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New visions of sustainable development governance

Kanie, Norichika, Michele M. Betsill, and Ruben Zondervan. 2011. New visions of sustainable development governance. UNU.EDU, . United Nations University


Although reforms of the institutional framework for sustainable development have been discussed for decades, both in scholarly and political terms, the process has not yet shown an indication of converging expectations. One reason is a growing gap between the United Nations (UN) institutions, in particular institutions for environment and sustainable development, and political reality on sustainable development issues.

The issues and political dynamics in the twenty-first century are different from those of 1945, when the United Nations system was developed. Today’s problems are more intense and more diverse, characterized by temporal, spatial and sectoral interdependencies, and complexity, as well as uncertainty.

Incremental changes have enabled some progress towards sustainability. However, the current system governing sustainable development is no longer sufficient, given the number, impact, interdependence and complexity of problems associated with global change. What is required is a transformative reform of sustainable development governance.

This is why we have taken the initiative to investigate further the state and direction of reform of the institutional framework for sustainable development. Based on existing knowledge and findings from science, we have aimed to provide an ambitious (but appropriate) vision for the required transformative change.

This idea is called the “Hakone Vision” — named after the place where it was developed in aworkshop held in September 2011. This workshop, which brought together some twenty Earth System Governance scholars and policymakers, drew upon the state of knowledge in the social sciences by utilizing a methodology of collective social learning: The World Café.

The World Café design enables people “to participate together in evolving rounds of dialogue with three or four others while at the same time remaining part of a single, larger, connected conversation. Small, intimate conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into questions or issues that really matter”. According to co-originators of the World Café Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, as a result, knowledge-sharing grows as “the network of new connections increases”, and “a sense of the whole becomes increasingly strong. The collective wisdom of the group becomes more accessible, and innovative possibilities for action emerge”.

The Hakone Vision Factory on Earth System Governance evaluated the state of the institutional framework for sustainable development, identified key challenges and assessed reform options.

Governance for sustainability requires transformative reforms with clear vision, which are clustered around three interrelated issues: Aspirations, Actors and Architecture.

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