GLOBE-Net, April 30, 2014 – Citizens who expect their governments to lead on sustainability have been badly disappointed in recent years. Due to a succession of largely ineffectual international climate conferences and the failure of many nations to pass meaningful climate legislation, progress in governance for sustainability has been lackluster at best.
So concludes the latest report from the World Watch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues.
It concludes that public policy leadership, such as it is, has come from the bottom up rather than the top down.
“Action on climate change, species loss, inequity, and other crises is being driven by citizens’, women’s, and grassroots movements around the world, often in opposition to the agendas pursued by governments and big corporations,” it notes in a press release that accompanies its State of the World 2014 Report.
[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ bcolor=”d2d0d1″ bgcolor=”dbdbdb” image=”null”]That’s not to say leadership is absent; it just often comes from the bottom up rather than the top down. [/stextbox]
Local governments are increasingly important players in the movement for global sustainability, says the report. They should be seen not as extensions of nations, but as independent and often more effective entities. In many cases, local governments have tackled environmental and sustainability issues before the relevant national government.
This report, commemorating the Worldwatch Institute’s 40th anniversary, examines what Governing for Sustainability really means.
Prepared by a stellar team of international experts, the report highlights the responsibility of political and economic actors to achieve sustainability, emphasizing the strength of citizens to make significant sustainability changes and showing why effective governance systems need to be inclusive and participatory, allowing members to have a voice in the collective decision making.
“Governments today cannot consistently control themselves because they are decimated by a plague of corruption that devours the public interest in virtually every political system,” says David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and State of the World 2014 contributing author.
“Effective government, in its various forms, will require an alert, informed, ecologically literate, thoughtful, and empathic citizenry,” he added.
[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”left” width=”300″ bcolor=”d2d0d1″ bgcolor=”dbdbdb” image=”null”]Climate change is not our biggest problem. Climate change governance is a more immediate concern.[/stextbox]
The report’s authors examine the potential for improving governance by analyzing a variety of trends, such as local and regional climate initiatives, energy democracy, and corporate responsibility. They argue that sustainability depends on action in both the economic and political spheres.
Financial industries need to serve as public stewards again, states the report. The financial system should be seen not merely as an industry but also as a public service. The proper role of the financial system is to facilitate shared prosperity in society.
In this regard, it notes, unions can help ensure that the transition to sustainability is socially just. Most importantly, citizens must take responsibility and empower themselves.
The authors analyze a variety of trends and proposals, including regional and local climate initiatives, the rise of benefit corporations and worker-owned firms, the need for energy democracy, the Internet’s impact on sustainability, and the importance of eco-literacy.
The consistent thread throughout the book is that informed and engaged citizens are the key to better governance.
Good Intentions are not enough
Environmental advocacy has frequently focused on voluntary individual acts and harnessing markets for environmental ends, notes the report, but they cannot be seen as the whole story.
Effective government action, public policy, and community cooperation at all levels are necessary to ensure that corporate interests, social malaise, and corruption do not overwhelm good intentions. It is time to craft a system of governance that will protect our present society while laying the foundation for a sustainable future, says the report.
[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ bcolor=”d2d0d1″ bgcolor=”dbdbdb” image=”null”]Public policy must be grounded in ecological literacy, or a familiarity with the science of environmental issues.[/stextbox]
“Ultimately, it seems to us, all governance begins with individuals in communities. Humans are no more isolated actors in politics than they are the independent molecules of mainstream economic theory,” says State of the World 2014 co-director Tom Prugh.
“Pressure to improve governance, at every level, can come only from awakened individuals, acting together, dedicated to making their communities sustainable places,” adds State of the World 2014 co-director Michael Renner.
“From there, it may be possible to build communities in a way that affords every person on Earth a safe and fulfilling place to live, and offers future generations the same prospect.”
The report concludes that the time for addressing environmental, economic, and social dimensions separately is long past. Sustainability is only achieved by applying what we know about good governance to the economic and political relationships that bind us to each other and to the planet we live on.
State of the World 2014’s findings are being disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders, including government ministries, community networks, business leaders, and the nongovernmental environmental and development communities. For more information on the project, visit here