International biodiversity governance and complex problems: How can biodiversity conservation regimes address global warming?

Adam B. Smith


Over the past century international conservation governance has had to adapt to an increasingly 

complex set of threats, and this trend only promises to accelerate with global climate change. The 

outpacing of biodiversity policy by threats occurs in two ways. First, prolonged negotiations 

forestall addressing threats in a timely fashion and often lead to time lags that make correction all 

the more costly and less likely. