Chapter 3: Introduction to the Case Studies

Part B is a collection of 19 governance case studies from around the world. Our intention is to provide real-life examples of how diverse communities of interest are currently wrestling with emerging aspects of governance for sustainability. These case studies are intended to inform our understanding of what challenges exist and where patterns of success or failure might be detected. The purpose of this introduction is to inform readers about the process by which they were selected and to identify some common themes that emerged.

This project was conceived at a workshop held in Paraty, Brazil in June 2007 as part of the 5th Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. The workshop was also used to solicit suitable case studies. It was followed by the preparation of a basic template and the distribution to participants of a more detailed concept. Case studies were submitted and a selection process was used to accept those that were relevant and illustrative. A review of the geographical distribution of the case studies revealed a number of gaps and additional case studies from particular regions were sought. This search relied on personal contacts and resulted in an improved, but not perfect, geographical distribution. In broad terms, we have case studies from North and South America, Europe (France and Wales), Asia/Pacific, and South Africa. In summary, the process was ‘organic’ rather than methodological. It relied heavily on the voluntary contributions of a select community of environmental lawyers who are associated with the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) and the Academy of Environmental Law. As a consequence, many case studies involve an interface between ecological and social objectives and legal frameworks and processes. The case studies also reflect each author's understanding and interpretation of ‘governance for sustainability’ within the circumstances of their case studies as shown in the evaluative section at the end of each case study.

Given the informal process by which the case studies were gathered, a detailed analysis of their content would not be appropriate. This said, it is helpful to identify some common themes that emerge from them. First, there is the element of ‘covenant’. As demonstrated in Part A: Chapter 2, the covenantal element can take many forms in human society. But ultimately, irrespective of whether it finds formal (as in a constitution) or informal (as in a promise or vision) expression, it is a force that both ‘brings together’ and has the power to ‘hold together’ for the good of nature and human communities. The various ways in which the case studies reveal covenantal elements and the power of these elements, are analysed in Chapter 2, sections 2.1 and 2.7.

A second theme is the responses to the various forms of ‘democratic deficit’ in institutions, processes, or outcomes. Some case studies reflect a gradual move away from reliance on traditional governance institutions and processes that steer, command, or rule. However, in moving away from the traditional, what should we move towards? In the view of the authors, there is a trend towards governance based on widely varying local abilities and cultural traditions to create and/or recognise context-specific social-environmental relationships. This observation reinforces what we have known for many years, but which nevertheless requires a different paradigm of democracy, governance, and citizenship. Many ecological and social issues require highly context-specific bottom-up (as opposed to top-down) responses. To be fully effective and enduring, these responses must be systematically facilitated and enabled by traditional higher-level institutions and processes evolved to embrace a common sense of common responsibility and vision for a just and sustainable world.

A third theme is that most case studies do not report direct challenges to international law and its institutions despite the fact that most problems reported in the case studies are of an international or global nature. Some case studies report on actors who avail themselves of international legal commitments to give impetus to national environmental initiatives. For the most part, we see people around the world attempting to use (with varying success) the provisions and processes that exist within national jurisdictions. Whether full or partial success or failure is the outcome, there is a willingness to engage and to push towards forms of human governance that operate within the limits of natural systems while being cognisant of the needs of society. This observation raises many inter-related questions beyond the scope of this preliminary study. For example, will this growing activism at the local level, and the associated changes to governance, permeate both horizontally and vertically to exert a greater transformative influence?

Finally, a fourth theme is that almost half of the case studies involve what might be termed ‘proactive action’, as opposed to ‘reaction’ towards ecological problems. This trend may well represent the emergence of different value systems and changed priorities in respect of the human-nature relationship.

As noted earlier in this Introduction, the case studies were provided by a group of expert ‘volunteers’. The authors are grateful for their efforts and their generous contributions of time spent on original writing and on the editing process that followed. We must make it very clear that any observations drawn from these case studies and indeed the whole report, represent the views of the report authors and not the views of the case study authors.

< previous section  < index >  next section >