Strategies for governance natural resources within international political systems

Strategies for governance natural resources within international political systems

PhD in Politics Marina Ramonova
PhD in Politics Dmitry Zhuzha

One of the most important achievements of 20th-century science was the discovery of the unity and interconnectivity of all of the natural systems on our planet, which stretches beyond the global interdependence of economies and societies that resulted from the diffusion of information, ideas, technologies, goods, services, capital, and people across national boundaries. The urgent need to create new intellectual foundations for all human existence becomes the point of departure for addressing the challenges of sustainable development and survival, which must be founded on the idea of respecting the needs of future generations and caring for the environment. "The global system is a series of systems for the interaction of human beings who are guided in their actions by their will, awareness, values, etc."[1]

The processes of globalization, because of their dynamic nature and complexity, find their way into all spheres of modern life. Multiplicity, diversity, interconnectivity, and different areas of influence are common themes associated with globalization, despite the different interpretations of that very concept, its meaning, and its consequences. Globalism has challenged the traditional hegemony of nation-states in the regulation and control of markets and activities. The rapid pace of economic integration has led to the increasing interconnectivity of global markets and economies, requiring national policies to be carefully synchronized in order to address global challenges. Environmental problems are one aspect of this coordination - from common natural resources, such as fishing and biodiversity, to the potential cross-border effects of polluted land, water, and air. Current research on international and global environmental work confirms that management approaches that are limited by the traditional idea of national territorial sovereignty are inadequate to resolve global threats to the environment. An effective response to these challenges will require innovative thinking, improved strategies, and the formation of new mechanisms for international cooperation.

Nonetheless, nation-states remain the key actors in their responsibility for environmental governance. But some problems have a regional or global nature and cannot be resolved without international cooperation. The degradation of natural resources vital to all mankind is prompting the global community to search for strategies to manage these resources that are both rational on the individual level, as well as acceptable on the collective level. The idea of collective rationality includes preventing resources from being overtaxed and averting the "tragedy of the commons." Extrapolating this approach to a global scale exacerbates the problem, making it more severe and in some ways intractable, without clear rules and institutions to ensure the sustainable management of resources.

"The modern Global System is an intricately designed, ‘unstructured,’ and ‘ill-structured’ relationship between political actors, which to a large extent exists in accordance with the laws of chaos and random relations, rather than a system with a clear structure, which must exist in accordance with the laws of a ‘well-structured,’ i.e., natural system, with a low degree of entropy. A systematic approach to analyzing existing Trends and identifying new ones in order to create a new ‘World System’ is very effective, and examining categories of systematic analysis provides a basis for a logical and coherent approach to decision making. But it is important to remember that the relationship must be clearly structured in order to effectively address the problem."[2]

The centralized management of natural resources:

the system of international regimes

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, scholars had developed increasingly complex and radical methods of centralized management in order to address the issues of reduced biodiversity, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, decreasing water resources, and other environmental issues. Political figures and representatives of the academic community believed that allowing the state to administer environmental issues was the most appropriate strategy. Thus, nation-states were given a predominate role in the centralized management of natural resources and the resolution of environmental issues, while international regimes became the mechanism to implement this strategy.

Studies of the work of international regimes usually center around two major focal points: understanding, measuring, and evaluating the effectiveness of that work, and determining its inherent "democratic deficit." Several key factors can be seen in the preordained nature of decision making within the context of international regimes. On one hand, this is due to limitations on the participation of non-state actors (with the exception of the largest international NGOs, and, in some cases, the involvement of members of the scientific community), the unequal distribution of power, knowledge, and resources among the participating countries, as well as pressure from some actors that undermines the ability of the majority of the participants to have a say in the final outcome. On the other hand, the non-transparency of negotiations suggests the preordained nature of decisions that are subject to the influence of the strongest actors. And finally, the lack of effective mechanisms to enforce international agreements, particularly in situations of dispute (conflict), is also an obstacle to effective functioning. As of today, more than 1,700 multilateral and bilateral environmental agreements have been signed, but their effectiveness is extremely low and their impact is fragmentary at best.

