The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and transnational hybrid governance in Ecuador’s palm oil industry
University of San Francisco, United States of America
The expansion of Latin America’s palm oil frontier has spurred an explosion of interest in the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production. Researchers have been particularly focused on the effectiveness of global sustainability certification standards in addressing induced vulnerabilities. Only a small fraction of this research, however, analyzes how the local institutionalization of global standards has shaped national and sub-national structures of environmental governance, or regional conceptualizations of authority. It also fails to examine how the entrenchment of global standards has reworked local social relations inhering within formal and informal palm oil governing arrangements. To address these gaps, this paper draws on the case of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Ecuador to answer the following research questions: 1) How does the local introduction and institutionalization of RSPO standards (re)shape national and sub-national environmental governance structures and relations? 2) How do RSPO standards reconfigure long-standing notions of power and authority? Drawing on extended fieldwork, the paper finds that the introduction of RSPO standards has prompted three major shifts in domestic palm oil governance. These shifts are: 1) technicalization of community-company relations, 2) hybridization of governance coalitions 3) regionalization of governance efforts. Taken together, these transformations point to an emerging transnational hybrid governance regime that blends public laws with private guidelines to reach national and international sustainability objectives. The regime has enabled the emergence of new palm governance authorities in the sector yet at the same time, it has reinscribed the uneven power relations of palm oil governance. The study concludes that future research and policy efforts must go beyond simply evaluating RSPO standards in local spaces, and instead aim to improve the social relations that exist within agro-commodity chains in order to make the governance of sustainable palm oil more socially-inclusive and just.
The Architecture of Phosphorus Governance in the EU: Towards Institutional Innovations?
1Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, United Kingdom; 2Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, Australia; 3School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for all life on Earth that has so far been subjected to fragmented governance across levels, scales, geographical space and policy areas. While it has reached the European Union’s strategic list of critical raw resources and will be regulated as of 2022 by the EU fertilizers’ regulation - a landmark of the Circular Economy action plan - there has been little political interest in it. There has so far been limited aspirations to embed P as central to food systems’ sustainability transformation akin to carbon for climate change or hydrogen for energy industries. A transition towards a coherent P governance system would require: 1. an in-depth, fine-grained analysis deciphering the fragmenting aspects of top-down environmental regulations in the EU, which oftentimes clash, and 2. orchestration of best policy practices, hybridization of instruments and institutional innovations, which are scattered. This paper examines phosphorus governance though the Earth System Governance architecture and agency lenses by juxtaposing the inward-looking, problem-specific top-down governance resulting from inter-state agreements to that of non-state actors, claiming that they are better suited to drive transformations. Taking the architecture and agency lenses of the Earth System Governance paradigm, it seeks to identify orchestrators of institutional innovations that drive regime change and understand the stakeholder perceptions on this process. It employs social network analysis and scoping interviews at a stakeholder conference consisting of technical experts, practitioners and representatives of academia, who have in-depth expertise of regulatory problems and observations of the fragmented phosphorus governance resulting in a combination of responses that target these deficiencies. The articles results are of relevance to both the scientific community interested in accelerating transitions to sustainability via coherent governance regimes and to policy-makers working on a range of natural resources.
Digital multilateralism in practice: Extending critical policy ethnography to digital negotiation sites
University of Vienna, Austria
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the use of online tools in the conduct of multilateral environmental negotiations. Although scholars have recognised that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have gradually been reshaping traditional diplomatic practice, ICTs are not considered to be transformative of diplomatic practice itself. However, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic states have had to rush into unprecedented and unpredictable forms of digital cooperation that are poorly understood.
To illuminate this uncharted area, our research applies combined digital and critical policy ethnography to two online dialogues within the framework of ongoing negotiations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) towards a new treaty for the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. Digital critical policy ethnography conducted at two online sites enables us to study the political effects of emerging international practices. We re-interpret digital diplomacy in terms of “communities of practice” developing across, and connecting, physical and digital sites.
Virtual communications amongst state and non-state actors mirror traditional forms of diplomacy whilst introducing new practices that may change conventional forms of international treaty-making. We propose the term digital multilateralism to capture these new forms and conclude that it can have two effects: deepen the background knowledge of actors that form a community of practice and create new inequalities.
