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Resilient environmental governance: Protecting changing ecosystems through multilevel governance

Casey Stevens, University of Massachusetts Amherst


International governance is increasingly defined by multilevel governance; with short-term projects, transnational cooperation between different groups, and unclear institutional space. In this situation, a key issue is the resilience of governance arrangements or the ability of governance arrangements to respond to political and ecological shocks to the system. Using international biodiversity governance, this study explores the question: What social and political processes produce resilient governance? This study argues that the key to understanding resilient governance is the network structure within and outside of the governance arrangement. Modular network structures are able to generate ideas from multiple sources, able to solve political problems on small scales, and able to insulate institutions from political contagion. Centralized network structures, in contrast, often result in top-down learning, politicization of the entire governance arrangement, and inability to adapt in response to problems. Those governance arrangements with limited network structures are unlikely to learn at all. The network structure theory argues that network dynamics are shaped by the structure and result in different learning and different adaptive outcomes. This argument is made in the context of international biodiversity governance which presents has a number of cases of resilience in difficult to explain cases. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 look at the network impacts in 10 different international biodiversity governance arrangements. Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 explore these dynamics in the context of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC) and the Caribbean Challenge. These empirical cases present a complex and robust analysis showing that network structures, more than the governance institutions or national context, shape the resulting impact of governance arrangements. The implication of this finding is that effective institutions also need resilient modular networks in order to have lasting environmental impacts. Strong institutions can be constrained by centralized networks which limit learning opportunities following shocks. This study thus complements studies of effectiveness in international relations by providing a crucial dynamic piece of the overall situation. Response to shocks is shown to be shaped by network structure and importantly by early learning and network connections. Without these conditions, effectiveness can be disrupted by political or environmental shocks.^

Subject Area

Environmental studies|International relations|Political science

Recommended Citation

Stevens, Casey, "Resilient environmental governance: Protecting changing ecosystems through multilevel governance" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3603156.