Partnerships for the Goals

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

International Governance of Global Commons in the Context of SDG 17

  • Tomas ZuklinEmail author
Living reference work entry



Global commons, or common-pool resources, consist of shared property or resources that do not belong to anyone in particular and are free to be exploited. Global commons can also be defined as the common heritage of mankind, a term used by UNESCO or International Seabed Authority. Global commons are inherently transboundary – no clear borderline between them is visible; effect from a place A will demonstrate in a place B. Governance of global commons is shattered among numerous international (global or regional) agreements and is not globally centralized, even though the United Nations remains to function as one of the leading facilitators of the environmental protection initiatives.


In accordance with the aim of the SDG 17 “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,” this entry focuses on the governance sphere of the global commons, not on their physical and functional description. Mutual interdependency of different commons makes it impossible to govern them separately; governance must be inclusive and take into account relations between different types of commons. However, international law-making initiatives are predominantly targeted on one-element-per-time. Since the advent of the United Nations system after the World War II, numerous multilateral environmental agreements came into life but seldomly addressed environmental issues in a comprehensive way, keeping to the sectoral style of governance. International landscape has significantly changed over the past 100 years; dissolution of the European empires and subsequent decolonization process caused emergence of new countries which marked a new era of international relations. The League of Nations had 58 members at its prime (UNOG undated), whereas the modern United Nations includes 193 sovereign countries (UN 2018a). The world’s population growth also plays an important role in the governance of the global commons, the fact which was popularized by Garrett Hardin in his famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Hardin explores the free use of common-pool resources under the stress of ever-growing population and concludes that “freedom in a commons brings ruin to all” (Hardin 1968). And truly, the world’s population more than doubled over the past 50 years, from 3.5 billion in 1968 to 7.4 billion in 2016 (WB 2018). The status quo of resources exploitation that historically existed is not in place anymore; free and unrestricted use of global commons is unsustainable. International governance of global commons is not a completely new agenda; the emergence of international environmental legislation most prominently in the second half of the twentieth century marked the beginning of the commons protection process. The emergence of comprehensive governance tools that took into account scientific knowledge and its relations to socio-environmental sphere can be traced back to the 1972 Stockholm conference, the first major international event where negative influence of human activities on the global environment was addressed. The Stockholm conference kindled the emergence of new eco-centric paradigm; the environment and the “human world” stopped being considered separately. This trend continued further, and in 1987 Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Report) was published, stressing out interdependencies among nations and also linkages between development and environmental quality. International efforts to establish a new environmental era culminated at the Earth Summit in 1992, when three significant environment-related comprehensive treaties were opened for signature – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCD). The trend of global development continued further, and in the year 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were conceived at the UN Millennium Summit. MDGs were the first global attempt to address world’s issues in a holistic way, considering socioeconomic and environmental issues as interlinked matters which need to be addressed together. Poverty and health were the focal topics of MDGs, but the environment received equal attention. Sustainable development goals are people-centered targets which replaced MDGs for the UN’s post-2015 agenda based on the “Future We Want” proclamation made at the Rio Summit in 2012. The focus of the SDGs is to alleviate poverty, eliminate hunger, promote environmental and social justice, and ensure sustainable and ecologically friendly growth. The agenda of the SDG 17 is a direct continuation of the MDG 8 in terms of its aim, but the former aims much higher than its predecessor. SDG 17 is one of the most crucial SDGs because it sets targets for already established partnerships – shared and inclusive global governance based on partnerships, and especially governance of global common-pool resources, is crucial for achieving all of the SDGs.

Although the global commons are quite often associated with economical field, international law and policy are heavily involved as well. Economics of exploitation of global resources is an increasingly explored topic, and economic indicators were chosen as one of the measurements for the SDG 17. An Annex to the United Nations General Assembly’s (UN GA) resolution A/RES/71/313 “Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” puts forward a set of global indicators for the SDGs in seven categories: finance, technology, capacity building, trade, policy and institutional coherence, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and data and monitoring, the latter three being systemic issues. These indicators are supposed to measure the effectiveness of the implementation of the SDG 17 and overall progress of global efforts undertaken to fulfill SDGs.

