The international policy community has promoted sustainable development as a response to human-caused global environemental degradation for four decades. Implementation barriers have nontheless frustrated efforts to achieve a more sustainable future. A large body of literature holds that complementing top-down compliance-based governance with more collaborative forms of governance can help overcome these barriers. However, this literature often has a strong normative bent and draws from a limited number of case studies over a relatively short period of time.
While there is a long empirical track record of important outcome documents from key sustainable development meetings, extracting patterns from their coverage of governance and related means of implementation (MOI) (finance, technology, and capacity) can prove challenging. This paper uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to assess whether and to what extent governance (both compliance and collaborative forms) as well as related MOI appear in nine key documents from 1972 to 2015. The analysis shows a sharp increase in references to governance in general; a gradual increase of references to compliance-based governance; a steady increase in text on collaborative governance; and a sharp increase in text related to MOI. A possible interpretation of these trends is that collaborative forms of governance are increasingly complementing the preexisting government-centred views of governance. Additional research would be needed to examine not only if similar trends can be found at national levels, but more importantly whether collaborative forms of governance produce better outcomes or whether the increasing emphasis at intergovernmental levels are mere lip service to non-state pressure.
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