Adequate water governance is necessary for the world’s sustainability. Because of its importance, a growing literature has studied ways to improve water governance, beginning in the early 2000s. Institutions, which refer to the set of shared rules, codes, and prescriptions that regulate human actions, are a particularly important element of sustainable water governance. Evidence shows that to design institutions that will generate sustainable economic, ecological, and cultural development, it is necessary to consider ecosystems and socioeconomic-cultural systems as social-ecological systems (SESs). In the past, practitioners and international agencies tried to find the government-led panaceas, but this search has been largely unsuccessful. Current views support efforts to move towards addressing complexity (e.g., Integrated Water Resources Management), and search for the fit between the institutional arrangements and SESs’ attributes. The literature on institutional fit in SESs encourages planners to design institutions by carefully considering the defining features of the problems they are meant to address and the SES context in which they are found. This literature has been developing since the 1990s and has identified different types of misfits. A comprehensive fitness typology that includes all the different types of fitness (ecological, social, SES, and intra-institutional fit) helps organize existing and future work on institutional fit and provides a checklist for governments to be used in the problem-solving process for increasing fitness. The water governance and institutional fitness literature provide examples of management practices and mechanisms for increasing institutional fit for each fitness type. Future research should focus on improving the methodologies to measure different types of fit and testing the effect of introducing fit on SES outcomes.
Cathy Rubiños and Maria Bernedo Del Carpio
Jazmin Zatarain Salazar, Andrea Castelletti, and Matteo Giuliani
Shared water resource systems spark a number of conflicts related to their multi sectorial, regional, and intergenerational use. They are also vulnerable to a myriad of uncertainties stemming from changes in the hydrology, population demands, and climate change. Planning and management under these conditions are extremely challenging. Fortunately, our capability to approach these problems has evolved dramatically over the last few decades. Increased computational power enables the testing of multiple hypotheses and expedites the results across a range of planning alternatives. Advances in flexible multi-objective optimization tools facilitate the analyses of many competing interests. Further, major shifts in the way uncertainties are treated allow analysts to characterize candidate planning alternatives by their ability to fail or succeed instead of relying on fallible predictions. Embracing the fact that there are indeterminate uncertainties whose probabilistic descriptions are unknown, and acknowledging relationships whose actions and outcomes are not well-characterized in planning problems, have improved our ability to perform diligent analysis. Multi-objective robust planning of water systems emerged in response to the need to support planning and management decisions that are better prepared for unforeseen future conditions and that can be adapted to changes in assumptions. A suite of robustness frameworks has emerged to address planning and management problems in conditions of deep uncertainty. That is, events not readily identified or that we know so little about that their likelihood of occurrence cannot be described. Lingering differences remain within existing frameworks. These differences are manifested in the way in which alternative plans are specified, the views about how the future will unfold, and how the fitness of candidate planning strategies is assessed. Differences in the experimental design can yield diverging conclusions about the robustness and vulnerabilities of a system. Nonetheless, the means to ask a suite of questions and perform a more ambitious analysis is available in the early 21st century. Future challenges will entail untangling different conceptions about uncertainty, defining what aspects of the system are important and to whom, and how these values and assumptions will change over time.
Leon C. Braat
The concept of ecosystem services considers the usefulness of nature for human society. The economic importance of nature was described and analyzed in the 18th century, but the term ecosystem services was introduced only in 1981. Since then it has spurred an increasing number of academic publications, international research projects, and policy studies. Now a subject of intense debate in the global scientific community, from the natural to social science domains, it is also used, developed, and customized in policy arenas and considered, if in a still somewhat skeptical and apprehensive way, in the “practice” domain—by nature management agencies, farmers, foresters, and corporate business. This process of bridging evident gaps between ecology and economics, and between nature conservation and economic development, has also been felt in the political arena, including in the United Nations and the European Union (which have placed it at the center of their nature conservation and sustainable use strategies). The concept involves the utilitarian framing of those functions of nature that are used by humans and considered beneficial to society as economic and social services. In this light, for example, the disappearance of biodiversity directly affects ecosystem functions that underpin critical services for human well-being. More generally, the concept can be defined in this manner: Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems, in interaction with contributions from human society, to human well-being. The concept underpins four major discussions: (1) Academic: the ecological versus the economic dimensions of the goods and services that flow from ecosystems to the human economy; the challenge of integrating concepts and models across this paradigmatic divide; (2) Social: the risks versus benefits of bringing the utilitarian argument into political debates about nature conservation (Are ecosystem services good or bad for biodiversity and vice versa?); (3) Policy and planning: how to value the benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services (Will this improve decision-making on topics ranging from poverty alleviation via subsidies to farmers to planning of grey with green infrastructure to combining economic growth with nature conservation?); and (4) Practice: Can revenue come from smart management and sustainable use of ecosystems? Are there markets to be discovered and can businesses be created? How do taxes figure in an ecosystem-based economy? The outcomes of these discussions will both help to shape policy and planning of economies at global, national, and regional scales and contribute to the long-term survival and well-being of humanity.