The impotence of state-centric international regimes in the attempt to resolve the most critical global issues leads to a search for new institutions, forms of partnership, and mechanisms of management. The new paradigm of global management requires the involvement and expanded cooperation of social partners (previously outside the political process) in discussion and decision making. Reluctance, as well as occasionally the inability of nation-states to ensure efficient and ethical mechanisms of management, contributes to the growing role of the business community, non-state actors, social organizations, and members of the academic community in mobilizing public opinion in the search for innovative solutions. The foremost concern today is to establish a qualitatively new way of structuring and systematizing social networks and relationships that are based on mankind's highest achievements.[3]

The policy of decentralizing the global management of natural resources

The loss of faith in the state to act as a reliable steward of nature has been accompanied by a decline in the effectiveness of the government to manage the economy. The reasons for the shift were likely prompted by real changes, such as the fall of economic systems that relied on centralized forms of control. Budget woes, greater economic integration across national boundaries, and the reduction of subsidies have led to the worsening of the economic plight of many developing countries. Along with the emergence of new economic actors, greater democratization has contributed to the development of alternative forms of management that rely on greater public participation in the processes of governance. In addition, extensive research by scholars on the topics of land ownership and political ecology, emphasizing the potential of communities and other small social formations to manage resources, has formed an intellectual basis for the concepts of co-management, common management of natural resources, and the policy of decentralization. These studies have shown that forms of effective environmental governance are not limited to states and free-market institutions, but that the users of resources are often able to self-organize and manage the resources themselves. By studying many examples of resource management and underscoring areas in which external support helps to improve local governance, scholars researching common property and political ecology were able to lay the groundwork for the decentralized management of natural resources. In addition, the neoliberal reforms associated with globalization have helped reduce the influence of states by shifting management authority to alternative levels of decision making, through decentralization, privatization, and the use of market instruments.

Decentralized regulation of renewable resources (forests, irrigation systems, fisheries, etc.) has been gaining momentum since the mid-1980s. Indeed, decentralized management has become a hallmark of the late 20th and early 21st century, despite the fact that nonrenewable resources remain under strict government control. As Paul Hutchcroft emphasizes, "The decentralization of government functions is 'the latest fashion,' or at least 'a fashion of our time.'"[4] There are three main arguments in favor of the policy of decentralization. First, competition between subnational actors will make management more efficient. Second, decisions can be made closer to the areas being managed, thus encouraging greater participation and accountability. And third, decentralization makes it easier to take advantage of specific information about place and time when making management decisions regarding natural resources.

The effectiveness of the policy of decentralizing the management of natural resources was the result of changes in three types of political relations.[5] The first set of changes was associated with the vertical interaction between officials empowered to make decisions in local administrative bodies and their higher-ups. Much of the research on decentralization is focused on this aspect of the evolving relationships between subnational, regional, and local levels of management. The second set of issues has to do with changes in the interaction between the local decision-making centers and their constituents, with respect to environmental resources. Research on local resource management, especially literature pertaining to the study of the commons, is devoted to examining this aspect of decentralization. The third area, which is devoted to shifts in people’s relationships with each other and with the environment (as part of the changes in the relationship between the state and management), is also of crucial significance when assessing the effectiveness of decentralization.

Contemporary efforts to decentralize the management of resources are aimed at increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of that control. Decentralization makes it possible to create a politically influential, multilevel administrative structure. This allows various levels of actors to manage the process, by systematically adopting regulations (codes, standards, etc.) to be followed when exercising legislative or executive authority, which are then binding on the participants in the decision-making process. Paradoxically, decentralization seems to be quite compatible with the existence of centralized authority, in which formal involvement in the decision-making process is found along with clearly delimited authority, within which the local actors are expected to operate. In addition to saving taxpayers’ money, decentralization serves political and strategic objectives, as the delegation of responsibility makes it possible to shift any public dissatisfaction with the decisions that are made onto the shoulders of local officials.

