Issue Brief Series

The Governance and Sustainability Issue Brief Series, produced by the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a peer-reviewed policy paper series. The issue briefs provide analytical input to contemporary political discussions on institutional reform for environment and sustainable development. An Editorial Board comprised of academics and policymakers provides guidance for topics, ensures quality, and assists in the dissemination of the briefs. Each submission is peer-reviewed by one academic and one policy practitioner.


Brief 13: The Power of Policy: Reinforcing the Paris Trajectory

June 2016 by Christiana Figueres

Figueres Brief 13

Compared to the many challenges of the twentieth century, the challenges of today have grown exponentially, not only because the world is increasingly interconnected but also because the world is increasingly interdependent. Scientists recognize that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. This era is characterized by the fact that humans are changing the very nature of nature itself. Right now our actions are determining the evolution of the physical planet. For the first time in history, the impact of national actions and policies goes far beyond national boundaries. It has planetary repercussions.

The Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 at the twenty-first Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recognizes this interconnectedness and interdependence. In Paris, 195 governments unanimously agreed to limit a global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” and set an aspirational goal of maintaining the temperature under 1.5°C. They operationalized it by stating that countries aim to peak their emissions as soon as possible and to reach global net-zero emissions after 2050. To achieve these goals, we must set a new trajectory for the global economy based on a shift of policy.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 13 – Figueres


Brief 12: Energy Transitions to Modern Renewables: Context, Barriers, and Promises

February 2016 by Stanislav Vavilov

brief 12 - vavilov

The world is not running out of fossil fuels, as is often claimed. With technological prog- ress and favorable economic conditions, a process of resource-base expansion occurs through the production of resources that were previously considered economically unviable. Resource-base expansion requires increasing capital investments per unit of energy extracted and an accompanying rise in production costs per unit. e world is running out of cheap fossil fuels, and in the long term, dependence on fossil fuels leads to energy services that are much more expensive and inaccessible. Given other important incentives for transitioning from fossil fuels, such as the need to mitigate global warming and eliminate the geopolitical struggles over the remaining fossil fuel reserves, the only alternative is a decades-long complex transformation of energy systems toward renewables. This brief narrates the evolution of this transition toward modern renewables by drawing on experiences of several countries and argues that these transitions will play a significant role on a global scale, because followers learn from the experience of pioneers.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 12 – Vavilov

Brief 11: Gender and the Sustainable Development Goals: Moving Beyond Women as a “Quick Fix” for Development

July 2015 by J. Michael Denney

Issue Brief 11This brief concerns Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, and the corresponding proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls. All information about SDG 5 comes from the Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals.

In the first part, the author presents an analytical framework for evaluating whether the goals for female empowerment and gender equality attain the desired result. Next, the framework is applied to the targets for the proposed SDG 5. Finally, the author argues that the international community should embrace goals, targets, and indicators that advance gender equality for the sake of equality itself, rather than as a quick fix for economic underdevelopment.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 11 – Denney

Brief 10: How the United Nations Should Promote the Post – 2015 Development Agenda

September 2014 by Kara Alaimo

Issue Brief 10This issue brief examines how the United Nations can most effectively communicate the post- 2015 development agenda in order to catalyze the global movements necessary for its achievement. The author, a former U.N. communications professional, argues that the U.N. should carefully calibrate expectations in advance, be transparent about the state of negotiations, retain top communications professionals to craft the name and narrative of the agenda, use clear language in the agenda, communicate in “human terms,” make the agenda globally accessible and relevant, and promote shared ownership of the agenda.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 10 – Alaimo

Brief 9: UNDP: Reviving a Practical Human Development Organization 

January 2014 by Craig Murphy and Stephen Browne

GEG Issue Brief 9Constant reform has characterized the UN Development Programme (UNDP) throughout its existence. Change bespeaks an organization ready to adapt but also fundamentally uncertain about its proper role. It teeters between two sets of tensions—as coordinator of and competitor within the UN development system, and as exerting priorities from the center while seeking to be flexible in its program countries. These tensions should be resolved, and enable UNDP to be the UN’s sustainable human development organization. This brief lays out the options that are open for UNDP to take on; and concludes by giving inputs towards re-orientation, with implications for its substantive orientation, its funding role, and its country presence.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 9 – Murphy and Browne

Brief 8: International Fisheries Governance that Works: The Case for a Global Fisheries Organization 

June 2013 by Samuel Barkin

GEG Brief 8This brief examines the current institutional structures in place to manage international fisheries, and argues that they are inadequate to the task of preventing overexploitation. The brief argues for a new global fisheries organization that could serve the core functions of coordinating institutional participants in international fisheries governance, addressing the crisis of overcapitalization and overcapacity in the fishing industry, and overseeing a system of international individual transferable quotas..

