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Environmental governance: Towards “local cosmopolitism”

15 January 2013

Local youth in upland village in Mindanao, Philippines discussing actions they must do to assist the natural regeneration of their forests. Photo credit: ESSC

Giacomo Costa, SJ and Chiara Tintori

Before hurricane Sandy hit the US East Coast at the end of October, environmental issues were not particularly relevant in the electoral campaign for the White House, as they were considered an obstacle to the main target of a rapid economic recovery.  Yet another proof that all that regards environment, from dramatic clime changes to the phenomenon of deforestation, succeeds in breaking through media and political agenda only when disasters of extraordinary dimensions take place.

The results achieved by international summits in 2012, first of all by Rio+20, seem to be well under the common standards of expectations; they consequently contribute in undermining the confidence in the possibility of finding a solution to our global problems.  This helps at least to realize better that environmental governance has changed in structures, locations and stakeholders, supporting the decentralization of decision-making processes and favouring more flexible control systems.

We need a new way of doing politics, coordinating the new centers of power that the new or renewed actors (multinational enterprises, expertise networks, ENGO) are learning to exploit.  The aim is to face environmental problems in the perspective of a global common good and keeping as well in mind that the final solutions must have an adequate level of democratic legitimation.

A new pattern for environmental governance can be found in “local participative cosmopolitanism.”  The cosmopolitan dimension is at work when we recognize that we are citizens of the world (the whole world, the only world we have), that we are linked together by duties and responsibilities that pass over our personal national identities or affinities.  Localism, on the contrary, stems from the fact that we live in a certain portion of land and, though most of environmental problems are cross-border, our actions cause their main consequences in the place where we live.  The participative dimension underlines the necessity that we must consider any new dynamics of environmental governance not only, and not any longer, from the point of view of representative democracy, but from the standpoint of participative democracy too.

In this perspective, we point out the good exercises of local cosmopolitism represented by those European cities and towns that succeeded in creating a network in order to face together the necessity to reduce GHG emissions and consequently improve the life quality of their own citizens, such as C40Cities and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.

These are promising experiences that, beyond creating networks of local microsystems, allow social actors (public and private, global and local ones) to work together.  Moreover, they can actually verify the feasibility of proposals developed at the global level, exploiting ‘fresh’ and innovative skills that, once connected in networks, can represent a valuable means to shape environmental policies, even on a broader international scene.

The original version of this article is in Italian and available in Aggiornamenti Sociali.

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