Interview with Maria Ivanova, Expert on Global Environmental Governance

Dr. Maria Ivanova is an international relations and environmental policy scholar specializing in governance and sustainability. She is currently Assistant Professor of Global Governance at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Director of the Global Environmental Governance Project at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

In this interview, Dr. Ivanova discussed the future role of global environmental governance in light of the recent Durban talks, saying that her hopes for the next round would be to think about global governance "but also about the connection between the national, the regional, and local levels." Dr. Ivanova also expressed her aspirations as a teacher by quoting one of her favorite lines from Abraham Lincoln: “The philosophy of the classroom of one generation is the philosophy of the government of the next generation.”

About climate change, Dr. Ivanova said, "The way I bridge those two analytical issues—global environmental governance and climate change—is through that governance dimensions. And that's where we could see where the nexus comes together among the various organizations and institutions and in the UN system. Unfortunately, we have split those debates into various fora, and various people are engaged in them, and we've created these silos, but a way forward that I see is by bringing these issues down, and not necessarily into a local level so to speak or a regional level, but into a classroom level."

When asked about the Rio+20 summit, she said, "I’m very hopeful that the universities that will be gathering at Rio will come up with a common outlook, a common vision, and that we will start collaborating in a different way, now enabled by a very different technological environment, so that we can start experimenting and we could start pushing the envelope in new and innovative ways that bring everything that you were talking about—climate change and governance and security and conflict—into a new conceptual framework that is about humans and the planet.”

The interview was conducted on December 14, 2011 by Chris Perry, Senior Policy Analyst, International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript

Chris Perry (CP): Welcome to the Global Observatory. I am sitting down with Maria Ivanova. She is the Assistant Professor of Global Governance at the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The first question I had was in relation to the recently-concluded Durban talks. In light of the outcome, what do you see as the prospects for the further role of global environmental governance in addressing complex issues such as climate change? Do you hold out hope for any substantive agreement coming out of the 2015 goal?

Maria Ivanova (MI): First of all thank you for hosting me here. It's really a pleasure to address your constituency, your audience, and share some of my experiences and some of my thoughts.

I do work on global environmental governance and have been thinking about these issues for a while. In terms of what we can expect, and the connection to climate change, is that global environmental governance is about the environment. Governance is simply, the design and execution of policy. Environmental governance is the design and execution of policy for the environment. Global environmental governance is that same thing for the global level. So for me, climate change is part of that construct. So I would not put global environmental governance versus climate change. To me it’s analytically the same construct. But I do understand politically, operationally, there are different organizations that are working on climate issues and on various environmental concerns.

Practically, what my hopes would be for the next rounds of talks, the next agreement, would be that when we do consider climate issues, that we do think about the governance, about the global aspects, but also about the connection between the national, the regional, and local levels. And climate change has become the quintessential global problem, but we do need governance arrangements. And so the way I bridge those two analytical issues—global environmental governance and climate change—is through that governance dimensions. What do we need for the design and execution of policy for climate change? And that's where we could see where the nexus comes together among the various organizations and institutions and in the UN system.

Unfortunately, we have split those debates into various fora, and various people are engaged in them, and we've created these silos, but a way forward that I see is by bringing these issues down, and not necessarily into a local level so to speak or a regional level, but into a classroom level. I think the categories in which we think need to change. Rather than saying “the local level” and you think of this country that country, whether it's Norway or Namibia, lets think of a classroom level. And when I teach global environmental governance and climate change, I cannot separate them and say, “now today, we are going to talk about this issue.” What I teach my students is to be able to connect those, and to see the interdependencies. If there is a way to do that at the international level it is only through enabling the individuals that are engaged in these, to see this from day one as something that they live. And, as I like often quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said, “the philosophy of the classroom of one generation is the philosophy of the government of the next generation.” So, perhaps somewhat idealistically, I do believe that is the best way forward, is to bridge those divides at the classroom level, and then the people that come out and lead government, or any type of organization, will be doing this just as naturally as we all walk and breathe and eat.

