Scarcely a day goes by without some top headline reference to some major ecological challenge. But so many of these issues, perhaps most of them, transcend traditional national territories even as these actors are the ones that are tasked with tackling such crises.
Indeed, the focus of most attention these days is upon the boundaries of the entire earth system, in particular the nine thresholds that Johan Rockstrom and colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre first identified in 2009 as key to humanity living within a safe operating space in the planetary biosphere, including climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, ozone depletion and chemical pollution.
Climate change in particular makes it clear that environmental matters cross many boundaries in ways that make governing change using territorial borders very difficult.
In the last few years, we have seen the transformation of landscapes into their conception as carbon sinks, as well as the financial calculations of offsets and carbon trading and related climate strategies.
A key interest for researchers in this area is which environmental phenomena are governed by territorial strategies with definable borders, and which ones aren’t, and what forms do new structures of international environmental governance take.
Border arrangements have long been important for managing common issues such as rivers and waterways that have defined geographical features. But what they are managed for, and specifically what is it that is being sustained when it comes to fishing, navigation, water supply, electricity generation or recreational boating?
Clearly trade measures controlling cross border flows matter in such things as wildlife protection and stratospheric ozone, but at least so far not so much in terms of climate change.
Meanwhile, attempts to link Yukon to Yellowstone in a wildlife migration corridor emphasize the difficulties of borders in environmental management. Migratory species and agreements on managing birds in particular complicate the matter. And what cross-border strategies are appropriate for invasive species?
All of these sort of issues also raise key questions about the shifting territorial modes of rule in the face of rapidly changing technologies.
Can we tease out general principles where certain kinds of phenomena are amenable to management by bordering? How do atmospheric, terrestrial and aqueous phenomena differ in terms of governance strategies? What models have worked in each case in terms of dealing with borders, and which haven’t?
Dr. Simon Dalby at Wilfrid Laurier University leads the Sustainability theme.