Engaging the public and the private in global sustainability governance
Article first published online: 23 MAR 2012
© 2012 The Author(s). International Affairs © 2012 The Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Special Issue: Rio+20 and the global environment: reflections on theory and practice
Volume 88, Issue 3, pages 543–564, May 2012
How to Cite
ABBOTT, K. W. (2012), Engaging the public and the private in global sustainability governance. International Affairs, 88: 543–564. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2012.01088.x
- Issue published online: 23 MAR 2012
- Article first published online: 23 MAR 2012
Negotiators preparing for Rio+20 are missing an important opportunity. Private sustainability governance (PSG) is thriving: organizations created by business and civil society groups, as well as public–private partnerships, adopt and apply significant regulatory standards and undertake valuable operational activities, including pilot projects and financing. However, even though reforming the institutional framework for sustainable development is a central part of the Rio+20 agenda, negotiators are focusing almost exclusively on inter-governmental organizations such as the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the Commission for Sustainable Development and the Economic and Social Council. This public–private engagement gap isolates international governance from the energy and innovation of PSG, and impedes efforts to coordinate the bifurcated and decentralized system of sustainability governance. This article argues that states, and especially international organizations, should actively support PSG as part of the institutional framework for sustainable development, while steering private and public–private schemes towards good organizational practices and the pursuit of public goals. Engagement with PSG would help international institutions pursue their sustainability missions more effectively, promote the emergence of effective and legitimate private schemes, manage fragmentation, promote experimentation and learning, and enhance citizen participation. The article outlines two fruitful modes of engagement pioneered by UNEP: regulatory cooperation, in which international authorities engage directly with business firms, industry groups and other ‘targets’, influencing them to adopt more sustainable behaviors; and orchestration, in which authorities engage with intermediary organizations, such as multi-stakeholder private governance schemes, catalyzing, supporting and steering them as they seek to influence the ultimate targets of policy.