Ramping up governance of the global environmental commons: what do theory and history tell us?

This paper discusses how governance of the global environmental commons requires collective action to generate public goods. Public goods theorists vary in their views about what it takes and how likely it is to achieve such collective action to produce these goods. The history of efforts to generate the public good of a better global environment includes some important successes such as the Montreal Protocol and its recent Kigali Amendment and varying results in reducing chemical pollution, addressing climate change, slowing deforestation, protecting biodiversity, and managing ocean fisheries. Based on both the theories and this history, the way forward to ramping up governance of the global environmental commons will involve a wide range of actions—including strengthening the legitimizing narrative of sustainable development, building more robust national coalitions that underpin international agreements, and supporting technological innovation.

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