Working Group III: Mitigation

Other reports in this collection Public and Private Decision Making

Decision analysis largely addresses both sustainable development and climate change at their most aggregated level as government policy. The implicit assumption of the government as a single decision maker has resulted in scant attention (even neglect) being paid to how government policies and decisions are connected to lower hierarchical levels at which policies must be implemented. This issue raises two interconnected questions: the first concerns the view of the government as a homogeneous and unitary decision-making actor, and the second relates to the links of government policies to everyday decisions by concerned stakeholders.

Regarding the first question, government structures involved in the decision-making process vary considerably among countries. Some governments have established interministerial committees to co-ordinate sustainable development policies, including climate change strategies, while others have assigned responsibilities to more formal permanent commissions or even to a ministry created specifically to handle sustainable development policies. With many different institutions involved in sustainable development issues, considerable confusion often exists regarding who has the responsibility for policy formulation, where the authority for making day-to-day decisions resides within the government, and how channels of communication and decision making should be achieved between the different actors involved. Institutional articulation remains one of the critical factors affecting the consolidation of an effective decision-making process related to sustainable development. Even if there exist rules and regulations that assign competence, tasks, and responsibilities among the institutions involved, a considerable gap exists between what might be desirable and what, for the most part, is practised.

Concerning the interface between macro-policies and the real decision-making levels, the situation is no more encouraging. It is true that sustainable development and climate change are primarily the responsibility of the government system simply because national economy-wide policies have widespread effects on the regulation of societal processes. As discussed above (Section, government policies shape structural changes in the production systems, affect the spatial distribution patterns of population and economic activities, influence behavioural patterns of the population, and regulate interaction with the environment and resource-base system. However, as recognized (Jaeger et al., 1998; Rayner and Malone, 2000) all too often, especially in developing countries, the levers of state power have a small impact on or even no connection with the local level, at which policies must be implemented by ordinary people living in face-to-face communities.

Recent tendencies at different levels are emerging as appropriate responses to increase the legitimacy and competence of local communities, associations, movements, and NGOs in the public decision-making process. Increasing concern of local populations directly affected by environmental problems, together with current tendencies towards decentralization and weakening of authoritarian practices, especially in many developing countries, have opened a new political scenario for a more active participation of civil society in the public policy formulation and decision process. Present trends towards reassigning the setting of rules from government to the markets, together with the process of transferring the provision of services from the public sector to private ownership, have redefined the roles of social stakeholders. Within this context, sustainable development policies are no longer seen as a hierarchically, government-controlled chain of commands, but as an open process in which the principles of “good governance”—transparency, participation, pluralism, and accountability—are becoming the key elements of the decision-making process.

Public involvement in decision making is not a completely new phenomenon. For instance, traditional participatory mechanisms, such as public hearings, notice and comment procedures, and advisory committees, have been practised extensively by US government agencies (Beierle, 1998). However, it is only lately that participatory forms of decision making have acquired legitimacy and prominence in environmental issues, mainly because of their complexity, uncertainty, large temporal and spatial scales, and irreversibility (van den Hove, 2000). As discussed in Section, innovative mechanisms such as regulatory negotiations, mediations, stakeholder consultation, collaborative decision-making techniques, community-based methods, and others, are currently being applied by governments, institutions, and local administrations, as well as by intergovernmental organizations. Rayner and Malone (2000) conclude that, whether policy innovation and behavioural change are led locally or nationally, “they will be marked by a process of institutional learning that either moves presently peripheral concerns about climate change to the core of people’s daily concerns or, at least, palpably and convincingly links climate policies to these everyday concerns.”

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