Emerging issues
Governance Inland water Atmosphere Vulnerability
Land Marine & coastal Settlements Antarctic & islands
Biodiversity & ecosystems


Broad definition
Environmental governance refers to the processes of decision-making involved in controlling and managing the environment and natural resources.  Principles such as inclusivity, representativity, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness, as well as social equity and justice, are the foundations of good governance. 
Good environmental governance should reflect our best understanding of the structure, function, processes, and variability that typify natural systems.  Without this understanding, it is possible for inappropriate decisions to be made (even with the best possible intentions) that carry disastrous environmental consequences.
Governance is a joint responsibility
Although governments, through their policies, laws, and strategies, are important players in directing the way in which the environment is managed, exploited, and conserved, actors outside government are equally important. 
Governance and sustainable development
Environmental governance is effective only if it leads to fair and sustainable management of ecosystems.  Weak governance very often causes environmental degradation, as do conditions in which people have no means to secure their natural, financial, and personal resources, which can lead to scarcity. 
Assessment of governance
Assessing the performance of any environmental governance system is complex.  Quantitative data need support from qualitative information that provides deeper understanding of the effectiveness of environmental governance. 
In as far back as 1997, good environmental governance was identified as a critical factor for successful environmental management in South Africa.  That year’s White Paper on Environmental Management Policy offers the following pointers as to what constitutes good environmental governance:
  • Governance should be responsible and accountable
  • Regulations should be enforced
  • Integrating mechanisms and structures that facilitate participation should be established
  • There needs to be inter-ministerial and interdepartmental coordination
  • The institutional responsibilities for regulating environmental impacts and promoting resource exploitation should be separate
  • People should have access to information
  • There needs to be institutional and community capacity-building.

The next sections discusses the key policies, legislative and institutional changes that have been introduced to ensure more effective decision-making, management, and environmental governance at the national and international levels. 

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This page was last updated 17/02/2018