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Global Governance Architectures

In the last fifty years, we have seen a tremendous explosion of international institutions to protect our planet from human influences. More than 1300 multilateral environmental treaties are in force, along with many non-legally binding global political programmes, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, numerous non-state, transnational institutions have been set up. As a consequence, the governance of vital earth systems has become utterly complex, with myriad institutions and agencies all in the same political space. In 2007, I advanced here the concept of ‘global governance architecture’, which has evolved into a main research theme of the Earth System Governance Project. My main academic interest is the fragmentation of global governance architectures. I see fragmentation as a variable, with some architectures being more or less fragmented than others, and more or less fragmented over time. 

But what are the political implications of high or low degrees of fragmentation? How is this related to governance effectiveness?


In recent years I started to explore the links between governance fragmentation, unjust governance outcomes, and what I refer to as green colonialism. My argument is that highly fragmented governance architectures, in a neoliberal capitalist global economy, advance the interests of the powerful nations in the Global North, while poor and less powerful nations in the Global South would rather benefit from strong global institutions that are based on fair decision-making processes, such as – despite all its shortcomings – the United Nations institutions.

A major current outcome of the architecture research theme is the edited book ‘Architectures of Earth System Governance: Institutional Complexity and Structural Transformation’, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press. Here, over 40 international relations scholars offer an authoritative synthesis of a decade of research on global governance architectures with an empirical focus on protecting the environment and vital earth systems. Our contributors investigated the structural intricacies of earth system governance and explained how global architectures enable or hinder individual institutions and their overall effectiveness. The book offers much-needed conceptual clarity about key building blocks and structures of complex governance architectures, charts detailed directions for new research, and provides analytical groundwork for policy reform. 


Other key publications include:

The fragmentation of global governance architectures: A framework for analysis (foundational article from 2009)

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