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 8 – Barkin

Brief 7: Building an International Court for the Environment: A Conceptual Blueprint 

February 2013 by Philip Riches and Stuart A. Bruce

This Issue Brief considers the role and nature of existing and potential international dispute resolution fora in relation to international environmental law. It addresses impediments at the international level, such as limited access to justice by non-state actors and the lack of technical and scientific capability. As a conceptual paper, it highlights two possible remedial options: an International Environmental Tribunal and an International Environmental Court.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 7 – Riches and Bruce

Brief 6: Environmental Emergencies: Challenges and Lessons for International Environmental Governance

June 2012 by Rene Nijenhuis and Carl Bruch

This brief examines the strengths and weaknesses of existing instruments and institutions and addresses the efforts to improve coordination among the international sectors of environmental emergency response. Potential operational, capacity-building, and legal options for strengthening prevailing mechanisms are identified and discussed, including the need for stronger political mandates, the need for a stronger framework to address fragmentation, and the need for procedures to support and facilitate environmental emergency responders. The lessons from this discourse can improve the field of environmental emergency response, while also informing advancements in broader context of international environmental governance.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 6 – Nijenhuis and Bruch

Brief 5: Enhancing Environmental Governance for Sustainable Development: Function-Oriented Options

March 2012 by John E. Scanlon

The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, is likely to determine the future direction of the institutional framework for sustainable development and for international environmental governance. As States move towards the ‘sharp end’ of their negotiations, it is important to analyse some of the risks and benefits of the identified options for the reform of international environmental governance and offer pragmatic ideas on how to make best use of existing resources and structures.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 5 – Scanlon

Brief 4: Lessons from the Multilateral Trading System for Reforming the Architecture of the International Environmental Regime

February 2012 by Thomas Cottier, Manfred Elsig, and Judith Wehrli

Recent studies on environmental regimes suggest that important lessons and policy recommendations may be drawn from the functioning of the multilateral trading regime. This brief compares the needs and goals of the trade and environment regimes, and discusses how insights from over sixty years of experience of the multilateral trading system might provide ideas for redesigning the architecture of the international environmental regime. It further calls for a better dialogue and improved complementarities between the two fields in order to enhance coherence within international law.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 4 – Cottier, Elsig, Wehrli

Brief 3: Clustering Assessment: Enhancing Synergies Among Multilateral Environmental Agreements

January 2012 by Judith Wehrli

Against the background of a widely fragmented and diluted international environmental governance architecture, different reform options are currently being discussed. This issue brief considers whether streamlining international environmental regimes by grouping or ‘clustering’ international agreements could improve effectiveness and efficiency. It outlines the general idea of the clustering approach, draws lessons from the chemicals and waste cluster and examines the implications and potentials of clustering multilateral environmental agreements.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief – 3 Wehrli

Brief 2: Overcoming Fragmented Governance: The Case of Climate Change and the MDGs

November 2011 by Oran R. Young

Fragmented governance hampers efforts to address tightly coupled challenges, like coming to grips with climate change and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. The way forward is to launch programmatic initiatives focusing on adaptation to climate change and the transition to a green economy that appeal to many separate bodies as win-win opportunities.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief – 2 Young

Brief 1: Financing International Environmental Governance: Lessons from the United Nations Environment Programme

October 2011 by Maria Ivanova

Financing for the global environment is scattered among many institutions and, without an overview of total financial flows, often considered scarce. This issue brief begins an analysis of the financial landscape by focusing on the anchor institution for the global environment, the UN Environment Programme. It examines the relationship between institutional form and funding and offers insights into innovative financing.

Downloadable PDF: Issue Brief 1 – Ivanova  [download id=”15009″ template=”papertitle”]