We often mistakenly assume that institutional design will remain effective indefinitely. Complex long-term environmental challenges illuminate the disparity between institutions and state boundaries. While globalization has challenged monocentrism, we must look beyond traditional measures and design resilient governance systems, such as polycentric governance, that combine trust and local expertise in small-scale governance with the governance capacity of large-scale systems. These harness globalization’s benefits and provide solutions for the effects of ecosystem changes.
This work examines the lessons – benefits, challenges, limitations, and unanswered questions – that may be learned from polycentric governance in the case of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic, where a polycentric political system has developed as a result of a mismatch in environmental, jurisdictional, and temporal scales. Section One examines characteristics of polycentricity, focusing on actors, multilevel governance, degree of formality, and the nature of interactions. Section Two concentrates on the tools utilized. Section Three applies the outlined framework. Finally, Section Four examines three lessons that global environmental governance may learn from the case study: (1) Peak organizations are effective tools for managing polycentricity, allowing for the inclusion of non-state actors, such as indigenous peoples organizations (2) and epistemic communities (3), in bridging the human-environment nexus.