Governing the Environment

Governing the Environment

Salient Institutional Issues

New Horizons in Environmental Economics series

Edited by Albert Breton, Giorgio Brosio, Silvana Dalmazzone and Giovanna Garrone

Environmental policy, focusing on the control of pollution and on over-exploitation, easily overlooks the extensive range of interconnections between economic activities and natural systems. In this timely book, a number of specialists examine how crucial aspects of complex environmental problems and policy can be dealt with in decentralized governmental systems.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Albert Breton, Giorgio Brosio, Silvana Dalmazzone and Giovanna Garrone

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics


Albert Breton, Giorgio Brosio, Silvana Dalmazzone and Giovanna Garrone Governing the environment, like governing any area of activity, poses questions relating to who should take on – or be assigned – the responsibility to execute particular tasks and with the use of which instruments. Are central governments better equipped than more local bodies to carry out certain tasks and vice versa? What circumstances must prevail and what conditions obtain to require the transfer of a competence to a supranational authority? When are private bodies capable of performing certain tasks or functions more efficiently than public agencies? More than other areas of policy interventions, however, environmental policy-making requires a systemic approach: most ecosystems are highly interrelated, have complex spatial and temporal dimensions and respond to protracted stress in nonlinear and therefore unpredictable ways. In addition, some environmental changes may turn out to have extremely far-reaching and irreversible consequences. This makes the design of environmental governance a particularly complex exercise. By and large, propositions pertaining to the assignment of environmental powers (functions, fields, areas of responsibility) have been formulated within the framework of fiscal federalism and ascribed to a special niche identified as environmental federalism. The classical arguments for decentralization of public sector responsibilities when applied to the environment led to the conclusion that environmental powers should be decentralized when problems are in the nature of local public goods, when environmental protection does not exhibit important economies of scale and when it is possible to tailor the supply of environmental policies to fit those...