Gouvernance: les ruptures nécessaires pour la transition Governance: paradigm shifts that need to be made for the transition
Details of the Proposal

Also available in Français, Español, Português


Pierre Calame is Chairman of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation.


Proposals for the French Rio+20 collective and for the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre


Please note: the following text is a summary of a number of proposals. It addresses only proposals for paradigm shifts, and not for the numerous improvements that could be made to the existing systems. It is part of a series of four texts, each corresponding to one of the four themes selected by the Thematic Social Forum of Porto Alegre: ethics; territory; governance; transition of the economy to sustainable societies.


In the presentation of each theme, the analysis grid covers the four themes, which explains repetitions from one text to another—for instance, the combined territory-economy analysis comes up in the same terms in the “economy” text and the “territory” text—so that each of the fours texts can be read separately.

Proposals and abstracts

A/ Governance: the need for a revolution


Governance can be defined as the set of concepts, mental and cultural representations, institutions, social bodies, rules, and various procedures that together, contribute to the management of a community, from the local to the world community. It has been at the core of every society forever. The current methods of governance, in particular the existence of elaborate legal systems founded on statute law having a police system to make sure decisions are complied with, the existence of top-down professional administrations within the states, international relations dominated by relations among states, representative democracy delegating to elected officials the job of representing the various interests of the population, separation of the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, and a distribution of competences among various levels of governance within a nation are so familiar to us that we frequently confuse them with governance itself, we cannot imagine any other. But these are methods invented over the past few centuries in terms of the technical state of society, the emergence of more-or-less large communities, the ideology of the times and, above all, the concrete challenges the various communities had to face to survive and to develop. The challenges of the world in the 21st century and the available technical systems (the Internet in particular), the degree of development of societies, the new extent of global interdependence all make a true revolution of governance necessary. Otherwise, we will continue to “pour new wine into old wineskins” as can be seen in the management of global interdependencies founded on the assertion of the absolute sovereignty of states and, as has been observed for twenty years, this does not make it possible to respond to increasingly urgent challenges. Without a revolution of governance, humankind can go to its downfall as has happened in the past for all peoples that, out of inertia, did not adapt their governance to new situations and died. This supposes going back to the fundamental purposes and principles of governance and to give them a new translation. The task is difficult because governance must satisfy two contradictory requirements: it is a benchmark for societies, which requires stability; it is a means for society to respond to new challenges, which requires innovation and adaptation capacities. We will identify here the main questions and how to deal with them


1. The new tripod of governance


In slowly evolving societies governance itself evolves slowly and can be characterized by its three pillars: institutions (such as our state administrations, our local communities, or the institutions of the UN system); competences allocated to different institutions and that characterize the institutional building and the shared responsibilities among the various levels of governance; and rules that describe the constraints that must be respected by all public and private actors in the name of the common good. This tripod is so familiar that when we want to deal with a new problem, the reflex is to set up a new institution and to give it a place in the preexisting institutional architecture, in particular by defining its prerogatives, its means, and its relationships with the existing institutions. This is what is being considered for Rio+20 with the institution of a global environment agency.


But in societies in full transformation as is the case for us, we need to adopt a more dynamic point of view on governance and base it instead on three other pillars: the goals to be pursued jointly; the ethics adopted to manage mutual relations; and work procedures in a “problem resolution” approach. Partitioned governance, which is the current situation, is not able to manage things properly, which is consistent with the thinking on management of complex problems.


2. Governance is the art of managing relations


The current systems of governance, at both the national and the international level, are founded on a mechanist vision of the world: in line with the principles found in the industrial organization of the early 20th century, the belief is that to manage effectively, it is necessary to divide work into tasks and have each task dealt with by a specialized organization: governance operates in the realm of separation. But when a problem becomes complex, this modus operandi becomes increasingly inappropriate: the principle of separation of competences runs up against the reality of the problems, which cannot be reduced to the compartmentalization of responsibilities and policies. The system is becoming increasingly schizophrenic, with the initiatives of one institution contradicting those of others. This is particularly visible in the current international system, where agencies of all kinds act according to contradictory guidelines and compete with one another for the management of new problems. The transition to sustainable societies is therefore at a standstill. And the problem gets worse when to survive, and in the absence of a global approach, societies begin to pursue directly contradictory goals, such as economic revival to avoid a serious social crisis, and reduced consumption to preserve the biosphere. The first quality criterion for governance in the 21st century is its aptitude to manage relations among problems, levels, and actors. This means that a new system of governance and new rules of cooperation can be built by making transition the central goal and defining forms of relationships among institutions, levels, and actors in those terms. It is more important, for instance, to redefine the rules and criteria of the World Trade Organization than to set up an agency specifically in charge of sustainable development but will not have the means to produce changes in an institution that would then continue to be completely bound to free trade.


