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Institutional Change for Sustainable Development

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers

Institutional Change for Sustainable Development presents a flexible, accessible, yet robust conceptual framework for comprehending institutional dimensions of sustainability, emphasising the complexity of institutional systems, and highlighting the interdependence between policy learning and institutional change. This framework is applied and developed through the analysis of five significant arenas of institutional and policy change: environmental policy in the EU; New Zealand’s landmark Resource Management Act; strategic environmental assessment; emerging National Councils for Sustainable Development; and transformative property rights instruments. From these explorations, key principles for institutional change are identified, including the institutional accommodation of a sustainability discourse, the interdependence of normative and institutional change; reiteration and learning; integration in policy and practice; subsidiarity; and legal change.
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Chapter 8: Principles and Elements of Institutional Change for Sustainable Development

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers


INTRODUCTION Notwithstanding its deep and diverse historical roots the issue of the long-run ecological sustainability of human society has only been clearly articulated for 15 years and only stated as an international and national policy agenda for a decade.1 In institutional terms that is a short time. In its broadest manifestation this policy agenda, generally known as sustainable development, is arguably the most profound intellectual and political agenda facing human society today.2 Sustainable development is about far more than ‘the environment’. It presents a suite of interrelated and significant challenges: protecting ecological life-support systems; reconciling ecological, social and economic imperatives in the long term; correcting grossly inequitable levels of human development; developing precautionary approaches to interventions in natural systems; creating participatory modes of policy and management; and using innovative policy tools.3 If past patterns of production and consumption, settlement and governance have been unsustainable and have evolved to be so over a long period of time, it follows that the problems are structural rather than superficial and not amenable to marginal organizational or policy change. That is, there is a prima facie case that the deeper institutional system of modern society is not suited to the different and difficult social goal of sustainable development. There is a strong consensus in the theoretical and empirical literature, and even in official policy, that sustainable development requires significant institutional change. After more than a decade of debate these calls for institutional change are not only still occurring but have intensified. This indicates that...

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