Global Public Goods Management

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Whether public goods management, including nature’s services, is anchored in a purely utilitarian manner or a broader concept transcending utilitarianism is adopted, the need for good governance of global public goods is more than evident. In doing so, we can learn from errors made by people in the past and caused by many factors – from lack of information and understanding, conflicting values and interests, to insufficient levels of institutionalisation, to technical failures (which could, in most cases, hardly been foreseen, as the use of CFCs in the recent past). Historically, such errors had serious, sometimes fatal, implications at local or regional levels, even leading to the disappearance of entire civilisations (Diamond, 2005). However, the current period of anthropocene has brought about a radical change: consequences of errors may have dramatic or even fatal impacts on the human civilisation on the planetary scale. The need for maximum attention to the good governance of global public goods is more than evident.

A good example of bad governance of public goods with far-reaching consequences is the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin, 1968), describing the dismal fate of some common pastures in England, overgrazed for lack of adequate governance. The author concludes that two types of solution may prove remedial: either privatisation, or strong governmental management. However, as is evident nowadays (see e.g. Dietz, 2003), other forms of administration may succeed, such as communal management. The role of communities in governing public goods has never been clearer.

Nonetheless, the issue of ownership relations and the potential privatisation of public goods is undoubtedly a cardinal one. It is certain that an unambiguous and transparent ownership structure is an inherent precondition for any successful management of public goods. Its privatisation, having thousands of years of tradition in some cases, only succeeds in terms of good governance if property rights are defined adequately: guided unambiguously and correctly, but not restricted unduly. Apparently, no general guidelines can be presented here; the PPP (Private – Public Partnership) principle seems promising, for instance. In this principle, the primary responsibility for public goods and their good condition remains with a public institution, represented largely by elected representatives in democratic societies: local councils, governments, intergovernmental organisations. The management, including necessary technical operations, be it at a local or international level, is entrusted on a contractual basis to a private business, for which the operation is a legitimate source of profit. There is no need to stress how crucially important the individual provisions of the contract between the government and the business are.

Various modes of management, including international ones, have proven viable. Recently, international modes of management have seen ever more frequent application in the environmental sphere by means of multilateral agreements and intergovernmental organisations, not only environmental ones. Work of such institutions as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation has gained importance in this area recently. The roles of non-governmental players, too, have grown globally, including important multinational trade corporations, media (CNN), civil society organisations (World Economic Forum Davos, Amnesty International, Transparency International). In each case, the successful governance of global public goods requires a democratic regime on an international scale. Such a regime can only be founded on mutual trust among the stakeholders, represented mostly by individual national governments.

The subsidiarity principle is the key guideline for good governance of public goods. In this principle, the administrator’s responsibility – along with relevant powers, of course, which is a fact sometimes omitted – should be in the hands of those at the lowest possible level. A lower level always has priority over a higher one. Any transfer of responsibility and powers from a lower level to a higher one always has to be justified very clearly, and is only done if there is no other option. The levels are ordered in the following sequence of importance:

  • Citizen
  • Municipality
  • Region
  • State
  • Intergovernmental institution

Thus, good governance of public goods begins with property rights, attitudes and efforts of free and educated citizens: individuals who accept the concern as theirs. Goodwill, mutual trust and educated behaviour of individuals is the fundamental condition for application of such modes of management of global public goods, including nature’s services, that will ensure its sustainability.