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The Emergence of Global Environmental Politics. How climate change became a central socioeconomic issue. Take away concepts. What is the “Tragedy of the Commons” and how relevant is it to modern environmental issues? What factors led to the rise of the importance of environmental politics?

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the emergence of global environmental politics

The Emergence of Global Environmental Politics

How climate change became a

central socioeconomic issue

take away concepts
Take away concepts

What is the “Tragedy of the Commons” and how relevant is it to modern environmental issues?

What factors led to the rise of the importance of environmental politics?

Factors affecting global environmental policy development.

Compare and contrast conventional vs. ecological views of economic activity.

Compare and contrast scientific vs. political motivations.

What is an environmental policy life cycle?

biosphere2 a lesson in humility
Biosphere2 - A lesson in humility

$200 million facility designed to be a self-sustaining life-support system.

3.2 acre enclosed facility, many ecosystems, water and air recycling

Experiment in sustainability and complex systems.

Eight scientists sealed into Bio2 in 1991 - for 2 years.

What happened?


O2 levels dropped (due to unset concrete), additional O2 pumped in. CO2 levels dangerously high.

Nutrient cycling didn’t work effectively

Tropical birds died after the first freeze.

19 of 25 small mammals became extinct.

Facility overrun by Arizona ant which killed off introduced insects. Insect pollination stopped.

Cost: $200 million for eight people over 2 years:

  • $12.5 million per person annually failed to do what the earth does for “free”
tragedy of the commons metaphor
“Tragedy of the Commons” metaphor

Garrett Hardin (1968) seminal article:

Ruination of a limited resource when confronted by unlimited access by an expanding population.

Modern reference to Medieval English farmers’ use of pasture “commons”

premise common property resource management crm
Premise…(Common property resource management: CRM)

All farmers have access to enclosed “commons”

Farmers motivated ($) to maximize herd

  • Increased herd --> real unit profits
  • No (apparent) cost for commons use

Population growth coupled to increased resource use leads to overgrazing, erosion, eventual destruction of the commons.

Conclusion: “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.

common pool resource characteristics
Common-Pool Resource Characteristics

Common Pool Resources:

  • Exclusion is difficult and joint use involves subtractability


  • Ability to control access to resource
  • For many global problems it is impossible to control access


  • Each user is capable of subtracting from general welfare
  • Inherent to all natural resource use.

How do these apply to Hardin’s premise?

hardin s proposed solutions
Hardin’s proposed solutions


…but natural ecosystems suffered most in communist countries

Privatization, or free enterprise

…doesn’t work efficiently either

four property rights systems
Four property rights systems

State Property

  • Total control over (national) resources, but dangers of over-regulation (Ex: Forests).

Communal Property

  • Self-regulation works at local levels (Ex: Native American salmon)

Private Property

  • Rational exploitation of resource. Costs & benefits accrue to the same owner (Ex: Oil deposits).

Open Access

  • Open oceans, atmosphere, biota (ex: whales - depletion occurred rapidly).Most global problems..

“Pasture model” very provocative but not complete:

  • Assumes open access and no excludability
  • Demand was allowed to exceed supply, unchecked.
  • Resource users were incapable of altering the rules.
examples of common pool resources
Examples of “Common-Pool Resources”
  • Global oceans and atmosphere
  • Global Climate system
  • Biodiversity
  • Ocean Life
  • Deep seabed minerals
  • Stratospheric ozone layer
  • Antarctica

What are some others?


Common-Pool Resources of Earth

Costanza et al., 1997

putting a price on nature
Putting a Price on Nature

Costanza et al., 1997

comparing goods services
Comparing Goods & Services

The planet provides many goods and services for “free”

Annual cost were we to do it: $33 Trillion

Nearly all of this is outside the market system.

Global GDP (1997): $18 Trillion

how is pollution a commons problem
How is pollution a “Commons” problem?

Inverse of pastureland problem (putting in, not taking away)

Unit cost of polluting is much less than cost of proper disposal.