In most cases, economic indicators would suffice to the UN in order to monitor SDG 17’s fulfillment (e.g., amount of money spent on capacity-building initiatives, volume of foreign direct investment, or number of people using the Internet). However, the most pressing issues for the “strengthening and revitalization of global partnership” is to properly utilize already existing frameworks of governance, as the SDGs do not offer any new governance regime and rely on already existing solutions. At present, comprehensive environmental governance is nonexistent, but a number of international instruments are in place addressing and regulating states’ behavior regarding global commons sector-by-sector, commons-by-commons. Usually, partnerships are based on shared obligations regarding the use and exploitation of natural resources. Traditional state-state partnerships tackling transboundary environmental issues are the core of the global governance, but increasing emphasis is being put on the new types of partnerships too. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 signified an emergence and promotion of the new partnerships concept – Type II partnerships. This concept was developed as an alternative to the traditional government-to-government (Type I) partnerships. Both are meant to complement each other in order to achieve environmental goals more effectively (Whitfield 2005). Type II partnerships were in use even before the WSSD in various forms and under various names such as the stakeholder democracy, multi-stakeholding processes, and public-private partnerships (Backstrand 2006; Seitanidi 2010), but the WSSD opened new opportunities for their application and promotion. The increased role of NGOs as facilitators and promoters of environmental partnerships on both global and regional level is of growing importance and needs to be taken into account.


For hundreds of thousands of years of human existence, the atmospheric composition was relatively stable, influenced only by the natural occurrences such as volcanic eruptions. Industrial revolution beginning in the eighteenth century and subsequent increased use of fossil fuels (leading to increased levels of CO2) changed this status quo, and nowadays, despite its utmost importance for sustaining life, the atmosphere very often continuously serves as a “dumping ground” for emissions generated by numerous industries.

Beginnings of Atmospheric Governance

Current global regime for atmospheric protection was preceded by regional pollution control programs. The first regional transboundary initiatives combating air pollution date back to 1970s’ Europe. The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) conceived in 1979 grew from 32 to 51 party states and now includes all European Economic Area countries, the USA, Canada, and all post-Soviet republics. CLRTAP also includes numerous protocols addressing sulfur, nitrogen oxide, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants emissions (UN 2018b). Other important regional agreement is the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution signed in 2002 and coming into force in 2014. However ambitious this agreement might be in reducing transboundary pollution, Indonesia as the main culprit still has problems with enforcing its own rules and continues to be the major polluter in the region. On the national basis, the first domestic laws pioneering air pollution control date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, e.g., the US Clean Air Act amendments on air quality standards in 1970 (US EPA 2017).

Global Atmospheric Regime

The first successful global treaty on atmospheric protection was the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer from 1985 and its subsequent 1987 Montreal Protocol, which set binding rules for ozone-depleting chemical release. The ozone problem came under wider scrutiny in the mid-1970s when findings about the human-induced ozone depletion were published and especially in the mid-1980s when the gigantic ozone hole over Antarctica was discovered (Roan 1989). International efforts in curbing the ozone depletion have been successful, the Antarctic ozone hole has not exceeded its peak area of 29.6 million km2 since 2006, the minimum level of ozone has not been under 100 Dobson units (DU) since 2011 (the lowest figure was 73 DU in 1994) (NASA 2017), and recent reports also indicate that ozone depletion does not intensify anymore (WMO 2014). Aside from the ozone problem, another atmospheric pollution in the form of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is on the agenda. GHGs are believed to be directly responsible for the global climate change. One of the most notable GHGs is carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by burning of the fossil fuels as well as by the construction using cement (Rubenstein 2012). Pivotal international instrument designed to reduce emissions of GHGs is the aforementioned UNFCCC from 1992. The main goal of this treaty is “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (Article 2 of UNFCCC). Despite the intense international negotiations, battling CO2 emissions has not been as successful as curbing the ozone-depleting emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol aiming to reduce worldwide concentrations of CO2 came into force in 2005, but without the ratification of the USA as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. A follow-up agreement connected to the Kyoto Protocol is the Doha Amendment. As of 18 March 2018, 111 parties accepted the amendment, and 33 signatures remain in order for the Amendment to come into force (UNFCCC 2018). Following rounds of negotiations culminated in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was conceived as a separate document, not as a part of the semi-dysfunctional Kyoto system. The Paris Agreement currently has 175 parties (UN 2018b) and contains binding promises of all party states to limit their CO2 emissions in order to slow down ongoing global climate change caused by the anthropogenic influences. The USA’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has been widely criticized worldwide, and there are fears that without its support, the Paris Agreement’s targets will not be met. CO2 emissions influence not only the atmosphere but also the world’s oceans, causing sea level rise and ocean acidification (NOAA undated).