But decentralized environmental governance differs from the decentralization of governmental power in two important aspects. For the most part, a system of indirect management and community development has been based on the existing power structures, incorporating them into the formal process of exercising state authority. However, the decentralized management of resources, especially at the local level, has been based on the creation of new organizational entities and the establishment of new lines of institutionalized authority. Even more striking are the differences, which are characteristic of contemporary environmental governance and have to do with the ways of involving individual members of the public and their responsibilities. By focusing on incentives that encourage individuals to participate in the new institutional mechanisms of regulating the environment, contemporary processes of decentralization help develop individual paths to effective functioning. Decentralized management is built on rhetoric extolling the creation of opportunities, personal knowledge, and individual self-awareness. Current changes in the subnational management of resources are creating exciting opportunities for the reshaping the entire landscape of political decision making on the environment. As such, further studies have great potential, both for gaining insight into the results of research on the creation of common-property institutions, as well as for involving local leaders in the new forms of natural-resource management. At the same time, it is worth emphasizing that the current changes are not seen solely as a cause for optimism, due to individuals being given greater voice in the results of this management. Some also suspect that the policy of decentralization has been backed by powerful government bodies in order to strengthen their own hand. Without effective safeguards against arbitrary decisions by local actors and transparent mechanisms to hold them accountable, decentralization can lead to more rigid forms of regulation than centralized control.

Social/political and horizontal/vertical issues in resource management both affect and are affected by the institutionalized nature of decision making at the local, state, regional, national, and transnational levels. The most appropriate prescription for resolving the multilevel nature of environmental problems is to develop management mechanisms across levels of social and institutional aggregation. Multilevel management is intended to help resolve the problem of fragmentation, which is characteristic of a system organized around geographic, social, or political divisions. These management strategies encourage the seeking of compromise, social training, and the creation of mechanisms to ensure more transparent, representative, and informal decision making. Increasingly, multilevel mechanisms of management are being created by non-state actors: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), transnational corporations, international organizations, and academic communities. New actors introduce innovative tools and regulatory mechanisms and help forge positive power relations in the policy arena.

The long-term consequences of problems in resource management could be particularly serious because of two key trends: contempocentrism and uncertainty regarding the cause and effect relationship of long-term environmental changes. Contempocentrism partly stems from high market discount rates and is characterized by disregard for the welfare of future generations and confidence in the ability of technology to resolve the problems of depleted and scarce natural resources. Human beings have a tendency to waste resources today, with no thought whatsoever for the future. The lack of clear-cut findings from research into the causes and effects of the relationship between human actions and environmental problems, coupled with the high cost of changing the course of economic development, creates a major disincentive to instituting changes.

Methods of managing resources

Based on the general theory of property rights, four main methods of natural-resource management can be identified.[6] For the purposes of this paper, the classification is based on grouping actors who hold management authority and who are expected to take responsibility for using that authority to make decisions under the auspices of international regulations, intergovernmental agreements, or on other legal basis, in accordance with several methods:

  1. State management: Authority and responsibility are entrusted to government agencies, which may hold meetings and discussions with other stakeholders as part of the decision-making process. Authority may be delegated to the national or provincial level (in a federal state), or to the local or municipal level. Management authority can also be delegated to a certain organization, such as a local government agency, private corporation, nongovernmental organization, or other group of stakeholders), which make certain decisions within the limits of the rights delegated to them. The main challenge of this form of management is seek balance between bureaucratic regulation and the freedom to make decisions that incorporate knowledge about a specific place or time, which is likely to require organizational changes.
  2. Multi-actor management: Management authority and responsibility are shared in various ways among several parties, such as government agencies, local communities, NGOs, private landowners, and representatives from the businesses community. In joint management (co-management), decision-making authority is entrusted to one party (frequently a government institution), but that party is also required to collaborate with other actors. All actors with management authority share responsibility (for example, this approach was proposed for marine areas in the open sea that are outside the jurisdiction of all countries). The main challenge for multi-actor management is to horizontally and vertically integrate the objectives of various actors. In addition, the leadership of one of the actors will be an important aspect of building trusting relationships.
  3. Local community management: Decision-making authority and responsibility lie with local communities that own or claim the right to lands on the basis of their traditional use and possession. In this case, the term "local community" refers to social and geographic groups of people, not necessarily homogeneous, who live close to or care for the natural/cultural resources in the protected area. Local communities may include individuals or groups of individuals with traditional or customary rights to possess or dispose of property in the region, as well as those whose livelihoods are directly dependent on that region. Members of local communities who do not have ownership rights may also actively participate in managing the region, along with the landowners. Management may be rooted in traditions, customs, and ethnic practices. Special rights defining broader responsibilities to society, as well as mechanisms of joint management, can be negotiated with government organizations outside of the local communities. The management challenge of local communities includes delineating authority, clarifying legal issues, and creating vertical linkages for institutional and financial support.
  4. Private management: Authority and responsibility lie with private (nongovernmental) owners: individuals, groups of individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations. The main challenge is to provide economic incentives and information relevant to effective management, as well as to create new government mechanisms and social incentives to encourage training and cooperation.

