“We need more legitimate global governance institutions in the face of geopolitical and environmental change” – Karin Bäckstrand and Lisa Dellmuth
We need substantial global governance to govern geopolitical and collective action problems such as environmental change. Consider climate change, disease epidemics, military security, and trade flows. Global governance institutions (GGIs) – such as the United Nations (UN), UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Group of Twenty (G20), and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – are essential for overcoming free-rider problems and for realizing and preserving collective welfare and provide global public goods in the twenty-first century.
In a recent publication, Legitimacy in Global Governance, co-edited by Karin Bäckstrand, we argue that we need legitimate GGIs to be effective decisionmakers in the face of a changing complex geopolitical and environmental landscape. Under conditions of legitimacy, people and stakeholders perceive GGIs’ exercise of authority to be appropriate, have confidence in their rule they and are more likely to endorse and comply with GGI policies. Without public legitimacy, authority is likely undermined or must depend on coercion, secrecy and trickery to obtain sway – and governance is often less effective as a result. The volume conceptualizes the sources, processes and effects of legitimacy of global governance through empirical examples from policy fields such as climate politics, sustainable development goals, security, and regional politics in the European Union and African Union.
In the chapter ‘Individual Sources of Legitimacy Beliefs: Theory and Data’, Lisa Dellmuth examines factors in individual cognition and psychology that may influence legitimacy perceptions. Dellmuthsurveys the full breadth of relevant political science research to formulate a research agenda on legitimacy in the eyes of regular people. It advocates a positivist agenda, where legitimacy is observed through interviews and surveys, and studied comparatively across institutions, countries, and time to capture the complexity and scale of legitimacy challenges.
The chapter by Karin Bäckstrand (co-authored with Fredrik Söderbaum) on ‘Legitimation and Delegitimation in Global Governance: Discursive, Institutional and Behavioral Practices’ develops a wide-ranging typology for empirical analysis of legitimation and delegitimation practices. With examples from the global climate governance and regional politics in the African Union, the chapter focuses on audiences such as ordinary citizens, stakeholders, and states, and is novel in including both top-down and bottom-up legitimation and delegitimation practices from various societal audiences.
In sum, environmental social scientists have a role to play in studying legitimacy in environmental and security institutions, and socio-ecological systems more broadly, to help better understand what makes, strengthen, and undermines effective institutions.
Written by: Karin Bäckstrand and Lisa Dellmuth