subordination, where each element shares the same "horizontal" position of power and authority. In this governance, there is an overlap and interweaving of functional spaces.

Perspective polycentrique.

The polycentric perspective is to understand "polycentricity" in the field of spatial planning, a principle of organizing a territory around several centres. In governance, there is overlap within a country, coordination across borders.

These two systems of organization coexist and over time, there are changes.

Transboundary parks in Africa[edit | edit source]

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According to Guyot in Géopolitique des parcs (trans) frontaliers en Afrique Australe published in 2006, "there is no park that is truly'natural' [...] there is no natural border". The parks in Southern Africa are a British colonial creation that articulates three types of borders: intercolonial, intra-colonial, and "racial". Over time, the function of these parks changed with the Cold War in particular. Parks have often continued to serve as "buffer zones". Parks linked to South Africa were considered as "buffer zones" to African colonies that underwent Marxist and pro-Soviet revolutions. Parks were used as military bases. In these areas, trade flows have developed.

With the end of apartheid, the function of these parks will be redefined, there is a reversal of functions of these parks. The notion of cross-border peace parks emerges. The idea is to question the notion of borders as "symbols of war, segregation and territorial control". It was primarily a tool for political and economic integration, but also a way to increase the participation of non-state and international actors. Through nature, there can be cross-border links that serve to consolidate nature and establish peaceful relationships.

In terms of land rights, often, in these park projects, one sees a transfer of property to the peasants with constraints of use such as the obligation of protection according to international standards or the opening to tourists.

There is a form of geopolitical domination. The post-apartheid opening makes possible the development of a South African political, economic, tourist, but also "environmental" hegemony on the scale of Southern Africa.

Discursive domination is a continuation of the definition of Africa as "the greatest animal kingdom" where the white tourist can contemplate an "intact" nature and Africans as "habitat". It is a representation that continues in cross-border peace parks in Africa.

For Bram Büscher in Transforming the Frontier. Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa, published in 2013, TPPs are the manifestation of a neoliberal political economy that extends through strategies such as ecotourism and payments for ecosystem services.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Regional governance in the field of the environment gathers many terms. It is an alternative to global approaches. Governance at the regional level underlines the construction of what is "regional

Today's trends are to move towards a fluid territoriality, towards multi-actor cooperation, towards the integration of themes. Behind the term "global environmental politics" lies the fact that almost two thirds of international agreements are regional agreements. Heterarchical and polycentric perspectives reveal different relationships between power and space. Regional environmental governance in Southern Africa raises the question of "the global solution" or a new logic of domination?

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]