Governance approaches to support biodiversity conservation and sustainable use are required at all levels, with supportive laws and policies developed by central governments providing the security of tenure and authority essential for sustainable management at lower levels. The principle that biodiversity should be managed at the lowest appropriate level has led to decentralization in many parts of the world, with variable results. The key to success is strong institutions at all levels, with security of tenure and authority at the lower levels essential to providing incentives for sustainable management (R5).
At the same time that management of some ecosystem services is being devolved to lower levels, management approaches are also evolving to deal with large-scale processes with many stakeholders. Problems such as regional water scarcity and conservation of large ecosystems require large-scale management structures. For example, most of the major rivers in Southern Africa flow across international borders, so international water co-management organizations are being designed to share the management of riparian resources and ensure water security for all members. However, political instability in one state may negatively affect others, and power among stakeholders is likely to be uneven.
Neither centralization nor decentralization of authority always results in better management. For example, the power of Catchment Management Agencies in South Africa is constrained to their catchment, but impacts may be felt from outside or upstream. The best strategy may be one with multi-subsidiarity—that is, functions that subordinate organizations perform effectively belong more properly to them (because they have the best information) than to a dominant central organization, and the central organization functions as a center of support, coordination, and communication (R5).
Legal systems in countries are multilayered and in many countries, local practices or informal institutions may be much stronger than the law on paper. Important customs relate to the local norms and traditions of managing property rights and the ecosystems around them. Since these are embedded in the local societies, changing these customs and customary rights through external incentive and disincentive schemes is very difficult unless the incentives are very carefully designed. Local knowledge, integrated with other scientific knowledge, becomes absolutely critical for addressing ways of managing local ecosystems.
More effort is needed in integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable use activities within larger macroeconomic decision-making frameworks. New poverty reduction strategies have been developed in recent years covering a wide range of policies and different scales and actors. However, the integration or mainstreaming of ecosystems and ecosystem services is largely ignored. The focus of such strategies is generally on institutional and macroeconomic stability, the generation of sectoral growth, and the reduction of the number of people living on less than $1 a day in poor countries. It is well documented that many of the structural adjustment programs of the mid- to late 1980s caused deterioration in ecosystem services and a deepening of poverty in many developing countries (R17).
International cooperation through multilateral environmental agreements requires increased commitment to implementation of activities that effectively conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable use of biological resources. Numerous multilateral environmental agreements have now been established that contribute to conserving biodiversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most comprehensive, but numerous others are also relevant, including the World Heritage Convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and numerous regional agreements. Their impacts at policy and practical levels depend on the will of the contracting parties (R5).
Effective responses may build on recent attempts (such as through joint work plans) to create synergies between conventions. The lack of compulsory jurisdiction for dispute resolution is a major weakness in international environmental law. However, requirements to report to conventions put pressure on countries to undertake active measures under the framework of those treaties. An effective instrument should include incentives, plus sanctions for violations or noncompliance procedures to help countries come into compliance. Links between biodiversity conventions and other international legal institutions that have significant impacts on biodiversity (such as the World Trade Organization) remain weak (R5).
The international agreements with the greatest impact on biodiversity are not in the environmental field but rather deal with economic and political issues. These typically do not take into account their impact on biodiversity. Successful responses will require that these agreements are closely linked with other agreements and that solutions designed for one regime do not lead to problems in other regimes. For example, efforts to sequester carbon under the Kyoto Protocol should seek to enhance biodiversity, not harm it (for example, by planting multiple species of native trees rather than monospecific plantations of exotic species) (R5).
Although biodiversity loss is a recognized global problem, most direct actions to halt or reduce loss need to be taken locally or nationally. Indirect drivers like globalization and international decisions on trade and economics often have a negative effect on biodiversity and should be addressed at the international level, but the proximate responsibility to detect and act directly on biodiversity loss is at the local and national level. For threatened endemic species or ecosystems limited to an area within a single country or local administrative unit, the relevant agencies should give high priority to these species or ecosystems, with appropriate support from global, regional, or national support systems (R5).