Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The negative consequences of a warming planet – from rising sea levels and extreme weather events to crop failures and extinction of species – threaten to undermine the well-being of current and future generations.

In order to combat this global challenge, it is essential to understand how to effectively govern the use of resources and manage collective action. This is where the work of Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences laureate, becomes particularly relevant.

Elinor Ostrom’s Research on Common Pool Resource Governance

Elinor Ostrom was a political economist and institutional economist who dedicated her career to the study of common pool resources. Common pool resources are defined as natural or man-made resources that are subtractable in use and whose size or characteristics make it difficult to exclude potential beneficiaries from using them.

A classic example of a common pool resource is a fishery, but the concept can also be applied to other resources such as forests, water, and even the global atmosphere. Ostrom’s research showed that common pool resources can be effectively managed by local communities using self-designed rules, rather than being regulated by central authorities or privatized.

Elinor Ostrom’s Approach to Climate Change

Climate change, with its global reach and long-term consequences, can be seen as a common pool resource problem of unprecedented scale. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the biosphere are all global commons that are essential for human survival. However, the use of these resources by some actors can lead to negative consequences for others. The problem is that the benefits of emitting greenhouse gases (GHG) accrue to the emitters while the costs are spread among all inhabitants of the planet. This creates a situation of what economists call “negative externalities”, where the actions of some individuals or firms impose costs on others who are not compensated.

To combat climate change, Ostrom’s research suggests that a local and decentralized approach can be effective. Local actors are best suited to address the specific challenges of their own context, and they can be more effective than centralized authorities at solving complex problems. Ostrom’s work on common pool resources shows that local communities can be effective in managing and mitigating the effects of climate change, as long as they have the appropriate governance structures in place.

These structures would include clearly defined boundaries, collective-choice arrangements, and monitoring and sanctioning systems. Ostrom argues that local communities are more likely to comply with rules and invest in collective action when they have a sense of collective identity and trust in their group.

Case Studies of Local and Decentralized Approaches to Climate Change

One example of a successful local initiative to combat climate change is the community-based forest management in Nepal. The government of Nepal has handed over the management of community forests to local user groups. These groups have been able to successfully protect and regenerate the forests, which has in turn helped to mitigate the effects of climate change. The local communities have been able to design and enforce rules that are tailored to their specific context, and they have been more effective at preventing illegal logging and deforestation than the centralized government.

Another example is the use of carbon offset projects, where developed countries can invest in projects that reduce or remove GHG emissions in developing countries, as a way to offset their own emissions. These projects, such as reforestation, afforestation and agroforestry, are often community-based and implemented by local organizations, allowing them to address their specific challenges and opportunities.

Ostrom’s work also highlights the importance of a multi-level governance approach to addressing climate change. Climate change is a global problem that requires coordination among different levels of governance, from local to global. Ostrom’s research on polycentric governance systems suggests that different levels of governance can work together in a coordinated way to address climate change. This means that local communities, national governments, and international organizations must all play a role in addressing this global challenge.

For example, the Paris Agreement, a global climate agreement adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015, aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and to create a framework for action to reduce GHG emissions. The agreement recognizes the need for global cooperation, while also allowing for the flexibility of national and sub-national actions.


In summary, Elinor Ostrom’s research on the governance of common pool resources can provide valuable insights for addressing the global challenge of climate change. Her work highlights the importance of local and decentralized approaches, effective governance structures, and a multi-level governance approach. By understanding and applying these principles, we can work towards finding effective solutions to combat climate change.

It is important to note that addressing climate change will require collective action and cooperation at all levels of society. Governments, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play in reducing GHG emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. By getting involved in local initiatives, supporting effective policy measures, and making conscious choices in our daily lives, we can all contribute to the effort to combat climate change.

To conclude, Elinor Ostrom’s research provides valuable insights and guidance on how to effectively govern the use of resources and manage collective action. Her work on common pool resources and polycentric governance systems can help us understand how to address the global challenge of climate change. By applying her principles, we can work towards finding effective solutions to combat this global problem.

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