By Tim Cadman
Research Fellow,
Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law

The title of this blog, and the research projects described below, are a (partial) response to three provocations:

  • How can we visualize complex institutional arrangements and actors’ relations in a world that is no longer confined to two-dimensional representation?
  • How do we link the user experience of these emerging technologies to the institutions and actors being represented?
  • Additionally, how do we communicate these approaches to the academic, public and policy communities, constrained as they (still) are by the printed (electronic) word as a primary means of knowledge transfer?

There are no simple answers, but understanding what contemporary international policy regimes ‘look’ like is critical to engaging policymakers and the public in processes that are often bewildering and frustrating. The Climate Regime Map and Eco-Regime Map, have been created to enable users to navigate themselves around global environmental agreements. From a design perspective, the project seeks to move beyond a two-dimensional mapping exercise, to encompass visually engaging graphics, connected databases of information, surveys, and other interactive components. The maps are intended as a means to involve governments and civil society in an interactive process of inquiry with current international regimes.

Mapping the Climate Regime

Understanding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC– the ‘climate regime’) is critical to ensuring its ongoing viability into the future, which is why ‘mapping’ the Convention in all its complexity is so important. But achieving a common understanding is of little value if it does not translate into action. The Climate Regime Map is intended as a decision-support tool that enables all stakeholders to navigate themselves around the regime’s many and varied elements – and thereby participate more meaningfully in the discussions around how the Convention is constructed into the future. From a design perspective, the project seeks to move beyond a two-dimensional mapping exercise, and encompass visually engaging graphics, connected databases of information, surveys, and other interactive components. The project is designed to engage governmental Parties to the Convention as well as civil society and non-governmental stakeholders in a process of critical reflection on the design of the current regime, and how to improve it into the future. The map was made available in the lead up to climate negotiations in Paris in 2015 and launched during the Conference of Parties (COP 21), to increase understanding of the current governance of the climate regime, and the many institutional arrangements that contribute to the overall integrity of the UNFCCC as a policy instrument for combatting climate change.

The coding for the map was funded under the Dutch Government’s Creative Industries Fund with content development undertaken by staff from theInstitute for Ethics, Governance and Law(IEGL) atGriffith University, Australia, who were awarded an Australian Research Council grant Towards Global Carbon Integrity: Applying integrity systems methodology to the ‘Global Carbon Crisis’ (2015-2017), which identifying the climate regime’s governance challenges, and evaluating its integrity — i.e. its ability to deliver on the commitments made by global governments under the convention to reduce human-made fossil fuel emissions. The research for the map was undertaken in consultation with climate regime stakeholders and was conducted during the course of the ARC project. More information on the ARC project can be found in the publications: Ethical Values and the Integrity of theClimate Change Regime, Governing the Climate Change Regime.Institutional Integrity and Integrity Systems and The Implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Navigate the Climate Regime Map

Mapping Ecosystem Services

The idea of valuing nature has become a core element of contemporary sustainable development and green economy agendas.[1] This has been enabled by the widespread acceptance of the ‘ecosystems services’ concept, which tries to capture the value of the environment for human wellbeing. As the ecosystems services concept becomes increasingly embedded in development planning and economic policy-making, it is imperative to understand the opportunities it creates for environmental conservation and social development, and its inherent tensions and limitations. Transitioning to inclusive and sustainable economies requires governance systems that are responsive to scientific evidence and ‘practical wisdom’ (i.e., knowledge, experience, judgement, and insight). In other words, the political institutions currently using the concept of ecosystem services need to recognise and reflect on the lessons generated by historical uses of this concept, and the knowledge distributed amongst contemporary stakeholders. This involves mapping the global governance field for ecosystem services, with the aim of understanding which international and transnational actors are using the concept of ecosystem services; and whether and how international use of the ecosystem services concept has changed over time.

The EcoRegimeMap adopted a different approach to visualising this complex set of interacting institutions, and was an initiative of the research project Valuing Nature: Ecosystem Services for Sustainable Development and a Green Economy. The lead investigators were Dr Hayley Stevenson, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella & University of Sheffield and Professor James Meadowcroft, Carleton University. The co-investigators were Professor Lorraine Elliott, Australian National University, Dr Martin Craig, University of Sheffield, Dr Jennifer Iris Allan, Carleton University, Dr Abidah Setyowati, Australian National University, Dr Abidah Setyowati, Australian National University, Dr Juliana Peixoto Batista, FLACSO Argentina, and the author.

Construction of the map was led by IEGL staff, with the assistance of Dr Allan. Interestingly, the map reveals how few of the activities at the international level are oriented to paying for the use of environmental services, or valuing their contribution to sustainable economic development. These findings will shortly be published in a jointly-authored paper “Stuck in Capacity Building:The unfulfilled promise of ecosystem services” for the journal Ecological Economics.

Navigate the EcoRegimeMap

[1] Cadman, T., Eastwood, L., Michaelis, F. L. C., Maraseni, T. N., Pittock, J., & Sarker, T. (2015). The political economy of sustainable development: Policy instruments and market mechanisms. Edward Elgar Publishing.