Pahl-wostl, A. C., Gupta, J., & Petry, D. (2008). Governance and the Global Water System : A Theoretical Exploration. Global Governance, 14(4), 419–435.

The focus of this article is global water governance, as the most recent approach to addressing water issues. Previous approaches, including local, national, and basin scales have not been replaced, but are now joined by a global scale to water issues. These different scales of analysis can complement one another, and are not mutually exclusive. Different water issues must be dealt with at different levels (421).

The authors make a case for addressing water issues using a multi-level governance approach, arguing that the current challenges are too complex to simply address from one level, or perspective (i.e. local, or national, or basin). Issues are rapidly evolving, and a multiplicity of voices and approaches are needed to effectively tackle water challenges and their solutions. The issues are interlinked within a global water system, as should be approaches to address such issues. As the authors argue, “global mechanisms [to address water issues] must be incorporated in ways that are complementary to instruments applied at other levels” (422), highlighting the need for cross-level interactions to be taken into account, for instance, between issues of urbanization, local and global food production, and environmental and aquatic health.  

The authors provide four arguments for a global perspective on water issues. That is not to say that a global perspective is the only perspective – in fact, water issues often require multiple perspectives, each interconnected, to address the issue (using both a local perspective within the context of global issues, such as the problem of eutrophication – its a local issue, but a concern of global significance, as it is happening all over the world). 

The above part of the article provides good justification for why water, even though it is a local resource, needs to be addressed as a global issue. This may be helpful in my own framing of transnational water issues as more than just a regional issue. Though the problems may be illuminated locally, or within the basin, the issues are global in nature and have a global dynamic and imply “alarming global trends” (422).

There are a number of influencers of global water governance:

  • Tensions between globalization and regionalization
  • Dominance of centralization or decentralization
  • Diversity of formal and informal processes and outcomes
  • Influence of state versus nonstate actors and processes (424)

The article provides examples of institutions and organizations for each of these influencers, such as the UN Convention as a centralized, global governance arrangement that lacks broad involvement of stakeholder groups at different levels (425), or global agencies (UN Water) and regional organizations (EU Water Initiative), private (market actors) such as transnational water corporations, or global communities of water scientists and professionals. Largely, what this illustrates is the “diffuse, heterogeneous, and fragmented…number of top-down, bottom-up, network, and side-by-side governance elements that exist in parallel” (427). The authors characterize this as a ‘mobius web-type governance’.

The article goes on to describe four potential scenarios for the development of global water governance. These scenarios, which are generally in line with other projections of future global environmental governance, are illustrated in the following graph:

Four potential future scenarios for global water governance.

Four potential future scenarios for global water governance.

This article will be extremely useful as I develop my understanding around global governance, global water governance, and the mutliscale and polycentric understandings of addressing water issues. 

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