Like other “Commons”, problem is compounded by population

The propriety of actions must be evaluated within the context of current conditions

and shared resources
…and “Shared” resources

Extend across exclusion boundaries:

  • Non-renewable resources
  • Migratory animals
  • Complex ecosystems (rainforests)
  • Global atmosphere and ocean quality
  • Regional seas, lakes, rivers
challenges of the global commons
Challenges of the Global Commons
  • Global = scaled up problem
  • Global = culturally diverse
  • Global = interwoven resources
  • New discovery - accelerating rates of change
  • Requirement of unanimous agreement as collective choice rule
  • Time is not our friend

Ostrom et al., 1999

science and policy communities
Science and Policy Communities

Scientific enterprise

  • Inquisitorial system
    • Data collection, interpretation, revision
    • Data --> hypothesis --> theory --> law
  • Search for “truth”, following physical “laws”
  • “Truth” through data collection, estimates of certainty
  • Medium: Published papers
  • Motivation: Recognition and advancement
  • Accountability: Peer review
  • Time-frame: Open-ended
science and policy con t
Science and Policy, con’t


  • Adversarial system
  • Search for compromise, not “truth”
  • Compromise through negotiation
  • Medium: Instruments: Convention, Protocol, Frameworks, MOU’s
  • Motivation: Legal compliance, achieving settlement
  • Accountability: Legal and public opinion
  • Time-frame: Usually fixed, rigid

Scientists and policy-makers have very different motivations, time-frames, accountabilities, and languages.

Differing motivations: Inquisitive vs. Adversarial -

  • a dominant source of misinformation.

Successful resolution of global environmental problems needs the input from both communities.

The problem needs people who can speak with/to both communities.

This is where you come in...

what factors led to the the rise of environmental politics
What factors led to the the rise of environmental politics?

Confluence of:

  • Global public opinion
  • Degraded urban (and natural) environments
  • economic pressures
  • scientific observations and monitoring
  • “well-timed” natural climate anomalies
  • International political leadership
environmentalism emerges
Environmentalism emerges

Social movement in the 1960’s

  • 1963: Silent Spring (R. Carson)
  • 1967:Stockholm Conference (114 countries)
  • 1967: Apollo photographs of Earth
  • 1970: first Earth Day

The pollution paradigm

  • Local/regional (not global as many issue are today)
    • Air, water, food, diversity
  • Concerns: poisons, litter, population, overexploitation
  • Cleanup: the zero standard

Source: Dr. Paul N. Edwards (Univ. Mich)

1970s pivotal decade
1970s: Pivotal Decade

Earth Day (1970)

  • EPA was established

Beginnings of sustained climate science and policy interaction

Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows, 1972)

  • long-term global trends in population, economics, and the environment.

Supersonic Transport controversy (1970’s)

  • Front page news on Ozone depletion
toward a global vision by way of a national one
Toward a Global Vision (by way of a national one)

UN Conference on Human Environment (1972)…Studies on:

  • Critical Environmental problems (1971)
  • Man’s Impact on Climate (1972)
  • Global monitoring networks for CO2, pollutants

1973: Natural climate anomalies

  • Sahel Drought, Peruvian anchovy failure
  • Soviet Wheat crop failure

1974: Oil Crisis

  • Dept. Energy Formed
  • 1977: Carbon Dioxide Impact Assessment
    • First sustained anthropogenic climate change research effort
events leading to enhanced awareness of climate change
Events leading to enhanced awareness of Climate Change
  • Human modification of the atmosphere
  • Radioactive fallout, (since 1940’s, 1960’s)
  • Supersonic Transport and strat. clouds (1970’s)
  • Ozone depletion (EPA bans aerosol can CFC’s, 1976)
  • “Nuclear Winter” debates (1982-1985)
  • Chernobyl (1986) - impacts W. Europe
  • Antarctic Ozone hole (1985)
  • Summer, 1988: Heat, drought, water shortages
  • Sea ice and ice sheet melting
the usgcrp

US Global Change Research Program

  • Proposed by Reagan in 1989 (Bush, 1990)

~$2 billion annual budget

  • About half of the total world research effort
  • Predominantly satellite-based programs

Allows administrations to learn more about the problem, potential impacts, and mitigation strategies (but significant US policy action has been deferred)

taking action ipcc
Taking Action: IPCC

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • Established in 1988
  • UN Environmental program
  • World Environmental Program

Assess the “State of the Art” in climate science

Represents all interested parties

  • Scientists, Governments, NGO’s

“The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

ipcc con t
IPCC (con’t)

2500 of the world’s leading climate scientists and technical experts contribute reports.

Produce comprehensive and balanced assessments of climate change science, impacts, and adaptation and mitigation options.

