Public Release:  Scholars call for global governance overhaul to ensure Earth's sustainability

University of Toronto

A group of the world's leading environmental scholars are sounding the alarm that human societies need to transform their national and international environmental institutions into a more coherent and robust planetary stewardship model in order to steer away from rapid and irreversible changes to the Earth's subsystems.

University of Toronto political scientist Steven Bernstein is one of the authors of a paper which appears in Science on March 16, 2012.

In the article, 32 international scholars warn that incremental change is not sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed necessary. "Structural change in global governance is needed, both inside and outside the United Nations (UN) system and involving both public and private actors."

Among their recommendations:

  • Reform and upgrade the environmental agencies and programs of the UN to ensure a strong environmental organization with a sizeable role in agenda-setting, norm-development, compliance management, science assessment and capacity-building.

  • More strongly integrate the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development from local to global levels and create a new Sustainable Development Council that gives special predominance to the largest economies - the Group of 20 countries - as primary members that hold 50 per cent of the votes, with the rest distributed among smaller states.

  • Close remaining regulatory gaps at the global level, including in the development and deployment of emerging technology like nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geo-engineering, to ensure transparency, information-sharing, engage multiple stakeholders in policy dialogues and ensure that environmental considerations are fully respected.

Possible reforms of the intergovernmental government system will be a key focus of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio De Janeiro in June 2012.

"The institutions left us from the Earth Summit 20 years ago have proven woefully insufficient for the challenges of this century. Rio +20 presents an historic opportunity to build more effective governance - the only question is whether there is the political will to do so," says Professor Bernstein, director of the Master of Global Affairs Program at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

The Science paper is based on a comprehensive assessment conducted in 2011 by the Earth System Governance Project, the largest social science research network in governance and environmental change. Its international research program explores political solutions and novel, more effective governance systems to cope with the current transitions in the biogeochemical systems of our planet.



Steven Bernstein
Political Science
Global Affairs Program, Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto

Kim Luke
Communications, Faculty of Arts & Science
University of Toronto

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