CP: There are numerous linkages and feedback loops, between the environment on the one hand and issues surrounding international and internal conflict on the other. Here I am talking about both explicit armed violence and political frictions that run the risk of evolving into armed conflict. In what ways do you think that the international peace and security architecture and the global environmental governance frameworks and development communities can better be brought together and communicate?

MI: I have recently started thinking about those very issues since I joined the University of Massachusetts Boston, and all of those departments and schools that you read—we have these long names of the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance, for this very same reason. That those issues are interconnected. They need to be brought together, but we do not have the vocabulary yet to do that. And so we string all of our concepts into long names. They're not even sentences, right? They are just a string of names. But to me, since I have come to UMass Boston, these issues are combined in the concept of human security.

So when we talk about environment, environmental governance, environmental policy, and when we talk about conflict, whether it's armed conflict or otherwise, the concept that combines them is that of human security. And that moves the traditional security debate from the state level to an individual level, and we ask what enables humans as individuals, as human beings, to feel secure, to feel enabled in their environment? It is not the same conditions that are valid for states, which is the traditional security narrative so to speak. And the human security concept brings together the basic needs that we as humans have to have met in order to be able to not only survive but thrive. These are economic welfare, ecological integrity, human rights, society that is conducive to community and to living a fulfilling life, and so to answer your question, I think it is the concept of human security that could bring these separate institutional frameworks together, and if we were to reach out to the environmental institutions and that whole field, and the peace and security institutions, and bring them together and say, “Let's talk about human security. Which part of your agenda are covered in that, which parts of your agenda and how do these two fields complement each other.”

And again, we see a lot of work being done individually on various issues—economy, environment, health is a major issue. If we could bring them under that larger umbrella of our concept of human security, I think we will find many more instances of the complementarity than if we continue speaking in two parallel forums. So perhaps I would say, convene a UN General Assembly meeting under that the motto, or maybe IPI can work with us, in doing something on human security, and bring those various pieces, various individuals and organizations, into a much more coherent structure and thinking process.

CP: What are your views on regional versus global approach to environmental issues? What are some of the pros and cons of each approach? I am thinking here, some of the cons being things like just the difficulty of getting agreements in place, of implementation and some of the approaches of being ease of implementing some of these more regional approaches to environmental governance issues?

MI: Do you prefer regional or global?

CP: What are the advantages of global versus regional? Not necessarily for the climate-type, global problems, some of the resource management issues. I am thinking here of the way that some the Nordic countries have dealt with fish stock management.

MI: We have to think about problems and solutions in terms of the appropriate scale at which to address them. For some problems, global is not relevant at all. So local air pollution, even water pollution, might be dealt with at the local level or the national level. Also at a regional level. You don't need a global, whether it's an agreement or even information exchange, while helpful might not be mandatory. There are other issues that are quintessentially global. These are climate, the oceans, our global commons.

So, I have recently come to devise this type of analytical distinction between the problems of the commons, and common problems. So, in problems of the commons, like the atmosphere, the ocean, it is essential that we have a global, at least participation, in order to get to a globally solid and sound solution. Just because of the nature of the problem—no one country can deal with climate change alone, or with the oceans. Common problems are problems that occur in various places around the world, and, in a sense, are ubiquitous, they can happen anywhere. They do not necessarily need a global solution, but they could benefit from certain aspects of a global architecture.