Science to the rescue? Evidence types, political economy, and the wicked problem of pesticide risk reduction
Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Switzerland
This paper investigates to what extent new evidence can contribute to addressing wicked sustainability problems like pesticide risk reduction characterized by uncertainty, complexity, and conflict. Scholars of evidence-based policymaking are optimistic that causal scientific evidence can reduce uncertainty, capture complexity, and resolve conflict. Politico-economic scholarship is more pessimistic in this regard and holds that organized interests and their political power trump the impact of scientific evidence. I argue that these seemingly contradictory positions can be integrated by considering how different types of evidence interact with politico-economic context.
I test this argument empirically in a comparative case study of pesticide regulation in sugar beet farming in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. All three countries withdrew the regular approval of three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) due to their toxic effects on honey bees and other pollinators. Since then, however, the countries have differed markedly in the granting of emergency authorizations that farmers demanded for the three neonicotinoids, which have been essential for pest control in sugar beet: Switzerland declined emergency authorization for 2021 and farmers do not plan to apply for authorization in 2022; Germany granted emergency authorization until 2021 but not for 2022; and Austria granted emergency authorization for 2021 and is expected to renew it for 2022. These differences are puzzling given that the three German-speaking countries have access to the same scientific evidence base about the effects of neonicotinoids and that the economic importance of sugar beet farming is highest in Germany and comparable in Austria and Switzerland.
The comparative analysis shows that the observed policy differences can be explained by taking into account scientific and experiential as well as causal and actionable types of evidence and their interaction with the political economy of agricultural policymaking. Earlier phase-out of the three neonicotinoids resulted from an interplay of increased public pressure on policymakers, new experiential and actionable evidence related to farming practices and anticipated pest pressure, limited causal scientific evidence about the adverse effects of substitute substances, and subsidies for agricultural transformation. The paper concludes that, to address wicked problems, researchers and policymakers should pay attention to the full variety of evidence, including actionable and experiential evidence, and its interaction with the politico-economic context.
The meaning of governance and institutions to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): A critical appraisal
1Bogazici University, Istanbul; 2University of Helsinki; 3Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; 4University of Oxford
Ten years after its establishment, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in many ways, might be regarded as entering a phase of maturity as its functions, operating principles and institutional arrangements become stabilised. IPBES has produced an array of environmental assessment reports. Following the successful launch of the Global Assessment on Biodiversity in 2019, IPBES has now transitioned to a continuing work programme with a new set of commissioned assessment reports. However, there remain unknowns around how the inclusion of social science and humanities perspectives is to be achieved, and related gaps persist at the heart of the Platform’s framework.
In this paper we discuss the Platform’s function by evaluating the IPBES Conceptual Framework (CF). We analyse how IPBES considers the relationships between people and nature, and how those are represented in IPBES assessment mechanisms. The CF shows how IPBES develops from earlier conceptual frameworks from the IPCC, with particular emphasis on the plurality of knowledges that also include indigenous peoples' and local communities’ traditional ecologies and knowledges (TEK). However, the concepts of Institutions and Governance that are at the heart of the IPBES CF have been largely left as monoliths, being conceptualised only in a dictionary style definition.
With this in mind, we seek to unpack the definitions of governance and institutions which IPBES uses. While IPBES has developed a glossary of key terms, the definitions offered by the CF remain vague and arguably unreflective of the political nature of governance and institutions as well as their multiple meanings, including lack of attention to notions that go beyond a primarily rule-based understanding. How satisfactory are such definitions for the work of IPBES?
We explore these questions through an analysis of key IPBES documents and reports, showing how governance and institutions are typically left implicit or referred to in general terms. We outline how the ways in which IPBES is mandated and the manifestations of its structures, functions and processes are likely to have important implications for how it conceptualises governance and institutions. Against this background, we show how IPBES has the potential to foster reflexivity of governance and how this could be improved within the limits of the mandate of IPBES. In so doing, we offer arguments for why governance and institutions should receive more attention in IPBES’ conceptual work.