Future Atmospheric Challenges

As discussed before, there is no overall worldwide pollution-related convention. Although, e.g., the Paris Agreement gained worldwide support, the case of planned US withdrawal serves as a reminder that every action is a voluntary commitment based on the respective nation-states’ political will. Due to nonexistence of an all-encompassing atmospheric convention, finding international political consensus on atmospheric protection goals is a never-ending process. Regional agreements appear to be more effective; therefore, further cross-border bilateral (and multilateral) agreements should be developed. Additionally, enforcement of already agreed principles by nation-states is crucial. For example, the ozone layer damaging gas CFC-11 has been long banned, but recent reports indicate that it has started to be manufactured again (Economia 2018), meaning the lack of enforcement and control measures in certain countries.


History of Ocean Governance

Oceans are the most complicated of all of the commons because they serve multiple functional purposes, all equally vital for the human race. Oceans not only produce most of the atmospheric oxygen but also provide livelihoods to hundreds of millions of people, with circa 20% of the world’s total population live in the coastal sand low-lying areas (Small and Nicholls 2003). Oceans and adjacent coastal areas play a crucial role in people’s livelihoods, as coastal areas are heavily used not only as residential areas but also for transportation, fisheries, and recreation. Father of the modern international law Hugo Grotius in his work Mare Liberum (Grotius 1608) concluded that seas and oceans are free to use for all, not susceptible of occupation, and whereas that might have been true in the past, modern international law is working on slightly different principles, dividing the world into zones falling under jurisdiction of national states, effectively creating territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ). Therefore a notion of free-to-use oceans which belong to no particular entity is long gone. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the main document governing the use of marine areas, territorial claims of respective national states. The UNCLOS is one of the most widely accepted instruments governing oceans and their use. Conceived in 1982 and coming into force in 1994, UNCLOS can be regarded as the central treaty of the whole ocean-related international governance framework. Nevertheless, most of the world’s oceans are still part of no national territory and remain the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). But international community was focused on the preservation of oceans and their resources long before the UNCLOS. Two major governance directions were centered around pollution and living resources.

Oil (and Other) Pollution

In the twentieth century, ocean-related international law-making concerning pollution was almost always motivated by major catastrophes and industrial accidents. Taking oil pollution as an example, the number of oil pollution-related international treaties was conceived as a response to major tanker accidents. Majority of the oil-spilling accidents occurred after the year 1960. This increased occurrence only underlines increased level of international dependence on oil (necessity to transport large quantities over long distances) and also increased level of international trade (due to containerization of international shipping in the 1950s). The first marine oil pollution disaster during which more than 100,000 t of oil was spilled for the first time in history occurred in 1967, when oil tanker Torrey Canyon sunk near British coast, marking it as the biggest marine accident up to that date. The extent of the damage was so significant and unprecedented that three subsequent conventions were negotiated: 1969 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969 International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties, and 1971 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage. With the increased volume of ocean freight, the beginning of the 1970s saw unprecedented bloom of conventions related to marine pollution – 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and 1972 Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft – and probably the most important for marine environment is the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Some of these conventions are administrated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is very active in the field of shipping-induced pollution control (IMO 2018). IMO’s members include virtually all seafaring nations, and its rules are dominant legislation for safety at seas, thus aiming on reducing incidents that might cause pollution of the world’s oceans. However, not all types of pollution are as easily identifiable as oil pollution. Use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its impacts on the wildlife were described by Rachel Carson in 1962 in her famous book Silent Spring. DDT is a member of the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) family and was widely used as a pesticide. The discovery of the harmful effects of the DDT led to the abolishment of this chemical in most of the world, but other POPs are still widely used. International efforts to tackle use of POPs culminated in the year 2001 when the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP Convention) was conceived, coming into force 3 years later (SSC 2018a, b). Although the USA has signed the POP Convention, it has never ratified, thus becoming one of the few remaining countries in the world to do so. Alongside the POPs, plastics and microplastics are other growing environmental issues in the world’s oceans. The Great Pacific garbage patch is one of the most famous examples of plastic waste in the ocean. First reports of the patch come from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1988 (NOAA 1990) and since then gathered widespread attention for its waste buildup (Lebreton et al. 2018). Main problem of plastics and POPs is their bioaccumulation and also their ability to be carried over long distances by ocean currents, thus polluting the food chains all around the world and even impacting never directly exposed areas such as the polar regions.

