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Environmental governance for urgent and uncertain problems

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Abstract

Environmental governance aims to support positive ecological outcomes by establishing effective joint decision-making processes. Yet, complex environmental problems, such as invasive species management, often require urgent action under conditions of uncertainty. Establishing clear and workable environmental governance arrangements in these circumstances can be challenging, or even overlooked completely, in the rush to take action. We undertook an exploratory study, involving semi-structured interviews with 15 policy-makers and scientists, to examine the proposition that some aspects of environmental governance can be more important than others when urgent action is required under conditions of uncertainty. We analysed qualitative data regarding the major decisions points of a case study of invasive species management in Tasmania, Australia. We identified specific elements of governance that, when used under conditions of urgency and uncertainty, can: (a) undermine the ability to establish effective governance arrangements over the longer-term; or alternatively (b) lay the foundation for inclusive and adaptable governance arrangements. Aspects of environmental governance that can be more important than others when responding to urgent and uncertain problems relate to: assessing context; establishing a temporary task-force and setting goals; co-producing knowledge with stakeholders; engaging early; and clarifying and communicating responsibilities and governance arrangements. From our findings, we pose questions for policy-makers and practitioners to ask when responding to urgent problems, creating an opportunity to establish basic governance arrangements even when immediate action is required. These basic arrangements can have the capacity to evolve and respond to increasing levels of certainty, complexity and inclusion.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all of the people who agreed to participate in our research. Thanks also to the support of the Tasmanian Government. Author SDS was not involved in the collection or analysis of data. We gratefully acknowledge the University of Canberra for funding the research and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Katie Moon.

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Moon, K., Blackman, D., Brewer, T.D. et al. Environmental governance for urgent and uncertain problems. Biol Invasions 19, 785–797 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-016-1351-7

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