It must be noted that none of the methods of management we have described is fundamentally superior to the others, since using one approach or another may lead to different outcomes under otherwise similar conditions. In order to be fair, a balance will have to be maintained between the costs and benefits of preserving natural resources. Opportunities to have a voice in the decisions will also have to be expanded (based on legal regulations and human rights), the boundaries of the various actors' governing authority will have to be delineated, and the effectiveness of the methods by which those making the decisions are held accountable will have to be ascertained.

Although in theory no one method of management is superior to another, the results may differ under otherwise similar circumstances. It is significant that they also tend to produce different outcomes using their own capital. Impartiality means that the relevant costs and benefits of conservation are shared equitably, and opportunity to participate in the decision making is provided on the basis of that right and human rights, each of which is dependent on who is authorized to make decisions and bear the responsibility and whether and in what manner the responsibility was entrusted to them.

The institution of ownership of natural resources

Classical theories of ownership cite two main types:

  1. Complete (including the right of possession, use, and disposal, and also including the possibility of alienation)
  2. Limited (often limited to the rights of possession and disposal).

However, ownership rights to natural resources must be seen in a somewhat expanded form. The concept of “landowner” is not entirely appropriate, because an actor's rights can closely resemble full rights in relation to other entities, but without the power to possess, use, and dispose of property at will. In addition, these rights can be jointly shared by other co-managers. The difference between an "owner," user, and claimant depends on what rights they possess in relation to other stakeholders (Table 2).


Owner (the right of alienation)



Authorized user

Authorized entrant

























Table 2. A comparison of the rights of possession and disposal of natural resources[7]

In order to manage natural resources, the most important aspect of ownership is the right to make management decisions. Some actors may freely dispose of the proceeds of their activities and thus should pay rent to the public or the state in exchange for their use of natural resources in the course of those activities. These actors will have the right to make management decisions. Consequently, only that which an actor has created may be privately owned, and, accordingly, with respect to natural resources, the institution of ownership signifies the right to invest one's labor into natural resources, in order to increase the productivity of what is owned. Individuals, non-state actors, the business community, and states and should freely share this right and the right to invest their efforts in the transformation (conservation) of natural resources.

The issue of ownership with regard to natural resources on a global level takes on a slightly different meaning - it begins to be viewed not as a prerogative of the domestic policy of one state or another, but as something that is strategically important to the entire global community. In accordance with this policy, the relationship to natural resources is viewed from the standpoint of how to satisfy the necessities of life of all of mankind, while abiding by the principle of caring for the welfare of future generations and preserving the environment. A new theory about the ownership of natural resources is developing, according to which they are the property of the entire global community. However, a major problem with this approach is the unequal distribution of natural resources. This prompts some scholars to develop the concept of land rent, in which countries that are rich in resources are required to make payments to the more poorly endowed, thus leading to the problem of how to fairly distribute the dividends and costs at the level of the global community.[8]

Institutional forms of actor interaction

Alternative, institutional forms of collaboration have recently begun to take shape under the influence of the transformational tendencies that are associated with the impact of the mechanisms of globalization, decentralization, the increasing proliferation of multilevel management strategies, market instruments of regulation, and individual efforts. These are innovative, hybrid, regulatory mechanisms, established on the basis of the conditional separation of the social roles of the state, business structures (private owners), and communities. No single organization or state has sufficient authority, expertise, or resources to effectively manage resources on a global level, such as cross-border water resources (see further details[9]). The interdependence of stakeholders necessitates interaction. Cooperation based on a relationship of trust between partners is essential for the constructive resolution of conflict.

