This article provides a critical perspective on the notion of multi-level governance and the perceived ‘hollowing-out’ of the state. Though multi-level governance implies inclusion of a variety of actors at different scales, all engaged in management over a resources, or to address an environmental issue, the research shows that examining short and long-term time horizons illustrates how state roles are altered in multiscalar processes “but [the role of the state] is not necessarily diminished” (651). Further, in the case of water governance “it appears that the state retains the balance of power despite efforts to increasingly engage local people in governance” (650).
This is an important point made throughout this article; that multilevel governance, or polycentricity, does not inherently mean a diminished role for the central state. In fact, in transboundary water governance, research has shown that although there has been devolved authority to lower levels of government or to sub-state actors (such as watershed boards), the central state still retains many governing and decision-making powers.
What is often the greatest challenge to engagement of sub-state actors in transboundary governance processes are a number of issues, including: insufficient supporting resources, asymmetrical participation of actors and mismatched governance structures across the border, spatial distance between actors, and the limited capacity of local actors (650). These are important considerations when advocating for inclusion of actors across scales in governance processes. An important critique of the ‘watershed approach’ is that the local scale is often assumed to be the most appropriate in which to govern – following the subsidiarity rule/principle. This can very well be true in certain circumstances. Though, as most geographers know, place and context are critical. And, in this instance, it depends on the capacity of local actors, their access to resources (financial, human), and when discussing cross-border governance, whether local actors are able to participate with actors across the border.
The authors provided a simple distinction between government and governance, and environmental government:
– Government: the formal, centralized and vertical exercise of power and authority, such as through regulation or market-based instruments (647)
– Governance: power and authority are horizontally decentralized and devolved to broader members of society (647)
– Environmental Governance: Involves a range of formal and informal institutions, social groups, processes, interactions, and traditions, all of which influence how power is exercised, how public decisions are taken, how citizens become engaged or disaffected, and who gains legitimacy and influence (647)