Sustainability Science Program


Global Environmental Risks (Social Learning Project)


This study seeks to better understand the long-term development of efforts to manage interactions between society and the global environment. It conceives "management" broadly to include problem and goal definition, as well as the formulation and implementation of action programs and policy. It explores the impact and interactions of ideas, interests, and institutions on the development of management practice. It investigates the extent to which, and means by which, efforts at global environmental management entrain multiple actors in multiple national and super-national arenas. Similarly, it is interested in the extent to which the management capacity for dealing with any specific global environmental concern is affected by the management capacity developed for dealing with other issues. Finally, it asks to what extent and in what ways, learning has played a significant role in the development of society's approach to the management of its interactions with the global environment.

 To illuminate these questions, the study traces the evolution of efforts to address the issues of acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change over a period extending from the International Geophysical Year of 1957 through the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of 1992. It offers a comparative exploration of the development of these issues across a range of national and international settings including Japan, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, the former Soviet Union, Hungary, the European Union and the family of international environmental organizations. It describes the development of management response along two dimensions: one focusing on problem framing, agenda setting, and issue attention; the other on management functions of risk assessment, monitoring, option assessment, goal and strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation.

Numerous studies of global environmental change have concentrated on particular countries, issues, institutions, periods and policies. This work seeks to complement such focused efforts by fashioning a long-term, large-scale overview of how the interplay between ideas and actions across multiple problem areas has laid the foundations on which contemporary efforts in global environmental management are now building. It has been written by, and should be of interest to, scientists, policy advisors and others involved in contemporary efforts to manage global environmental change, as well as scholars seeking to advance our broader understanding of global environmental issues and governance.