UPSC Courses

editorial plus

Editorial Plus


Managing the global commons

  • 30 September, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

Managing the global commons


  • Various events that have occurred in 2020 so far such as the pandemic, record-breaking forest fires, floods and droughts in various places, and the rapid melting of Arctic ice are majorly due to the disruption of the environment.
  • These events point towards the need to increase efforts in managing interactions with the environment on a global scale.

Global Commons:

  • ‘Global Commons’ refers to resource domains or areas that lie outside of the political reach of any one nation State.
  • They are shared resources that cannot be managed within national jurisdictions.
  • It is a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found.
  • Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the high oceans, the atmosphere and outer space and the Antarctic in particular.
  • Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.



Governing shared resources:

  • For the management of shared resources, there is a need to balance both private and public interests.
    • For example: Each individual farmer may benefit from turning on the pump to irrigate his/her land, but on a larger scale, it contributes to declining groundwater levels and electricity blackouts.
  • The spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19; greenhouse gas emissions; biodiversity reduction; overfishing; and the accumulation of plastic waste are some of the problems within the scope of global commons.
  • Garrett Hardin, a biologist popularised the notion of the tragedy of the commons, which implies that communities cannot manage their shared resources and require governmental interventions to regulate resource use or privatise the resource.
  • A political scientist Elinor Ostrom in her book on governing the commons demonstrated that communities can govern on their own their shared resources, often better than imposed, well-intended solutions from outside. Ostrom was recognised in 2009 for her work by the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.


  • The insights of what kind of governance might be successful at the local community level do not directly address the challenges we face on a global scale.
  • The consequences of human activities on a global scale are only being recognised in recent times.
  • The appropriate scale of governance of global commons is a highly debated topic.
  • Some argue that top-down governance with binding agreements is the only effective solution for problems of a global scale.
  • Multilateral negotiations on climate change and other global commons over decades have had limited success.
  • Others have emphasised a more decentralised multi-level or polycentric approach that builds on the observed successes of local solutions.
  • Empirical research demonstrates that well-intended solutions imposed on community members are typically short-lived.

Way forward:

  • Coordinated activities at different scales are needed to address the challenges in managing the global commons.
  • To manage our global commons, there is a need to facilitate and accommodate the self-governance of local commons, but provide safeguards at different levels to avoid exploitation and manage risks.
  • When rural and urban communities are allowed to self-govern their shared resources, there could be risks involved for which cities and nations need to accept responsibilities.
  • At the local levels, initiatives and solutions could be developed that fit the local context.
  • When expertise is not available, higher-level organisations could facilitate learning from peers in similar conditions.
  • Failures will be inevitable when local-level experimentation is simulated, and higher-level authorities need to provide insurance for those cases.
  • If local initiatives are successful, higher-level authorities need to ensure that the outcomes of those successes will not be grabbed by outsiders.

Source: TH

Students Achievement

Search By Date

Newsletter Subscription
SMS Alerts