3. Governance: interpreting its overall goals


To invent new forms of governance we need an overall analysis grid that stimulates thinking and creativity and makes it possible to benefit from the thousands of years of experiences of societies that all had to design their governance and make it evolve. Two grids have proven to be particularly relevant: goals of governance; and general principles of governance. Three goals are found throughout the centuries: the safety of society vis-a-vis threats of from the outside world; social cohesion within; and a balanced relationship between society and its environment. When one of the goals is not reached, this has consequences on the other two, while the three together cover what biologists call maintaining a system in its field of viability. Suffice it to observe current economic governance to be convinced that it is having an increasingly harder time reaching the latter two goals. In turn, the imbalanced relationship between human activity and the biosphere, made particularly visible by climate change or the erosion of natural resources, is a threat to peace in the medium run. As observed, segmentation among governance systems makes it impossible to take into account the three goals at the same time. The first stage is therefore to evaluate local, national, and world governance in the light of these three goals then to propose reforms.


4. Governance: interpreting its five fundamental principles


At first, governance systems seem so different depending on the century and the culture, that comparisons do not seem possible, and the Western conviction that in the 18th century a definitive governance model featuring rule of law and national representative democracy was developed for the rest of time, made us lose sight of everything that could be learned from others. The comparative approach makes it possible to highlight five fundamental principles: a rooted legitimacy (where governance is legitimate when the majority of the population feels recognized and "well-governed”); democracy and citizenship (which cannot be reduced to formal democracy: it is where everyone feels they really have stakes in the life and destiny of their society); and relevance of the system of governance with regard to the problems that need to be dealt with: “you don't use a hammer with a screw and a screwdriver with a nail” (this analysis needs to be made for each and every field and for each and every level, and leads to distinguishing a number of different "systems of governance” that are adapted to equally different realities); joint production of the public good, “you can't pick up a stone with one finger,” which makes partnerships among actors of various natures essential (for example, world governance, if it does not seek to set up international networks of actors to take part in the management of planet, will always be  lopsided); cooperation among levels of governance, still called “multilevel governance,” because no problem can ever be correctly treated with only one level of governance and the idea that each type of government unit can be given exclusive responsibilities in order to prevent competition among them has proven to be unrealistic.


These five principles are of the greatest value in leading the transition to sustainable societies. Failing their bold implementation and failing a preliminary accurate assessment of the current systems in the light of these principles (forget the ineptitude of the “good governance” recipe that was being promoted for a while by the international institutions and has since been cast aside), this transition will not be possible. Take the case of energy: without a democratic discussion on lifestyles and collective choices, without new mechanisms for the allocation of scarce resources, without a multi-actor partnership, and without cooperation among the different levels of governance it will be impossible to reduce the consumption of fossil energy to one-fourth of today's within the next thirty years.


5. Governance: a necessary diversity in society's representations


Let us take a look at the organization of international relations: they are practically reduced to relations among supposedly sovereign states, each claiming to fully represent its population by defending their “national interests” against others, when these interests, alas, are often no more than the interests of its most influential lobbies. Nothing of essence has changed for three centuries; at the time, the life of the different societies was independent from that of others and this principle was understood. Now societies are more in the situation of joint tenants of the same apartment, needing to maintain it jointly, and to share its space and resources. Bold innovation is thus necessary to diversify representation in the world community's international dealings, given that states constitute only one among other forms of representation. The idea of a multi-stakeholder forum was an attempt in this direction but was rapidly derailed; there is no real construction of global networks corresponding to the different socioprofessional groups, and no dialog on an equal footing among the different forms of representation.


6. Governance: the institution of communities


Accustomed to the traditional framework of governance in the 20th century, that of states, we have the illusion that to govern is to manage an established community, i.e. one that is aware of sharing values and a common destiny. However, the first requirement of governance is to institute a community, to turn more-or-less numerous groups of men and women sharing the same space into a community aware of being united by shared values, a legacy for everyone's prosperity, and a destiny. Without this awareness, others are no more than strangers whose fate might only possibly give rise to compassion but with no feeling of co-responsibility. This is especially the case today for the “world community”: it is not a community in the sense that has just been defined. We do not feel real responsibilities to one another, we do not share the same values, there are no governance mechanisms for true world citizens’ assemblies to be held and be widely covered by the media, to show that dialog is in progress. Organized civil society or World Social Forums are only a distorted image of this.


