Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
GEM Initiative at Yale University
Governance, Environment,
and Markets Initiative

Mission and Orientation


The Governance, Environment and Markets (GEM) Initiative aims to reorient environmental governance research and practice from short term and single intervention approaches towards durable “results based” problem solving that embraces, rather than bypasses, multi-level complexity.

To accomplish this, GEM focuses on identifying strategic insights and policy learning capable of building effective environmental governance solutions

The Challenges

Despite widespread support and interest among scholars and practitioners in building durable environmental governance solutions, a growing body of scientific data reveals seemingly intractable ongoing biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation on the one hand, and acute development challenges on the other hand. As a result, practitioners, scholars and funders tend to lose interest in a particular solution in favor of the latest innovative solution, which usually falls prey to the same fate as the intervention it succeeded. In order to reverse this cycle, GEM seeks to promote environmental stewardship in the global era that integrates local, domestic, global, non-state and market mechanisms capable of building durable solutions to enduring environmental challenges.

Four overarching questions guide GEM’s efforts
  • What policies are most likely to foster durable results?
  • What interactions among global, domestic, local and private policy initiatives are most likely to produce innovative, effective, and efficient solutions?
  • What are the implications of this research for strategy?
  • How is knowledge most effectively managed and translated to practitioners?
These questions are pursued through cross cutting themes:
  • Market Driven Environmental Governance
  • The Triggers of Progressive, Incremental and Rapid Policy Change
  • Determinants of Effective Policy Learning
  • Understanding Complexity in Global Environmental Governance

In Action

The GEM initiative intends to bridge policy and practice through a results based approach that organizes interaction and communication with policy makers and draws on  themes within public management scholarship on “use of performance information” or “learning from evaluation”.

Researchers and partners in the GEM Initiative apply this approach to some of the most important questions facing the planet including forest degradation, fisheries depletion, climate adaptation and mitigation, human rights, and agriculture/food scarcity challenges.

Currently GEM efforts are focused on two related and critically important substantive challenges:
  • Global forest degradation and deforestation policy
    • Such as legality verification, forest certification, “Forest Law Enforcement and Governance” (FLEG), “reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” and conservation (REDD+), and the international forest regime
  • Climate change policy
    • Such as “path dependent” interventions to address “super wicked” policy challenges, REDD+ and global carbon markets

A GEM of an Idea

The GEM initiative was created for four key reasons. First, environmental governance research on single governance interventions within international, national or local arenas needs to be expanded to better understand potential for synergistic interactions with other governance arenas. For example, current efforts to promote legality verification of forest products through global supply chains is turning to third party, market based “verification” labels as a means to help reinforce government policies in developing countries. Such interaction across private and public spheres holds synergistic opportunities unavailable to those considering public and private spheres in isolation.

Second, current research clearly shows that failure to assess impacts across scales can lead to the championing of ill fated, though well intended, policy interventions. For example global forest certification systems may hold potential in promoting responsible commercial forestry practices, but they may be less suited to arresting deforestation owing to pressures from other sectors, such as agriculture. Third, practical advice, practitioner knowledge, insights, and research must inform, and contribute to, problem-focused scholarship. Attention to integrating practitioner knowledge can lead scholars to develop practically important research questions in ways that are informed by, and can contribute to, environmental problem solving. Fourth, active dissemination and policy learning are required to foster these goals and direct our collective efforts toward enduring and long-term solutions. Failure to do so can lead to championing of policy interventions that bypasses consideration of coalition building and legitimacy necessary for long term support.  

The GEM initiative therefore takes as its underlying theme that fostering long-term and effective problem solving institutions means breaking away from the current “single instrument” approaches that often generate “five-year attention spans” ill-equipped to nurture long-term effectiveness.

The approach behind GEM is now gaining growing acceptance, as illustrated by the United Nations’ Rio +20 2012 summit’s focus on “green markets” and “institutions and governance,” which recognizes the critical importance in integrating these efforts if we are to finally move in a productive direction that ameliorates the increasingly acute state of the world’s biosphere.

The GEM initiative seeks funding to cover coordination, administration, outreach and research to oversee and implement these efforts. Core research funds will also serve as resources with which to leverage and target specific projects within these efforts.

Our mission is to shed light on these efforts by identifying and researching potentially promising pathways for interaction and evolution, and to provide strategic advice to policy makers and activists for doing so.
A weathered tree cross section
Tree rings
The GEM initiative is inspired by the premise that ameliorating global environmental challenges and promoting sustainability requires integrating public, private and market interventions and institutions across international, national and local scales


Governance in a Multi-level World

Linking Scholarship to Practitioner needs

Our approach is based on the premise that knowledge generation and management is more efficient, effective and productive when scholarship is informed by, and when scholars interact with, practitioner audiences who are tasked with development and implementing polices “in the field.”
Three people standing in woods.

Core Themes

Four cross-cutting themes unite our efforts.

Market Driven Environmental Governance 

This theme orients our attention to the increasing role of market mechanisms such as global certification systems (eco-labeling), and corporate social responsibility initiatives. We focus on what is required to make them effective in directly addressing problems (such as increasing consumer awareness and supply chain tracking) as well as their effects in supporting or complementing public policy and international initiatives.

The Triggers of Durable Policy Change

This theme directs research and practitioner attention to understanding better the determinants of policy change. We focus on what we know about the durability of “single shot” efforts aimed at creating overnight change, versus multiple step approaches.

We argue that in addition to commonly researched large, one-shot policies, researchers and scholars must pay greater attention to smaller-scale, potentially more promising, types of changes that could lead to similar or even more significant outcomes.

Current efforts focus these questions toward a class of ‘Super wicked’ problems, as highlighted by the climate crisis, in which: 1) time is running out; 2) the central authority needed to address it is weak or non-existent; 3) those who cause the problem also seek to create a solution; and 4) hyperbolic discounting occurs that pushes responses irrationally into the future.[i] 

We study whether, and how, multiple step approaches that trigger “path dependent” processes may work to “constrain our future selves” in ways that one-shot approaches are unable. 

Determinants of Effective Policy Learning

A plethora of environmental policy research has found that problem-focused policy learning across coalitions and attention to coalitions of support that cut across single institutions can transform short-term self-interest to durable support for long-term oriented institutions. This requires integrating research on policy learning with stakeholder dialogues so that solutions are not just about achieving consensus, but successful in ameliorating challenges.

This theme orients our cross cutting focus towards engaging research that shifts attention from consensus to problem-focused experiments and adaptive learning. This approach draws on practitioner engagement to identify critically important research gaps regarding the most promising policy instruments available to ameliorate the environmental challenge.

Complex Global Governance Arrangements and Domestic Politics

Understanding the effects of international environmental regimes at the domestic level requires an exploration of the complex ways in which regimes influence domestic behavior and outcomes beyond a strict focus on compliance with formal rules and objectives. This theme therefore emphasizes the multiple pathways through which complex arrangements in global environmental governance influence domestic politics, policies, and processes including: international rules, international norms and discourse, markets, and direct access to domestic policy-making processes. This approach recognizes that multiple channels of influence may be synergistic, or they may overlap, perhaps with contradictory authorities and mandates. One important goal of this theme is to study the interactions between pathways of influence and find ways to increase coherence and synergies among governance mechanisms. It also recognizes that boundaries between global and domestic politics and policy can be blurred, which means that evaluating influence and effectiveness is not a one-way relationship of regime to implementation.

[i] (Levin et al. 2009)
How can market mechanisms help address environmental policy problems in an era of government downsizing and globalization?
We must integrate research on the causes of successful policy learning to the practice of environmental governance.
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