For years, international policy on the environment and biodiversity has not just been the concern of governments. Countless other organisations and their mutual strategic alliances also play a significant role. Without them there would be no sustainable fish in the supermarket and no FSC wood at the DIY centre. However, Dutch researcher Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers has discovered that only a small proportion of these 'partnerships' make a substantial contribution to biodiversity.
An important outcome of partnerships are certification systems for products that have a major impact on biodiversity, such as wood, soya, palm oil, fish or sugarcane. Thanks to these partnerships it is widely accepted that sustainability policy is not only developed by governments but also via market interests. Consequently by purchasing sustainably produced products, consumers can make a contribution to international environmental policy.
Of the 24 partnerships Visseren investigated, seven (the so-called 'gems') make a unique and significant contribution to biodiversity policy; the others play a less prominent role and are less effective. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is one of these 'gems'. This partnership was one of the first of its kind. The FSC has played a significant role in ensuring that certification standards have now become a normal instrument for sustainability policy. Moreover, the FSC is unique due to its relatively high level of ambition for sustainability and the fact that social, environmental and economic interests carry equal weighting in the partnership.
The difference between the 'gems' and the less effective partnerships lies, for example, in the high level of ambition, the focus on results and the strategic deployment of the gems. Partnerships are also dependent on power relations, the local politics and government policy. A striking outcome of the research is that the efficacy of partnerships is generally not facilitated if national governments become actively involved.
Governments have an indisputable role
Visseren's research demonstrates that many partnerships choose to develop less stringent standards. The environmental improvements that must be implemented to satisfy these standards are relatively small. However, this might lead to the standards with a higher level of ambition and a higher environmental yield being priced out of the market. Governments ought to ensure a level playing field for these different types of certification systems. A new balance should be found between guidance by governments and the market; more coordination by governments is desirable. This way, both government policy and the partnerships would become more effective.
The doctoral research 'Partnerships in biodiversity governance: An assessment of their contributions to halting biodiversity loss' was carried out at Utrecht University under the auspices of the 'Partnerships for sustainable development' programme that was funded by the NWO programme Social Scientific Research into Nature and the Environment (GaMON).
The above story is based on materials provided by NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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