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Institutions for Sustainability


  • Stephen Dovers

    () (Australian National University, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies)


This paper discusses the nature of sustainability and the institutional arrangements that can help or hinder the pursuit of a future society that is both ecologically sustainable and humanly desirable. All collective efforts are mediated through institutions, and without institutional change we will not move purposefully toward sustainability. Although there has been much policy development under the banner of 'ecologically sustainable development ' ((ESD)in recent years in Australia, institutional change remains at the margins of public policy and administration. The paper considers how this situation can be rectified. The characteristics of ESD problems are discussed, such as spatial and temporal scale, complexity and uncertainty, and the need for community participation. The paper then uses an 'adaptive ' approach to frame the requirements of institutions for sustainability, suggesting the core principles of persistence, purposefulness, information-richness, inclusiveness and flexibility. The strengths and limits of some current arrangements are assessed, and then particular attention is given to a selection of current institutional arrangements that fulfil at least some of the requirements for an adaptive approach. Without institutional change we will not move purposefully toward sustainability. Finally, suggestions are given for institutional reforms to establish ESD as a policy field that enjoys parity with other, at present more influential and well-supported fields. Specific recommendations include: •A wide ranging legislative review to recommend changes to laws that hinder or do not promote ESD -analagous to the competition policy legislative review; •A National Commission or Council for ESD to promote discussion and cooperative action between the three levels of government, the private sector and community groups; •A Commissioner for ESD or Offices for ESD to ensure implementation of ESD policies in government agencies; •An Australian Institute for ESD to generate new ideas, inform cooperative policy development, develop standards, prepare manuals and run training courses - similar to the role played by the Australian Emergency Management Institute for emergency management; •Long term support for Landcare and similar groups to encourage and support commitment to ESD practices from local communities; •Much increased support for long term ecological research and monitoring; •A Bureau of Ecological Economics together with changes in the mandate and functions of mainstream economic agencies to ensure that alternative economic analyses based on ecological perspectives are taken into account in policy making.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Dovers, 2001. "Institutions for Sustainability," Economics and Environment Network Working Papers 0101, Australian National University, Economics and Environment Network.
  • Handle: RePEc:anu:eenwps:0101

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    Cited by:

    1. Basil Sharp, 2002. "Institutions and Decision Making for Sustainable Development," Treasury Working Paper Series 02/20, New Zealand Treasury.

    More about this item


    sustainable development; institutions; development planning and policy; ecological economics;

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • O20 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - General
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics

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