Tag Archives: oran young

Institutional Dynamics and Emergent Patterns in Global Governance

Can regimes really be viewed as complex dynamic systems? Oran Young makes a nice effort in his latest book “Institutional Dynamics – Emergent Patterns in International Environmental Governance” (MIT Press, 2010). While the study of environmental and resource regimes certainly has a strong track record in political science and international relations, Young makes a novel and detailed analysis of what he calls “emergent patterns” – patterns of institutional change that arise over time from the dynamics of complex systems (pp. 8). Young observes, and unpacks five patterns:

Progressive development: this patterns starts with a framework convention followed shortly by one or more substantive protocols that are amended and extended to accommodate new information. Example: stratospheric ozone, and the Montreal Protocol.

Punctuated equilibrium: this pattern occur in cases where regimes encounter periodic stresses which trigger episodes of regime building and change. Example: The Antarctic Treaty System.

Arrested development: here, regimes get off to a promising start but then run into barriers or obstacles that block further development. Example: climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Diversion: this pattern includes regimes that are created for one purpose, but later are redirected in a manner that runs counter to the original purpose. Example: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Collapse: this pattern includes cases where regimes have been in operation for some time, but then encounters external or internal stresses and transforms into a “dead letter”. Example: North Pacific Sealing Convention.

Young recently published an article [PDF] for Global Environmental Change on this topic. You can also listen to an interview with him here:

Interview with Oran Young [11.40]

The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences

Twitter|@vgalaz
This is one of those important things that seldom make the headlines. While climate change science has received considerable public attention, especially since the controversies around the IPCC scientific assessments, another fact is seldom, if ever, acknowledged – that  a number of international global change programmes are reorganizing to better match the increasing need for policy-relevant, integrated sustainability science.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) as an example, has been reorganizing its work the last years, to better integrate the natural and social sciences and acknowledge the non-linear features of global change. This integration is to be developed by a range of ESSP associated research programmes and projects, including (prepare for an alphabet soup….) DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, GWSP , GECHH, START and MAIRS. This paper lays out the thinking behind the ongoing reorganization.

One important change under the ESSP, and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, is the reorganization of the previous programme Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC, lead by the international institutions legend Oran Young), into a new initiative: the Earth System Governance Project (ESG). The ESG, lead by Frank Biermann in Amsterdam, aims to study the role of multilevel governance, institutions and actor-networks in dealing with global environmental change, and includes several international research centres.

In addition, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations University, is launching a new international initiative based on the insights and framework provided by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS). PECS ambition is to address the following question: ‘how do policies and practices affect resilience of the portfolio of ecosystem services that support human well-being and allow for adaptation to a changing environment?’. PECS will provide scientific knowledge to the newly launched “IPCC-like” Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An article published in PNAS in 2009, lays out the thinking behind the PECS programme.

So, if you ever get the question “where are the scientists that will help save the world”, the answer is easy: it’s ESSP, PECS, DIVERSITAS, ICSU, IPBES, ESG, IHDP, IGBP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, ….

The Crises of Nature, The Nature of Crises

by Victor Galaz

Maybe it’s just part of my personal PCSD (Post Copenhagen Stress Disorder), but it seems like one of the most interesting topics emerging in frontiers of the earth system governance agenda, is that of building global institutions able to deal with not only incremental environmental change (e.g. biodiversity loss, land use change, climate change), but also crises.

Crises events (i.e. unexpected, high uncertainty, cascading dynamics, limited time to act) pose from an institutional point of view, quite different challenges than those normally addressed by the global environmental governance research community. These are related to the need for early warnings, multilevel networked responses, and improvisation. In addition, crises forces us to reconsider the way we look at communication technologies in global environmental governance [e.g. “Pandemic 2.0” in Environment here].

Oran Young’s brief talk from 2008 on adaptiveness and environmental crises, is not about environmental regimes in the conventional sense, but rather about the importance of role plays, simulations, and deliberations around unlikely, but high impact, scenarios:

The Center on International Cooperation (New York University) in addition, just recently launched a report entitled “Confronting the Long-term Crisis – Risk, Resilience and International Order”, that pretty much reiterates the point that debates around global governance are moving towards an agenda that focus not only single global environmental stresses, but also on multiple, interacting social-ecological ones. This issue was also raised by Brian Walker and colleagues in Science last year, and you can watch an interview with him here.

* I owe the catchy title to my colleague Fredrik Moberg at Albaeco.

Part V. What Builds Adaptiveness? Social Networks and International Regimes

What builds a capacity to deal with change and stresses? And where are the research frontiers? While previous posts explored the challenges posed by multiple stresses and shocks, the need to understand planetary boundaries, and the role of innovation, this post deals with the features of adaptiveness at the local and international level.

Listen to an interview (by Eric Paglia at Think Globally Radio*) with Beatrice Crona from Stockholm University, as she elaborates the role of informal social networks in building adaptiveness. You can also listen to a phone interview with Prof. Oran Young from University of California (Santa Barbara) about a range of adaptiveness challenges posed for decision-makers at the international level, and the need to study the dynamics of international environmental regimes.

Beatrice Crona

Beatrice Crona is an assistant professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University), and has published extensively on the role of social networks in natural resources management (“Management of Natural Resources at the Community Level: Exploring the Role of Social Capital and Leadership in a Rural Fishing Community” in World Development,The role of social networks in natural resource governance: What relational patterns make a difference?” in Global Environmental Change).

Interview with Beatrice Crona [6:30]

Oran Young

Prof. Oran Young is a world leader in the fields of international governance and environmental institutions. His scientific work encompasses both basic research focusing on collective choice and social institutions, and applied research dealing with issues pertaining to international environmental governance and the Arctic as an international region. Among the more than 20 books he has authored are The Institutional Dimensions of Environmental Change (MIT Press, 2002) and Governance in World Affairs (Cornell University Press, 1999).

Interview with Oran Young [11.40]


* Think Globally Radio is a debate/discussion style radio program intended to help spread awareness and deeper understanding on issues of the environment and sustainable development. Each episode focuses on an important environmental issue, with experts invited to the studio to provide insight and expertise. Guests on Think Globally Radio typically come from academia, industry, the policy making sector, advocacy organizations, the scientific community, state authorities, and research institutes.