Extensive peer-review and governmental review ensures scientific credibility and policy relevance.

ipcc reports
IPCC Reports

four IPCC Reports:

1st 1990

2nd 1995

3rd 2001

4th AR 2007

Each Report has 3 Working Groups:

  • Scientific Aspects of Climate Change
  • Socioeconomic impacts and Adaptability
  • Mitigation measures
economics and environmental policy old
Economics and Environmental Policy: Old

Economics and resource availability/quality are linked fundamentally, but how?

But most economic systems do not reflect resource use or ecological degradation

  • “Frontier Economics” : Nature consists of a set of effectively unlimited resources; humans are separate from ecology.
  • Based on Neoclassical economics, which assumes:
    • Free market will always maximize social welfare
    • There is an infinite supply of resources (as sinks for waste)
      • (Provided the free market is operating and healthy)

This view has been under attack since the 1960’s

gnp gdp are misleading measures
GNP/GDP are misleading measures

GNP/GDP poor measures of economic and societal health:

  • They hide (do not include) the environmental effects of producing and distributing goods.
  • They don’t include the depletion of natural resources/assets, environmental “services” upon which all economies depend.

Actually including these (and related) costs would fundamentally alter economies

economics and environmental policy new
Economics and Environmental Policy: New

Paradigm shift (1970s-present): Neoclassic Economics --> Sustainable Development

Economic growth cannot proceed at the expense of earth’s natural capital and life-support systems.

The world economy must live off earth’s “interest”

Economic systems should include “costs” of resource use.


  • Reduce consumption
  • Improved efficiency
  • Reduced population
  • Alternative energy sources
  • Renewable resource management
economic solutions to accommodate environ costs
Economic Solutions (to accommodate environ. “costs”)

“Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon…”

  • Regulation
  • Subsidies
  • Withdrawing harmful subsidies
  • Tradable rights
  • Green taxes
  • User fees
    • All have Innovation, Competitiveness, Gov’t cost and revenue implications
global environmental politics
Global Environmental Politics

Not a level playing field, yet states must strive for concensus

Main determinants of policy:

  • Veto Power and Coalitions
  • Trade and Self-interest
  • Economic power
  • Public opinion
  • Negotiation (bargaining) among stake-holders
environmental policy life cycle
Environmental Policy Life Cycle


  • Identifying and quantifying the problem


  • Finding solutions


  • Implement solutions to mitigate problem

Control & Monitoring

  • Assess impact of policy, revise as necessary
international regimes
International Regimes

Set of norms, rules, or decision-making procedures which lead to convergence of opinion.

Convention: Legal instrument containing binding obligations

Framework Convention: Establishes the groundrules for cooperation without binding obligations.

Protocols: Establishes more formal, specific obligations.

Non-binding agreement: Soft law, varying degrees of effectiveness (Marine Pollution)

1992 earth summit on sustainability
1992 “Earth Summit” on Sustainability

UNCED - AGENDA21. UN Conference on the Environment And Development:

  • Held in Rio, 1992 (150 nations, 10,000 delegates).
  • Preceded by two years of discussions on domestic and global issues, inequities, and responsibilities.
  • Final negotiating session at Rio - AGENDA21
    • Global plan of action for more sustainable societies.
    • Non-binding agreement
    • Industrialized countries asked to accept responsibility to change their “unsustainable lifestyles” - met with resistance.
preamble to agenda21
Preamble to AGENDA21

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can - in a global partnership for sustainable development.

agenda21 as example of how environmental policy rapidly becomes complicated
AGENDA21 as example of how environmental policy rapidly becomes complicated

US and other developed nations failed to commit resources to support sustainable development. Blocked proposals to change consumption patterns.

Developing countries blocked establishment of norms for forest management.

Many issues had split responses from developed and developing states (e.g. climate change and oil producing (inland vs. coastal) states).

AGENDA21 set into motion progress toward sustainability - first transparent conference.

Environmental issues are now becoming dominant factors in global politics

what is columbia doing about this
What is Columbia doing about this?

Prof. Jeff Sachs, Director of Columbia’s Earth Institute

CEI Mission:

“Mobilizing the sciences and public policy to build a prosperous and sustainable future.”

columbia earth institute
Columbia Earth Institute

Some CEI Initiatives:

UN Millennium Development Goals

Millennium Villages

21st Century Cities

El Nino: Climate and Society

Abrupt Climate Change

CO2 sequestration

Global Roundtable of Climate Change

Masters and Ph.D. programs

Ph.D. and PoS in Sustainable Development