Carbon Dioxide and World’s Oceans

Another kind of human-produced emissions that can be considered as a pollutant influencing oceans is already discussed carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is an integral and irreplaceable part of natural cycle, but excessive amounts of anthropogenic CO2 lead to greater uptake by the oceans and which subsequently leads to a change in the pH of the saltwater – a process called ocean acidification. Ocean acidification has serious potential impact on shell-forming species (corals, clams, oysters, clams, sea urchins, etc.), impeding the growth of their shells and in some cases is also possibly linked to the decrease of their reproductive functions (NOAA undated). Calcifying species are part not only important source of food and livelihoods for coastal communities but are also an integral part of the global food chain. The impact of their potential or even demise would have catastrophic impact on the overall food chain, influencing abundance of species all around the globe. International efforts of curbing CO2 emissions such as the Paris Agreement are therefore vital not only for addressing the global climate change but also for maintaining precious biological diversity of ocean living resources.

Protection of Ocean Living Resources

Protection of ocean living resources predates the pollution-oriented treaties by several decades. Biodiversity-focused international conventions were, similarly to their pollution counterparts, generally aimed at protection of single species from overexploitation, such as the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling or 1957 Interim Convention on Conservation of North Pacific Fur Seals, but gradually became more comprehensive and started to govern environmental protection on transboundary basis – examples of this approach are 1983 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals as well as conventions covering regional seas which include the 1974 Convention on the Protection of Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, the 1985 ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or the 1986 Convention for the Protection of Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific. These regional conventions, however, do not cover the true ocean commons (in this case ABNJ) as they only regulate activities within jurisdictions of national states. Although efforts to establish globally accepted governance framework for the ABNJ is underway, no binding agreement has been produced. Although intergovernmental bodies such as the International Seabed Authority (governing exploitation of nonliving ocean resources in the ABNJ) exist, there is no common authority over the exploitation of living resources in the ABNJ. The idea that fishing on seas and oceans is free and open to all postulated by Hugo Grotius is still valid to certain extent, but continuous population growth and subsequent living resources exploitation lead to overfishing. Whereas international instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) deal with the protection or biological resources in general, one of the pioneers of the counter-overexploitation initiatives is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO has produced numerous instruments addressing environmental protection with focus on the protection of living resources, most notably the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which is a voluntary instrument aimed to make world’s fisheries sustainable (FAO 1995). A problem related to overfishing is also bycatch and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Estimates of the annual worldwide value of IUU fishing ranges between 10 and 23 billion USD (FAO 2015), making the IUU fishing not only ecological problem but also economical. In 2009, Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing was conceived in order to put limitations on the IUU, but up until today the agreement entered into force for only 48 countries worldwide (ECOLEX 2018). The UN General Assembly also voted on the agenda related to the IUU fishing and passed several resolutions on the topic, including ones that call for further enhancement of international governance regime within the ABNJ based on UNCLOS (e.g., 1994 UN GA resolution A/RES/48/263 and 2017 UN GA resolution A/RES/72/72). However, although these resolutions are widely supported during voting within the General Assembly, the actual implementation and acceptance of binding instruments these resolutions call for are hindered by the reluctance of national states to ratify them. Even already existing instruments such as the 1993 Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (entered into force in 2003, now ratified by 40 states) (ECOLEX 2018) are not widely recognized and therefore remain relatively ineffective in achieving their aims.