So for example, let's take your fisheries issue. Do we need a global agreement on fisheries in the North Sea? Probably not. Would that issue in those countries that are dealing with the problem benefit from some type of global architecture? Probably, yes. In terms of what? Well, in terms of information. How much fish is in the ocean, what is sustainable yield, what is sustainable catch, why do we think that's sustainable, how is that different from a fishery in the Pacific. But also not just on the problems, information on the problems, but information on the various solutions and various policies. So, would it be useful for the countries in the North Sea to know what is happening in the Pacific? Well, maybe yes. Are there points that, by virtue of a global sharing mechanism, or a clearinghouse, we could we find solutions that are faster, we could find solutions that are cheaper, we could find solutions that are more effective. So I would say that the global institutions, that global architecture, is really imperative both for problems of the commons but also for common problems, for different reasons.

CP: The challenge of environmental governance is a highly technical and context-specific area of work, and one that often times is significantly based in scientific research. As with many areas of policy where policy and science intersect, there is often a challenge to bridge the policy and academic worlds, in terms of language, in terms of the way we speak. Do you think that there is the space within international environmental governance to better make this happen? If so, what types of things can you think of offhand that have been successes in that regard?

MI: First of all, I disagree with you that environmental governance is a highly technical and abstract term. It is the belief that many people have; it is almost conventional wisdom that that's the case, and I disagree with that description.

CP: Not so much the governance issue but more of the specific, context-specific things that lead into—carbon concentrations is a technical term when you are talking about climate change. The science behind biodiversity; it's very scientific. The governance architecture is not as much, but the actual problems, the language of the problems, is a very technically-heavy language.

MI: Absolutely right. The language of the problems is very technical, very heavy. And therefore the job of those of us who are in the language of solutions should be very clear, concise, and inspirational, I would say, which is rarely the case. But you are right: many people actually do think global environmental governance is abstract and doesn't concern them. But in my work with countries in Africa, I have found exactly the opposite. I now work with Ethiopia quite extensively, and we have held meetings and discussions between government, academic institutions, NGOs, in Ethiopia, on the question of global environmental governance.

And you know what? People get it. They not only get it, they know exactly what the problems are, they can envision solutions, and they're saying enable us to be able to put those into place. The way that we can start bridging those divides—because they do exist in many countries—is through changing our narrative as academics of being able to express those thoughts in a different way, and changing the medium through which we communicate.

What I have started doing is movies. I now do short documentaries, about fifteen minutes, on global environmental governance. The first one is called Global Environmental Governance: Quest for Symphony; the second one is Global Environmental Governance: Quest for Leadership; and now we're doing a third one Quest for Solutions in Africa. I work with the Joe Ageyo from NTV in Kenya, who is an award-winning environmental journalist and we produce together these short documentaries that have been called “the white papers on global environmental governance in images.” I think that's what academia can start doing, is experimenting with different media in communicating a message, because we as academics have a multiplier effect. That is just like, when we say that climate change has a multiplier effect on so many different problems, I think, academics, we have a multiplier effect on solutions. If we are able to reach the hearts and souls and minds of the people in our classrooms, we are going to have a multiplier effect that will certainly lead to solutions.

CP: Rio+20 is next year in June, and I was wondering if you could share with us what are your hopes, what you think the goal should be, any predictions on what you think will come out of it.

MI: What are my expectations and what are my hopes. They are two different aspects need. My expectations and my hopes might not coincide completely.

I do expect governments to engage in a conversation that is honest and forward-looking, but I do not expect that to result in any earth-shattering agreements at this point, just given where we are politically and also economically.

But I do have hopes. Not necessarily for Rio, those three days that governments will be there, but for what comes beyond. I see Rio as a beginning. For many, Rio is the end of a long negotiation process in the political world, and we're just across the street from the UN right now where these negotiations are going on. For me, really, the beginning for those of us who are in the business of changing hearts and minds, I’m very hopeful that the universities that will be gathering at Rio will come up with a common outlook, a common vision, and that we will start collaborating in a different way, now enabled by a very different technological environment, so that we can start experimenting and we could start pushing the envelope in new and innovative ways that bring everything that you were talking about—climate change and governance and security and conflict—into a new conceptual framework that is about humans and the planet.

CP: Thank you very much for joining us today.



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