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Emerging Issues in Decentralized Resource Governance

This paper provides a review of current issues in the field of environmental federalism. Federalism studies how multilevel political jurisdictions interact, both vertically and horizontally. Environmental federalism shifts the focus by concentrating on environmental goods and ecosystem services. This shift expands the inquiry to include investigation of how ecosystem services respond to changes in resource management by governments. Environmental spillovers among political jurisdictions are common and likely to increase with growing population and consumption. This makes the question of whether to centralize or decentralize environmental governance a pressing concern in a world where our social, political, and ecological systems are closely linked.  

The paper focuses on two key issues: the perceived theoretical advantages of decentralization versus the specific needs of governments and the growing literature on complex, adaptive socio-ecological systems. The purpose in raising this point is to demonstrate the importance of reintegrating the study of environmental federalism with that of complex adaptive socio-ecological systems. It is possible that studying these two disciplines together may provide a new justification for decentralized resource governance. 

A key finding of this paper is that differences in how various jurisdictions approach the environment as a public good may push national policy toward a quantity-based approach, such as a cap-and-trade program, rather than a price-based approach, such as a carbon tax. Currently, the lack of academic interaction between environmental federalism analysis and studies of adaptive governance leaves both literatures incomplete. The increasing urgency of global sustainability issues argues for linking insights from environmental federalism with the literature on linked socio-ecological complex adaptive systems.  

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Emerging Issues in Decentralized Resource Governance_full study