Opportunities and Challenges for the World’s Oceans

One of the most effective ways how to protect anything is to conserve it or limit overall usage. This is the idea behind the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage which calls for the conservation of sites holding cultural and natural importance. Although world heritage sites based on this treaty are within the territories of individual states, thoughts about scaling-up of the World Heritage initiative into the ABNJ are in progress. When applied in the ocean marine environment, marine-protected areas (MPA) are considered to be one of the most effective tools for biodiversity and habitat protection, thus fulfilling the ideas of the global heritage protection. Despite the success regional initiatives such as the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean Marine Protected Area Management, or the EU Common Fisheries Policy have on regional scale (within territorial waters and EEZs), establishing MPAs in the ABNJ continues to be a problematic issue. ABNJ do not have single governing regime, and although UNCLOS and related treaties establish very basic governance framework, they do not provide one-fits-all solution for the ABNJ protection and governance, as the idea of free to use and exploit ocean commons is still prevalent among majority of international state actors. However, after long negotiations, international community acted and established the world’s largest marine protected area (1.5 million km2) in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica in 2016 (NG 2016), marking not only a new era for biodiversity protection for the polar continent itself, but also new era of environmental protection in the ABNJ.


The aforementioned MPA in the Ross Sea is not the only international instrument in place over Antarctica. Roman jurisprudence used term terra nullius to describe a land that belongs to no-one and in today’s world, only Antarctica is the true no-man’s land in that sense. Nevertheless, Antarctic continent has its own international governance regime established in 1959 by the Antarctic treaty. The Antarctic treaty limits use of Antarctica to nonmilitary use, mainly for scientific research. The Antarctic treaty is not the only international instrument in place, number of other international agreements was developed, including the 1964 Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the 1982 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, all of which together of form the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) (US DS 2018). The aforementioned MPA in the Ross Sea builds upon the paradigm created by the ATS as well as by the global environmental protection regime consisting of the UNCLOS, CBD, and other instruments and further strengthens environmental regime over the south pole continent and adjacent sea areas.

The future of Antarctica is unclear. Scientific research on the continent is likely to continue, and aforementioned efforts to sustainably manage adjacent sea areas are a good sign that the international community is going to further implement protection measures, of course depending on the future state of international politics.

Outer Space

Another form of terra nullius, at least in legal sense, is the outer space. Governance regime of the outer space is the least developed ones of the all commons, as human activities in outer space are still mostly limited to the Earth’s orbit.

History and Current Status of the Outer Space Governance

Currently, there is no comprehensive international governance regime addressing protection of the outer space environment. However, several international treaties were developed to address utilization and use rights to outer space, thus creating the international space law. The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies not only prohibits placing weapons of mass destruction on Earth’s orbit or anywhere else in space, reflecting the Cold War era when it was conceived, but also stipulates that no government may claim territory over any celestial body and reiterates that space should remain for nonmilitary use only. However, even such a distant place as Earth’s orbit is not immune to pollution – one of the emerging issues is orbit’s pollution by debris. Although all space-faring nations try to minimize amount of debris produced by both satellites and manned missions, European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there are more than 170 million pieces of space debris in Earth orbit (ESA 2013). Even though there is no specialized regime addressing space debris pollution, the 1972 Convention on the international liability for damage caused by space objects provides basic guidelines for strict liability of launch states. The closest resemblance to a structured governance regime of outer space use is ongoing active cooperation among countries through the International Communication Union (ITU), which acts as a coordination hub and helps to facilitate use of Earth’s orbit, mainly for satellites (ITU 2018), which provide vital services such as GPS, communications, or meteorological data, as well as advancing human knowledge about outer space.

