Policy Quarterly Volume 7 Number 4
The 1992 Local Agenda 21 adopted at the Rio de Janeiro conference - the United Nations Conference on Environmentand Development - required governments to adopt and implement National Strategies for Sustainable Development. These were meant to offer guidance for the subsequent re-design of their economic and social governance systems basedon a set of four key governance principles for sustainability. The new governance systems were expected to facilitate the coordination of policies and strategies acrossthe three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental and economic, as well as the coordination of such policies acrossgovernmental levels. Two other key governance principles require the incorporation of intergenerational perspectivesand interests into policy-making, and the involvement of citizens and wide range of stakeholders into governanceprocesses, especially decision-making and implementation.
The question that this special issue of Policy Quarterly raises is – to what extent do we see evidence of theincorporation of such principles in the governance of key economic sectors and natural resources? Four contributionsto this issue provide insights by exploring successes and failures, threats and opportunities in two policy domains:tourism development and the management of freshwater resources. Two contributions are from Europe, and two from New Zealand; they explore key intercontinental differences and similarities.
De Boer and colleagues explore the implementation challenges associated with sustainable freshwatermanagement in the Netherlands. In the Dutch context this requires the coordination of interventions in four relevantpolicy domains: recreation, agriculture, nature and flood management. Their case study shows how an inclusivegovernance approach, with wide public and stakeholder participation, improves sustainability outcomes. In addition,an adaptive approach to implementation is crucial: they reveal that governance for sustainability implies finding theright balance between central government leadership and local flexibility to adapt to the complexities and uncertaintiesemerging in various local contexts. But adaptive implementation requires flexible institutions and ‘openended’regulatory structures that enable revisions in the light of learning and new facts. Moreover, it requires an allowancefor policy process phases to interact, rather than conceiving them as linear.
The importance of more integration of policy processes, particularly design and implementation, is also discussed inthe New Zealand context of water management by Fenemor and colleagues. An interactive approach to policymaking isrecommended by the surveyed freshwater stakeholders, as one of the 14 attributes of good governance distilled in theirpaper. The authors discuss how ‘techno-corporatist legal formalism’ dominating New Zealand’s freshwater governancefor decades has resulted in water permits and contracts that fix inefficient and inequitable water allocation systemsfor the long term. The surveyed stakeholders also associate good governance with a holistic approach to planning thatintegrates a wide diversity of values in water management such as landscape, ecological, cultural, and amenity values.
The recent formation of the Land and Water Forum suggests a political willingness to experiment with new governancearrangements based on the participatory principle. There are also signs of regulatory innovations and improvedcoordination across governmental levels. Dishearteningly such signs are not yet to be seen in the governance of tourism in New Zealand. Lovelock examines the institutional and policy frameworks relevant for tourism development at regional and local levels. He finds little evidence of a genuine concern with sustainability issues among policy-makers and the business community. Despitethe rhetoric in the national and subnational strategies for tourism, policy legitimacy emerges as a major obstaclefor incorporating sustainability in the governance of local tourism. Two destinations are more closely examined: Catlins,which is an emerging destination for which a preventive regulatory approach to sustainability should apply; andQueenstown, an established destination where a recovery approach is needed, as the unplanned intensive growth overthe past decades has already generated negative social and environmental impacts. These case studies reveal thatthe 1991 Resource Management Act does not provide an adequate regulatory approach to tourism permitting. Thelegal and institutional frameworks relevant for sustainable development are weak, which lies at the heart of thelegitimacy problem for a sustainability-based tourism governance in New Zealand.
The Member States of the European Union (EU) seem to have the opposite problem: too many policy andlegislative tools and many levels of governance affecting tourism development locally. However, from this thickpolicy soup something meaningful still seems to emerge, as Anastasiadou explains. For decades, tourism was excludedfrom the economic sectors for which EU Treaties gave European political authorities competencies to adopt policies,and enforce them on Member States. In this context, the EU tried to steer tourism towards sustainability through softinstruments, such as guidelines and recommendations, and by means of generic tools such as the Lisbon Strategy,the Cohesion Policy and the Sustainable Development Strategy. Many financial schemes also target sustainabilitygoals at project level. Although the impact of these multiple interacting top-down tools is yet to be rigorously evaluated,signs are emerging that the EU approach warmed hearts and opened minds among both local public authorities and thebusiness community, in established and emerging tourism destinations.
Such behavioural change, underpinned by significant policy and governance innovations, is what numerousparticipants to the recent symposium on biophysical limits in Wellington advocate (‘Biophysical Limits and their PolicyImplications’, 8-9 June 2011). Jonathan Boston reviews the key themes explored during this symposium. He explainsthat the earth’s resources are typically categorized as nonrenewable, conditionally renewable and inexhaustible. Thesustainability debate is connected to the normative debate on which – and whether – the first two types of resources are substitutable. Here lies a key difference between ‘weak’ and ‘strong sustainability’. Such conceptualizations are importantas they underpin policies and institutions that should move societies towards a greener type of development, respectingthe physical boundaries of planet Earth – its resource, sink and thermodynamic boundaries. Boston reflects further onthe policy design and political challenges ahead to enable a safer, sustainable development.
Aside from the five articles on sustainability issues, this issue of Policy Quarterly contains four other contributions.These canvass a diverse range of topics: David Penman, Andrew Pearce and Missy Morton reflect on one of the keychallenges facing New Zealand science, namely how to embrace a more collaborative mode of inter-institutionalworking; related to this, Jo Cribb, Robbie Lane, Heather Penny, Kylie van Delden and Kathie Irwin explore the lessonsfor cross agency, cross-sector working arising out of a recent governmental project designed to improve outcomes forvulnerable children; Mike Reid reviews recent and impending changes in English local government and their lessons forNew Zealand; Paul Barber explores how New Zealand might reduce its current high level of income inequality; and PaulCallister and Judith Galtry critically assess an article by Maureen Baker on paid parental leave which appeared inthe August issue of this journal. Hopefully, there will be something here to excite the interest to all readers.
Published in November 2011