Global Governance

Towards efficient, transparent and representative sustainability governance

Sustainability is a complex issue, which crosses the borders not only of states, but also of traditional policy fields. It requires efficient governance structures that foster responsible and cooperative action at the global level.

The aim of Rio+20 is to renew and reinforce political commitment to the idea of sustainable development. Twenty years after the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development this means that already existing approaches must finally be put into practice. Implementation of the sustainability principle worldwide, taking into account its multi-dimensionality, however, requires a viable and robust governance architecture, which does not yet exist. The UN system is the sole framework within which the requisite degree of international cooperation can be achieved, but in its current state it is scarcely able to meet the challenges of such an ambitious goal. As things stand, each of the three dimensions of sustainable development – the economy, ecology and social development – has its own institutional structures, whose evolution varies considerably and which are linked only by means of coordinating elements. The outcome of this is fragmentation, inconsistent policies, confusion concerning division of labour, excessive bureaucratic and coordination costs and inefficient use of financial resources, which are inadequate to begin with.

On top of all that, the lack of coherence that characterises the institutional framework of sustainable development overall also characterises its substructures. In particular, international environmental governance is increasingly coming under criticism for the fragmentation of its structures and lack of coordination. Besides the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) there are now almost 500 multilateral environmental agreements and, given the 60,000 or so projects related to the environment under the UN umbrella, even experts cannot keep track. At the same time, despite this plethora of activities the state of the environment has barely improved. Thus the UN system is increasingly at risk of falling behind functional and non-binding approaches which are considered more effective in dealing with global crises and are more in line with national reservations about authorising international institutions to make decisions and take action. However, as a result of these alternatives the UN’s inclusive approach and formal multilateralism are being called into question as such.

An institutional framework in keeping with the concept of sustainable development must integrate economic and social development and environmental protection at the global level. This requires a forum whose mandate covers the three dimensions of sustainable development and which is assigned the relevant competences to monitor and implement the sustainability agenda. Furthermore, there must be more efficient and substantively coherent cooperation between the relevant parts of the UN system and conditions created to enable the institutions of the various pillars to communicate on an equal footing at international level. Among other things, this requires that the environmental policy pillar be given greater political weight. Since implementation of the sustainability agenda needs – besides political will – adequate funding, reform of the governance framework must also ensure that the international financial institutions are sufficiently involved and pay much more attention to the goal of social, ecological and economic sustainability in their activities. Finally, the necessary global structures must be brought into accord with the priorities of sovereign nation-states.

Within the framework of this complex reform process account must be taken of the fact that the current system of global governance, which remains dominated by the Western industrialised countries, has lost a lot of legitimacy by failing to reflect the economic and political gains of some of the large emerging countries. The credibility and thus the success of international sustainability governance depends not least on whether it is possible to carry out the long overdue reforms leading to a more effective, transparent and representative global governance architecture overall.

The goal of the FES is to strengthen the existing system of global politics and to harness it more effectively to fashion globalisation both democratically and socially. By fostering dialogue between decision-makers from industrialised, developing and emerging countries we aim to help realise a legally binding global climate agreement and are committed to reform of the international governance system in the area of sustainability. Moreover, we are involved in efforts to heighten the transparency and inclusivity of global governance structures overall, thereby strengthening the role of international institutions and, at the same time, enabling social policy actors to participate in their further development.


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