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?
Factors affecting global environmental policy
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
$200 million facility designed to
be a self-sustaining lifesupport system.
3.2 acre enclosed facility, many
ecosystems, water and air
Experiment in sustainability and
complex systems.
Eight scientists sealed into Bio2
in 1991 - for 2 years.
What happened?
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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:
– $12.5 million per person annually failed to do what the earth
does for “free”
“Tragedy of the Commons” metaphor
Garrett Hardin (1968)
seminal article:
Ruination of a limited
resource when
confronted by unlimited
access by an expanding
Modern reference to
Medieval English
farmers’ use of pasture
(Common property resource management: CRM)
All farmers have access to enclosed “commons”
Farmers motivated ($) 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
Common Pool Resources:
– Exclusion is difficult and joint use involves
– 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
…but natural ecosystems suffered most in
communist countries
Privatization, or free enterprise
…doesn’t work efficiently either
Four property rights systems
State Property
– Total control over (national) resources, but dangers of overregulation (Ex: Forests).
Communal Property
– Self-regulation works at local levels (Ex: Native American
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
– Assumes open access and no excludability
– Demand was allowed to exceed supply,
– Resource users were incapable of altering
the rules.
Examples of “Common-Pool Resources”
Global oceans and atmosphere
Global Climate system
Ocean Life
Deep seabed minerals
Stratospheric ozone layer
What are some others?
Common-Pool Resources of Earth
Gas regulation
Regulation of atmospheric chemical composition.
CO2/O2 balance, O3 for UVB protection, and SOx levels.
Regulation of global temperature, precipitation, and other
Greenhouse gas regulation, DMS production affecting cloud
biologically mediated climatic processes at global or local levels.
Climate regulation
Storm protection, flood control, drought recovery and other
Capacitance, damping and integrity of ecosystem response to
aspects of habitat response to environmental variability mainly
Disturbance regulation
environmental fluctuations.
controlled by vegetation structure.
Water regulation
Regulation of hydrological flows.
industrial (such as milling) processes or transportation.
Water supply
Storage and retention of water.
Provisioning of water by watersheds, reservoirs and aquifers.
Provisioning of water for agricultural (such as irrigation) or
Erosion control and sediment
Prevention of loss of soil by wind, runoff, or other removal
Retention of soil within an ecosystem.
processes, storage of stilt in lakes and wetlands.
Soil formation
Soil formation processes.
Weathering of rock and the accumulation of organic material.
Nutrient cycling
Storage, internal cycling, processing and acquisition of nutrients.
Nitrogen fixation, N, P and other elemental or nutrient cycles.
Recovery of mobile nutrients and removal or breakdown of
Waste treatment
excess or xenic nutrients and compounds.
Movement of floral gametes.
Biological control
Trophic-dynamic regulations of populations.
Habitat for resident and transient populations.
Food Production
That portion of gross primary production extractable as food.
Waste treatment, pollution control, detoxification.
Provisioning of pollinators for the reproduction of plant
Keystone predator control of prey species, reduction of herbivory
by top predators.
Nurseries, habitat for migratory species, regional habitats for
locally harvested species, or overwintering grounds.
Production of fish, game, crops, nuts, fruits by hunting,
gathering, subsistence farming or fishing.
That portion of gross primary production extractable as raw
Raw materials
The production of lumber, fuel or fodder.
Medicine, products for materials science, genes for resistance to
plant pathogens and crop pests, ornamental species (pets and
Genetic resources
Sources of unique biological materials and products.
Providing opportunities for recreational activities.
Providing opportunities for non-commercial uses.
horticultural varieties of plants).
Eco-tourism, sportfishing, and other outdoor recreational
Aesthetic, artistic, educational, spiritual, and/or scientific values
Costanza et al., 1997
of ecosystems.
Putting a Price on Nature
(trillion $US)
Soil formation
Nutrient cycling
Water regulation and supply
Climate regulation (temperature and precipitation)
All other services
Flood and storm protection
Food and raw materials production
Genetic resources
Atmospheric gas balance
Total value of ecosystem services
Costanza et al., 1997
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
Global GDP (1997): $18 Trillion
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
Extend across exclusion boundaries:
Non-renewable resources
Migratory animals
Complex ecosystems (rainforests)
Global atmosphere and ocean quality
Regional seas, lakes, rivers
“Inexhaustible resources of the ocean…”
(McVay, 1966)
Meyers and Worm, 2003
Challenges of the Global Commons
Global = scaled up problem
Global = culturally diverse
Global = interwoven resources
New discovery - accelerating rates of
• Requirement of unanimous agreement
as collective choice rule
• Time is not our friend
Ostrom et al., 1999
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
– Medium: Published papers
– Motivation: Recognition and advancement
– Accountability: Peer review
– Time-frame: Open-ended
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
– Accountability: Legal and public opinion
– Time-frame: Usually fixed, rigid
Scientists and policy-makers have very different
motivations, time-frames, accountabilities, and
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
This is where you come in...
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
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
Earth Day (1970)
– EPA was established
Beginnings of sustained climate science and policy
Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows, 1972)
– long-term global trends in population, economics, and the
Supersonic Transport controversy (1970’s)
– Front page news on Ozone depletion
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
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,
“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
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
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)
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
Extensive peer-review and governmental review
ensures scientific credibility and policy
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
Mitigation measures
QuickTime™ and a
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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 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
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
Reduce consumption
Improved efficiency
Reduced population
Alternative energy sources
Renewable resource management
Economic Solutions
(to accommodate environ. “costs”)
“Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon…”
Withdrawing harmful subsidies
Tradable rights
Green taxes
User fees
• All have Innovation, Competitiveness, Gov’t cost and revenue
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
– Identifying and quantifying the problem
– Finding solutions
– Implement solutions to mitigate problem
Control & Monitoring
– Assess impact of policy, revise as necessary
International Regimes
Set of norms, rules, or decision-making procedures
which lead to convergence of opinion.
Convention: Legal instrument containing binding
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
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
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
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?
Prof. Jeff Sachs, Director of Columbia’s
Earth Institute
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CEI Mission:
“Mobilizing the sciences and public policy to build a prosperous
and sustainable future.”
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

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