Governing Atmospheric Sinks: Architecture of Entitlements in the Global Commons

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"This paper revisits key works on the management of common- pool resources under common property arrangements, in order to elicit a broader notion of collective ownership which can be used as an analytical concept to describe and analyse institutional arrangements that govern the use of environmental resources such as water and air quality, biodiversity and atmospheric sinks. Large-scale environmental resources such as these are typically governed by formal legal institutions such as national environmental policies or international environmental conventions. The paper demonstrates that these arrangements can be usefully characterised as particular forms of collective ownership, and that many observations about the design of successful common property arrangements also provide useful insights into the design of these formal environmental governance institutions. "The paper examines the emerging governance framework for global atmospheric sinks in detail as a case study to exemplify the usefulness of conceptualising formal governance institutions as forms of collective ownership. The paper discusses the physical resource attributes of global atmospheric sinks and their uses and users, indicating what the main challenges in governing them are. The paper then contrasts the international multi-level governance framework for atmospheric resources to observations made in the literature on the design principles of successful common property arrangements. The paper indicates how crucial parts of the governance framework are still missing. Entitlements to the use of atmospheric sinks have not yet been adequately formalised and attenuated and instead remain based on 'capture'. As a result, the current institutional framework has not overcome the 'tragedy of the commons' in the use of atmospheric sinks. Other key problems include highly unequal distribution of benefits from the use of atmospheric sinks and the inability of affected parties to participate in decisions that affect them. Together these problems hinder the attainment of mutually agreed-upon solutions for the governance of atmospheric sinks through international negotiations. The paper suggests that in the future the governance solution for global atmospheric sinks has to 1) cap the use of atmospheric sinks, instead of only prescribing relative cuts in its use as in the Kyoto Protocol; 2) provide for a more equitable benefit sharing by introducing responsibility for the adverse impacts of greenhouse gas emissions through carbon taxation or other means; 3) provide for compensation of climate change impacts and assistance for adaptation to climate change impact; and 4) create institutional solutions for enhancing participation in environmental decisions, particularly across the levels of governance, in order to guarantee progress in and legitimacy of the governance framework."
IASC, climate change, common pool resources, biodiversity, environmental policy, Kyoto Protocol