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Taking uncertainty seriously: adaptive governance and international trade

Cooney, Rosie and Lang, Andrew T. F. (2007) Taking uncertainty seriously: adaptive governance and international trade. European Journal of International Law, 18 (3). pp. 523-551. ISSN 0938-5428

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Identification Number: 10.1093/ejil/chm030


The problem of uncertainty presents a major challenge for institutions of international governance. In this article we draw lessons from a variety of literatures, including ecology and environmental management, for understanding and responding to uncertainty. From them we derive a model of ‘adaptive governance’ as a way to respond to the extensive and pervasive uncertainty confronting decision-makers in international institutions. Adaptive governance accepts and responds to uncertainty through promoting learning, avoiding irreversible interventions and impacts, encouraging constant monitoring of outcomes, facilitating broad participation in policy-making processes, encouraging transparency, and reflexively highlighting the limitations of the knowledge on which policy choices are based. Here we assess the World Trade Organization as an institution of adaptive governance, taking for our focus the WTO's treatment of national measures to counter the spread of invasive alien species, an arena in which particularly challenging and persistent uncertainties are faced. We find that while some aspects of the WTO's operation already fit within an adaptive governance model, in other important respects the WTO fails to encourage (and sometimes inhibits) effective policy responses to persistent uncertainty.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2007 EJIL
Divisions: Law
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
J Political Science > JX International law
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2009 16:28
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:43

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