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Reflection on Action Document: Ethics and Responsibility in Environmental Governance


by Te Kawehau Hoskins, Betsan Martin

Responsibility in governance and decision-making is to prioritize the integrity of ecosystems along with the wellbeing of people. This paper emphasizes relational ethics and collaborative systems for environmental governance and is therefore in the mode of co-responsibility.

Responsibility in governance and decision-making is to prioritize the integrity of ecosystems along with the wellbeing of people. This paper emphasizes relational ethics and collaborative systems for environmental governance and is therefore in the mode of co-responsibility. We draw on international research and case studies with information from key practitioners and professionals, mainly from Aotearoa-New Zealand and the Pacific region. Many of these are on water, arising from our studies of water ecosystems in the region. Although these are necessarily specific, we have in mind principles for wider relevance.

The orientation for governance is to restore human interdependence with nature. Responsibility is a relational ethic to mark a radical shift from individualized interests that is the predominant basis of western systems of governance, law and economics. An underlying problem for environmental governance is the historical separation of nature and culture. This arose during the 16th century development of the philosophy and economy of liberalism. This idea entrenched the objectification of nature and facilitated technological advances and scientific inquiry without ethical accountability in regards to the exploitation of nature.

We have considered the role of ethics in governance and discussed this with key contributors to this project. We consider that ethics can never by fully confined to formalized rules and requirements and therefore has a quality of ‘investing’ politics with values and moral integrity. At the same time it is imperative to pursue the quest for policy and legal frameworks to lift environmental responsibilities to the level of legally binding obligation with recourse to criminal justice. The philosophical concepts of relational responsibility are complemented by indigenous relational worldviews. Indigenous systems are characterized by integrated and adaptive decision-making and by relational commitments with intergenerational accountabilities.

- Introduction

- Constraints to responsibility with analysis of problems and their causes.

- Practices in Environmental Governance in support of Responsibility, with Examples

  • Tenure and Common Property
  • Governance gaps in Global networks
  • Global Environmental governance
  • Environmental Law

- Dilemmas which have been mentioned

- Cultural attitudes that determine these priorities

- What suggestions emerge for creating cultures of responsibility?

- Discussion on Future Strategy

Read the full report [PDF 545KB]:

PDF - 532.3 kb
RAD Envir Governance Responsiblity Nov2011
Published on: 30 November 2011
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