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The Future of Governance

So what does all of this imply for the state of the world and the future of governance? It is all too obvious that regardless of how good governance is defined, many systems fail to live up to the standards in place. Bad governance that ignores the consent of the governed or that harms people or the planet persists in many parts of the world, at all levels. At the global level, the systems of governance are often patchwork, inefficient, and in some cases missing entirely.

The increasing focus on governance as a topic of study is encouraging, however. By developing a better understanding of what governance is, how it works, and how it can be improved, the possibility that we may create better governance in the future is greatly increased. There are positive signs in this regard, with international institutions such as the World Bank and UNESCO now treating the development of good governance and state capacity as part of their overall work.

A potentially promising development is the proliferation of nonstate actors on the international stage. Increasingly, international governance is reaching out to the private sector and to civil society to forge international systems. In 2000, the creation of the United Nations Global Compact involved both the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the promotion of business activities to support sustainable development and human rights. This represented one of the first times that the United Nations systematically reached out to the private sector to support its organizational goals. Since the boom of international NGOs began in the 1950s, a host of new and increasingly well-organized groups has emerged to represent stakeholders and different perspectives on the international stage. The result of the increased role of nonstate actors, and the willingness of state actors to engage them, is the proliferation of institutions that incorporate multiple sectors of society into their decision-making processes.

These multi-stakeholder, networked institutions lack some of the legal authority of traditionally treaty-based international law, but they also reflect a fact of the global world: an increase in globalization means an increase in transnational problems. New systems that bring together states, NGOs, and the private sector may represent a new approach to governance that will help these different sectors work together to solve problems. And because they are stakeholder driven, these systems may have built-in support for legitimacy, as well as specific issue expertise—factors that will help them achieve their governance goals.

The future of governance is hard to predict, but one thing is abundantly clear: addressing the challenges of an increasingly integrated and populated planet requires good governance. In the absence of good systems for resource distribution and conflict management, the future holds dark clouds. Yet the many examples of good, sustainable, legitimate governance that exist at many levels internationally do give reason for hope. They underscore that if the world can fix the existing problems with current governance systems, then the problems of the future may be easier to resolve than we now may think.

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