pp 37-81

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Cultural Diversity and Sustainability Metagovernance


In the 20 years since the United Nations summit on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the world has become more diverse, turbulent, fast and multi-polar. Tensions between old and new forms of politics, science and media, representing the emergence of what has been framed as the knowledge democracy, have brought about new challenges for sustainability governance. However, the existing governance frameworks seem to deny this social complexity and uncertainty. They also favour centralised negotiations and institutions, view governments as exclusive decision makers, and imply hegemony of Western economic, political and cultural principles. This is also reflected in the language of sustainability governance: it is centralist and is referring to monolithic concepts (the economy, the climate, the Earth System) rather than embracing diversity and complexity.

This chapter sheds light on the problematic relations between cultural diversity, sustainable development and governance. These three concepts share a normative character, which is always a good predictor of trouble if interaction takes place.

It is argued that the implementation deficit of sustainable development can be traced back to three problems: a neglect of the opportunities which cultural diversity offers, an implicit preference for central top-down political solutions, and an underestimation of the ‘wickedness’ of many sustainability challenges. It is concluded that sustainability governance should be more culturally sensitive, reflexive and dynamic. This requires institutions, instruments, processes, and actor involvement based on compatibility of values and traditions rather than on commonality or integration. It also calls for situationally effective combinations of ideas from hierarchical, network and market governance. This implies an approach beyond traditional forms of governance, towards a culturally sensitive metagovernance for sustainable development, beyond disciplinary scientific research, beyond states and other existing institutional borders, beyond existing ways to measure progress, beyond linear forms of innovation, and beyond cultural integration or assimilation, towards looking for compatibility. Governance for sustainable transformations requires what we have framed in this volume as transgovernance.