Future Challenges for Outer Space

As suggested in the previous paragraph, contemporary cooperation is useful to certain extent but nonetheless fails to fully eradicate the adverse effects of outer space use. Further coordination will be necessary as more nations (most notably China and India) and several private companies are beginning to advance their space programs and have bigger plans for the Earth orbit. Proposals for asteroid mining might give rise to a system not unlike the one in place for the ocean seabed mining governed by the International Seabed Authority. As for the use of outer space for the purposes of achieving SDGs, more attention needs to be paid to the use of satellites as tools for monitoring and planning, as well as their crucial role in providing the internet connection in many parts of the world.

Cyberspace and Intellectual Property

One of the SDG 17’s aims is to promote use and especially access to the Internet. Access to information and knowledge is one important aspect of the whole sustainable development process, because access to knowledge is a prerequisite for active participation and what is more important, informed participation. Invention of the Internet sparked a new era in the modern history, an era marked with easiness of communication and information access and sharing. However, a term digital divide is receiving well-justified attention in today’s world. Digital divide refers to different levels of access to information and communication technologies and to the Internet between various communities, as well as the quality of such access (Unwind and de Bastion 2009). Worldwide gender gap between the Internet users ranges from 6% to 11% (ECOSOC 2016; ITU 2017), meaning that less women have access to the Internet than men. UN Economic and Social Council’s report indicates that as of 2015, developing and the least developed nations still lack proper high-speed Internet capacity, with 7.1% of covered population in developing countries in comparison to the 29% in the developed world (ECOSOC 2016). However, estimates show the overall number of Internet users reached 41.3% in the developing nations and 81% in the developed countries (ITU 2017). Notions to classify the Internet as a global public good and thus development of protective measures have been made in the past (Clark 2011). But access to information through technical means is only one aspect of information sharing, with legal aspect being the other. Use of some knowledge and actual knowledge itself is limited through developed framework of patents and copyrights globally coordinated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Patent system has been around for centuries and is inherent part of technological development system which protects inventors’ ideas and allows them to fully exploit their invention to which they invested time and money. Basic regime of the intellectual property rights transfer and trading is embedded within the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO), making intellectual property subject of the certain international governance regime, but there is also an opinion that patent system together with the current legal regime is slowing down technological progress (Takalo and Kanniainen 2000) and also hinders technology transfer from developed world to developing countries. This notion gave birth to several initiatives such as the Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free and public platform for knowledge sharing. Similar ideological paradigm is growing worldwide, with initiatives such as the Open Access for scientific research, rise of the Open Source Software and also the general idea of Open Data getting significant international attention from researchers and scientists as well as from private businesses.


Commons tragedy described by Hardin occurs because of the lack of common-pool resources governance that would limit their use and guard them from overexploitation (Herring 1990). The situation has changed significantly since the publication of Hardin’s article; the system of the international environmental governance has developed into a complex system of numerous semi-related international agreements. As described before, the transboundary nature of the environment is addressed by numerous international instruments (such as international treaties) which are part of global environmental regime. Such inclusive approach is apparent especially in well-established sectoral governance (biodiversity, pollution, exploitation rights), but on global level, there is no coordinating body which would oversee the overall integration of individual instruments and their goals. SDGs are useful international policy instrument but can function merely as a non-binding agenda. Ideas about establishing a new global environmental organization have been discussed (Conca 2015; Biermann 2014), but there is not enough international support or willingness on national states’ level to relinquish national sovereignty in favor of new international body. Although regional agreements appear to have higher impact on environmental and economic activities than globally promoted programs, they do not have immediate impact on the governance of global commons, as they remain sectoral in nature and usually do not reflect ecosystem interdependencies. These regional agreements can to certain extent influence the environment in ABNJ by practicing environmentally friendly management practices, but the traditional state-state system coupled together with the UN institutions is not effective in tackling the complexity of environmental problems.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecosystem Governance Thematic GroupInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)GlandSwitzerland
  2. 2.International Cooperation DepartmentVietnam National University of ForestryHanoiVietnam

Section editors and affiliations

  • Monica Thiel
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Public Administration and School of Business AdministrationUniversity of International Business and Economics & China University of PetroleumBeijingChina