The problem of instituting or recasting communities is raised at every scale: large-scale mixing of populations that have resulted in homogeneous communities, heirs of a long common history, sharing the same faith, is the exception, not the rule. Taking into account the great challenges before us and the sacrifices that will have to be accepted, in particular for the countries most precociously developed that have, sometimes for several centuries, cut for themselves the biggest piece of the pie, instituting communities at any level and evidently on a world level is a first urgency


6. Multi-level governance: implementing the principle of active subsidiarity


Multilevel governance supposes new dialog and cooperation mechanisms among levels of governance. It is not enough to decide to cooperate without saying how. The principle of active subsidiarity draws its name of course from the principle of subsidiarity: to find the best solutions in a great diversity of contexts and with the cooperation of all the actors, the solutions need to be invented and implemented at the "lowest" possible level. We add “active” because when solving problems through cooperation among the different levels, the "highest" level needs to set guidelines for the lower level. These guidelines are not to be imposed from top to bottom (obligations regarding the means used); they are expressed in the form of general principles drawn from experience (obligation to produce results). These general principles do not fall from the sky: they are the fruit of collective experience. This is therefore not about generalizing allegedly good practices, but about setting up, on every subject, processes and international experience databases from which together, obligations of producing results can be explored. From health to energy, from soil fertility to energy efficiency, from the preservation of fragile ecosystems to the governance of sustainable cities, the field of application of this principle is immense. In fact, it is at the core of any effort in sustainable development.


7. World governance: reinforcement and role of the regions of the world.


We will not be able to maintain in international negotiations the fiction of a sovereign general assembly where each country has a voice. UN members are too many and too disparate for this to still make any sense. The very idea of adopting through a qualified majority vote provisions that are to be imposed on all has all but disappeared. It has been replaced by consensus conferences where all countries having any kind of influence have granted themselves the right of veto, with as a corollary the paralysis of the system, or by self-proclaimed world directories made up of the most powerful countries– G8, G20–that think they can decide in the name of all the others. The only means today of moving to a somewhat more democratic international system is to instate some twenty regions of the world made of contiguous countries of comparable size (the average size would be 350 to 400 million, and China, India, and Europe are regions in themselves), where each country would be invited to join the region of its choice among possible continuities, and that will negotiate among themselves. At this scale the previously mentioned plural forms of representation could be constituted as well as decision-making mechanisms through a qualified majority within each region and among the regions. This mechanism is essential for everything related to the management of the biosphere.


B/ Governance and ethics


1. The Charter of Universal Responsibilities, third pillar of the international community


Since the early seventies, especially since the first international conference on the environment in Stockholm, the international community has been aware that it cannot rely exclusively on the two pillars adopted in the late forties: the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The thinking of these past decades has brought about a better idea for a possible third pillar that would deal with societies' interdependence and the interdependence between humankind and the biosphere. This has gradually imposed the idea that this third pillar should take the form of a Charter of Universal Responsibilities.


2. The Charter of Universal Responsibilities provides the benchmark for a new social contract between the different professions and the rest of society


Every profession, every sphere of human activity, benefits in one way or another from the support of the whole of the community; in return and to comply with ethical principles, it must serve the community. This is true in particular for scientists, teachers, journalists, the military, company managers, etc. The concept of responsibility is at the core of the construction of the new social contract.


3. Responsibilities and rights are the two inseparable foundations of citizenship


To be the citizen of a community is not to claim rights from it without having any responsibility to it, but neither is it to be required to assume responsibilities–whether to defend the country or to contribute to collective life by paying taxes–without having rights in return.


Today, citizenship only makes sense at different scales simultaneously, from the local level to the global level. It must be the same for the balance between rights and responsibilities.


4. The Charter of Universal Responsibilities provides the basis for developing international law


International actors need international law. This is not the case today. Admittedly, economic and political actors have to be accountable, but only to their constituents, voters in the case of political leaders, national jurisdictions and shareholders in the case of economic actors. The Charter of Universal Responsibilities will be the foundation for the development of international law, thus fixing this serious malfunction of the current international system.


5. The Charter of Universal Responsibilities will have to be transposed into the different national laws


In the current system, only states have a legal and police system with which they can define and apply sanctions. International conventions only become effective when they are transposed into national law. The European Union, which is accustomed to doing just that, is an excellent example of this type of transposition. What has been learned from this process will allow a rapid transposition of the Charter of Universal Responsibilities into national law.


6. Drawing international jurisprudence from the implementation of the Charter of Universal Responsibilities


A new form of international regulation has appeared over the past two decades: a kind of informal international legal forum made up of an international collective of judges drawing from one another's national jurisprudence. This process must be reinforced and encouraged for the implementation of the Charter of Universal Responsibilities.