Figure 1 shows a diagram of the strategic management of natural resources:

· co-management

· public-private partnership

· a partnership between market actors and communities

The arrangement shown in the diagram of interaction is based on the principle of maximizing management benefits by simultaneously addressing the weakness of a particular social agent and building upon the strength of the other partner.

The participation of business organizations in this interaction is intended to eliminate the inefficiencies of government regulation, often by introducing competitive pressures, as well as enabling greater profitability from the use of natural resources. Community involvement in the management process is intended to provide the benefits of information about a specific place and time, which will be of great help when making key decisions, as well as in the allocation of profits derived from natural assets. Increasing the involvement of the various stakeholders, plus support from government authorities, can help overcome the "democratic deficit" and lack of legitimacy, which is associated with the development of market-based regulatory instruments. In addition, state organizations should create conditions under which the fragmented social actions taken by decentralized communities and market players may become more coherent and therefore more effective.

Each of the parties is the initiator of joint action with at least one of the participants. This diagram illustrates the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of modern resource governance.

It is now more common to see the mobilization of individual efforts, which originally lay at the core of market-based instruments. Modern strategies of co-management, in contrast to their historical predecessors, have focused on studying feedback about individual responses to governance. This type of compilation and analysis of individual preferences makes it possible to identify ways to encourage voluntary cooperation and to reconcile that with the objectives of decentralized management. This emphasis on voluntary cooperation has led some scholars to dub this strategy, "governance without government."[11] Given the degree of involvement of individual private interests in these new management strategies, it is reasonable to conclude that the growing tendency to restructure the incentives and relationships of actors at different levels toward new resource-management is based on the principles of civic engagement, the use of market regulation, and mechanisms of self-organization. Public-private cooperation and social-private partnerships operate in a similar way.

The limitations and challenges of decentralization and the strategies for the multilevel management of natural resources

Creating new actors who are able to solve environmental problems and involving them in the management of natural resources has enormous implications, not all of which have been easily accepted within the academic community. Some scholars described the processes of expanding public-private and social-private partnerships as a move toward increasing the democratic deficit and creating greater disparities in the allocation of natural resources. Those who are better able to access and study these new mechanisms are more likely to derive greater benefit from their use. Other scholars have expressed serious concerns about involving market players in the more radical mechanisms of management that can, in the words of Diana Liverman, lead to the commodification of nature.[12] If natural resources are to be used more efficiently, this is equivalent to extracting those resources at a faster rate, thus raising questions about the welfare of future generations.

For others, especially adherents of the radical political-economy movements, there is nothing new in the global management of resources, rather, the proposed new mechanisms are merely the next stage in the natural evolution of traditional regime politics, because outsiders and disenfranchised groups are still little involved in the process of management, despite the greater inclusion of members of the civil society (see further details[13]). The main difference between today’s models of global environmental governance and regime theory is that the role of voluntary, social, cross-border associations (positioned between the individual and the state) is being accorded to the members of the global civil society. However, Lucy Ford[14] argues that the rhetoric of societal participation, as presented in the Brundtland report, has had little impact on regime politics, since it failed to democratize the very process of negotiation. Consequently, new forms of global resource management are not a fundamental transformation, and can be viewed only as a reflection of the existing distribution of power, despite the emergence of new players. In fact, global resource management has been integrated into the neoliberal political economy, which is hegemonic in the neo-Gramscian sense, in that a relationship based on dominant power is maintained by both consent and coercion. In this sense, resource management is a facet of global corporate interests, intended to promote economic globalization and to regulate the activity of both NGOs and nation-states (see further details[15]). Corporate interests and multilateral organizations are able to control and structure environmental protection efforts in order to legitimize their own model of development. These dominant interests give more weight to the problem-solving aspect of new instruments, without helping to improve unequal power relationships, which the "new" system also preserves. In this context, the actors bear the responsibility for any degradation of resources, and they determine the provisions of their protection. "Management from below," as manifested in social movements and protests against TNCs, the WTO, and the IMF, are the only clear challenges seen today, despite the risk of their being co-opted.[16]

