This article describes and explains in accessible terms major findings arising from the work of the long-term international research project on the Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC). In analyzing the roles institutions play in both causing and confronting environmental problems, the project directs attention to three analytic themes – known as the problems of fit, interplay, and scale – and seeks to illuminate these concerns through empirical studies of marine, terrestrial, and atmospheric systems. IDGEC science has highlighted the pervasiveness of institutional misfits and begun to identify the reasons why misfits often prove difficult to eliminate, even when their existence becomes widely known. Research conducted under the auspices of the project demonstrates the growing impact of national and even international institutions on the effectiveness of local resource regimes. Similarly, IDGEC research has identified reasons why policy instruments that work well at the national level (e.g., tradable permits) are frequently difficult or impossible to transfer to the international level. To make the discussion of these findings concrete, the project has explored the problem of fit with particular reference to the performance of Exclusive Economic Zones, the problem of interplay through an analysis of the fate of tropical forests, and the problem of scale through an account of the limits of emissions trading as a policy instrument in the climate change regime.
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