7. Using the Charter of Universal Responsibilities as a basis to reinforce the effectiveness of social, environmental, and economic rights


No one can deny that the effectiveness of these rights depends on the level of development and wealth of a society. Some do much better than others with the same means, however, as shown by the differences in Human Development Indices within a group of countries having equivalent material prosperity.


Applied to the states, the principle of universal responsibility will place political leaders before their own responsibility, which is to draw from the experience of all countries with the same degree of development the best solutions compatible with their available means to give their respective populations economic, social, environmental, and cultural rights that are as effective as possible.


C/ Governance and the economy


As the œconomy is a branch of governance, we can apply to it all the thinking on the purposes and principles of governance. This observation is very useful for designing new concepts, institutional arrangements, and tools. We will give just a few examples here


1. Establishing governance regimes adapted to the nature of the different goods and services


The art of governance lies in particular in the capacity to invent measures that are truly adapted to the problems that need to be addressed. This is not the case in the current economy, which is aimed at limiting goods and services to two categories: commercial goods and public goods. The governance regimes of the future will have to correspond to four categories of goods and services: those that are destroyed when shared out, as is the case for ecosystems or living beings; those that are divided when shared out but are limited in quantity, as is the case for the majority of natural resources and in particular water and fossil energy; those that are divided when shared out but the quantity of which is limited only by human creativity and work, such as industrial goods, the only goods that can be legitimately covered by the market; and goods, finally, such as intelligence, experience, and intangible capital, which proliferate when shared out and which, instead of being managed by scarcity, artificially created by intellectual property rights, should be the basis of tomorrow's prosperity and well-being.


2. Governance regimes for natural resources: negotiable quotas


The carbon tax is a regressive tax insofar as the cost of energy weighs more heavily on the budget of a poor family than on that of a rich one. On the other hand, a family's energy budget grows as its wealth increases. As the use of nonrenewable natural resources needs to be limited in order to preserve the biosphere, the principle of justice must govern their distribution. Consequently, a system of negotiable quotas, where those who consume less than their share of energy can resell it to those who want to maintain a resource-intensive lifestyle is a system that both respects the limits of the biosphere and is socially fair.


These negotiable quotas constitute, in a multi-dimensional currency, an “energy” currency or a “natural resources” currency. This is the system that needs to be set up from the local to the global.


3. Making the choice of modes of consumption democratic


The terms of the choice between consumption and lifestyles are seemingly determined by individual preferences, but they actually derive from collective choices that modify the very terms of individual choices. The example of individual transportation and collective transportation is a good illustration of this. From the local level to the global level it is possible and necessary to design methods of democratic choice.


D/ Governance and territories


The territory is a privileged level of governance because it is at its level that the different problems a society is facing are easiest to grasp as a whole, and furthermore, they cover a specific population that is easy to identify. Whereas states, often caught up in the tradition of partitioned administrations, are clumsy in managing these relations. As regards transition to sustainable societies, states are often part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Significant progress in governance must thus be sought and promoted for territories, world regions, or world governance. Moreover, where official governance has designed top-down "Russian doll" type systems, territories have learned how to organize a "networked" shift from the local to the global, which reflects the new realities much better. Nonetheless, we are still far from having developed all the potentialities of territories to renew the governance approach. All too often, they are marked by a feeling of inferiority with respect to states, in particular in the international arena, and their networks spend more time claiming a seat in the United Nations system than asserting and assuming their new responsibilities. Rio+20 should be the opportunity, for the regions and cities aware of their role in conducting the great transition, to assert their position and publicize their proposals and commitments.


1.Territories: privileged places for the implementation of new thinking on governance


The goal is no longer to claim a place in the “major league” but to show specifically that a territory is the place par excellence to deploy new thinking on governance. This supposes territories that are determined to take intellectual and political leadership, to apply to their case the two interpretive guides proposed for governance, to show the progress that this allows, by moving from useful but marginal improvements, as is too often the case today, to structural transformations, and by negotiating on these bases, with states and the international community, the means for implementing them.


2. Territory and education in citizenship


It is not surprising that cities and regions have taken the lead in participatory democracy. In territories, interactions between the members of the community are concrete, even at the scale of a very large city. This is therefore the scale at which the new terms and new methods of citizenship can be learned.


3. Territory and governance at various levels


Rare are the cases in which cities today are made up of just one local government unit. As for regions, they are almost always too vast to deal effectively with proximity problems. Cooperation among local government units of the same rank and of different ranks is therefore the rule. This is why territories must be seen, like relations between the global level and the level of the regions of the world, as the first field for the experimentation and application of the principle of active subsidiarity.