Horizontal management networks, including a wider range of social actors, are characterized by their need to obtain assurances that players who have the right of veto (and whose "vote" or "exit" could jeopardize social movement) agree with their strategic choices. The preferential rights to participate held by "elite" actors make it possible to reduce the risk of their veto or other interference in the decision-making process. The legitimacy of horizontal networks is based on the fact that they operate successfully and are seen as an acceptable compromise for the sake of "the greater good." However this can scarcely serve as a justification for their legitimacy. Moreover, the mere inclusion of a larger number of social partners does not necessarily make the governance system more democratic. Proponents of new forms of management argue that even if these approaches are characterized by a democratic deficit, they are no worse than traditional representative democracy.[17] However, critics point out that they do not conform to a normative model of electoral democracy, the fairness of which is grounded in the equal participation of all stakeholders. Finally, the non-transparency of managing networks could prevent the public from identifying and evaluating the work of special agents, such as experts, who play an important role in framing the relevant issues and developing plans of action. For example, during a conflict or crisis, the predominance of "less democratic" expert politics is justified because of the urgent and serious nature of the current problem.

The world may find some new and effective solutions by taking a new look at new challenges with new personalities. "In 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed the concept of 'smart power' at a Senate hearing. On January 11, 2010, Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated at a European Parliament hearing that she believes in 'quiet diplomacy.' The ideas of 'quiet diplomacy' and 'smart power' came from two female politicians who represent the interests of the world's most developed economic entities, the EU and US. This fact suggests that in a changing world, global reforms are compelling the West to rethink its foreign policy and 'silently' review some courses of action."[18]

"Synergy and creating combinations are the most effective approaches in the search for structure and ideological keys when creating new International Political Systems."[19]

"We support the proposition of the continuity of the Global System. Our aim is to replace Eurocentric history and social science with something more human-centric, and eventually with an exocentric approach. We are driven by the idea of uninterrupted history and the development of a 'single world system' in Afro-Eurasia, for at least 5,000 years."[20]


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  1. Hutchcroft PD. 2001. Centralization and decentralization in administration and politics: Assessing territorial dimensions of authority and power. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions 14: 23-53

  1. GEM-CON-BIO Technical Report Ecosystem Governance in Europe.2006
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  3. Rhodes RAW. 1996. The new governance: Governing without government. Political Studies 44: 652
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  1. Dauvergne P. 2005. Handbook of Global Environmental Politics
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  1. Falkner R. 2003. Private Environmental Governance and International Relations: Exploring the Links. Global Environmental Politics стр.: 72-87

  1. Papadopoulos Y. 2006. Conceptualising Accountability in Network and Multi-Level Governance.

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[4] Hutchcroft PD. 2001. Centralization and decentralization in administration and politics: Assessing territorial dimensions of authority and power. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions 14: 23-53

[5] Environmental governance. Submitted to Annual Review of Environment and Resources. M.C. 8

[6] GEM-CON-BIO Technical Report Ecosystem Governance in Europe.2006

[7] Ostrom E. 2002. Type of goods and collective action.

[8] Pozdnyakov, A. V. Equal Rights to Natural Resources

[9] Environmental governance. Submitted to Annual Review of Environment and Resources. M.C. Lemos.стр. 13-14

[10] Environmental governance. Submitted to Annual Review of Environment and Resources. M.C. Lemos. pgs.13-14

[11] Rhodes RAW. 1996. The new governance: Governing without government. Political Studies 44: 652

[12] Liverman D. 2004. Who governs, at what scale, and at what price? Geography,environmental governance, and the commodification of nature. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94: 734-738

[13] Dauvergne P. 2005. Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

[14] Ford LH. 2003. Challenging Global Environmental Governance: Social Movement Agency and Global Civil Society. Global Environmental Politics 120-134

[15] Falkner R. 2003. Private Environmental Governance and International Relations: Exploring the Links. Global Environmental Politics стр.: 72-87

[16] Dauvergne P. 2005. Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

[17] Papadopoulos Y. 2006. Conceptualising Accountability in Network and Multi-Level Governance:


  1. [19]A. Ramonova Modern transformations in international political systems in a globalizing world//Moscow University Newsletter. Series 12. Political science, MGU, 2010
  2. [20]Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills World-system history: The social science of long-term change. Edited by Robert A. Denemark, 2000. New York, NY 10001. Trans. by Marina Ramonova your social media marketing partner