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Toward sustainable governance of water resources: the case of Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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Research shows that many water governance regimes are failing to guide social-ecological systems away from points, beyond which, damage to social and environmental well-being will be difficult to correct. This

Research shows that many water governance regimes are failing to guide social-ecological systems away from points, beyond which, damage to social and environmental well-being will be difficult to correct. This problem is apparent in regions that face water conflicts and climate threats. There remains a need to clarify what is it about governance that people need to change in water conflict prone regions, how to collectively go about doing that, and how research can actively support this. To address these needs, here I present a collaborative research project from the dry tropics of Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. The project addressed the overarching questions: How can water be governed sustainably in water-contested and climate-threatened regions? And, how can people transition current water governance regimes toward more sustainable ones? In pursuit of these questions, a series of individual studies were performed with many partners and collaborators. These studies included: a participatory analysis and sustainability assessment of current water governance regimes; a case analysis and comparison of water conflicts; constructing alternative governance scenarios; and, developing governance transition strategies. Results highlight the need for water governance that addresses asymmetrical knowledge gaps especially concerning groundwater resources, reconciles disenfranchised groups, and supports local leaders. Yet, actions taken based on these initial results, despite some success influencing policy, found substantial challenges confronting them. In-depth conflict investigations, for example, found that deeply rooted issues such friction between opposing local-based and national institutions were key conflict drivers in the region. To begin addressing these issues, researchers and stakeholders then constructed a set of governing alternatives and devised governance transition strategies that could actively support people to achieve more sustainable alternatives and avoid less sustainable ones. These efforts yielded insight into the collective actions needed to implement more sustainable water governance regimes, including ways to overcoming barriers that drive harmful water conflicts. Actions based on these initial strategies yielded further opportunities, challenges, and lessons. Overall, the project addresses the research and policy gap between identifying what is sustainable water governance and understanding the strategies needed to implement it successfully in regions that experience water conflict and climate impacts.

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  • 2014

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A framework for supporting organizational transition processes towards sustainable energy systems

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Economic development over the last century has driven a tripling of the world's population, a twenty-fold increase in fossil fuel consumption, and a tripling of traditional biomass consumption. The associated

Economic development over the last century has driven a tripling of the world's population, a twenty-fold increase in fossil fuel consumption, and a tripling of traditional biomass consumption. The associated broad income and wealth inequities are retaining over 2 billion people in poverty. Adding to this, fossil fuel combustion is impacting the environment across spatial and temporal scales and the cost of energy is outpacing all other variable costs for most industries. With 60% of world energy delivered in 2008 consumed by the commercial and industrial sector, the fragmented and disparate energy-related decision making within organizations are largely responsible for the inefficient and impacting use of energy resources. The global transition towards sustainable development will require the collective efforts of national, regional, and local governments, institutions, the private sector, and a well-informed public. The leadership role in this transition could be provided by private and public sector organizations, by way of sustainability-oriented organizations, cultures, and infrastructure. The diversity in literature exemplifies the developing nature of sustainability science, with most sustainability assessment approaches and frameworks lacking transformational characteristics, tending to focus on analytical methods. In general, some shortfalls in sustainability assessment processes include lack of: * thorough stakeholder participation in systems and stakeholder mapping, * participatory envisioning of future sustainable states, * normative aggregation of results to provide an overall measure of sustainability, and * influence within strategic decision-making processes. Specific to energy sustainability assessments, while some authors aggregate results to provide overall sustainability scores, assessments have focused solely on energy supply scenarios, while including the deficits discussed above. This paper presents a framework for supporting organizational transition processes towards sustainable energy systems, using systems and stakeholder mapping, participatory envisioning, and sustainability assessment to prepare the development of transition strategies towards realizing long-term energy sustainability. The energy system at Arizona State University's Tempe campus (ASU) in 2008 was used as a baseline to evaluate the sustainability of the current system. From interviews and participatory workshops, energy system stakeholders provided information to map the current system and measure its performance. Utilizing operationalized principles of energy sustainability, stakeholders envisioned a future sustainable state of the energy system, and then developed strategies to begin transition of the current system to its potential future sustainable state. Key findings include stakeholders recognizing that the current energy system is unsustainable as measured against principles of energy sustainability and an envisioned future sustainable state of the energy system. Also, insufficient governmental stakeholder engagement upstream within the current system could lead to added risk as regulations affect energy supply. Energy demand behavior and consumption patterns are insufficiently understood by current stakeholders, limiting participation and accountability from consumers. In conclusion, although this research study focused on the Tempe campus, ASU could apply this process to other campuses thereby improving overall ASU energy system sustainability. Expanding stakeholder engagement upstream within the energy system and better understanding energy consumption behavior can also improve long-term energy sustainability. Finally, benchmarking ASU's performance against its peer universities could expand the current climate commitment of participants to broader sustainability goals.

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  • 2011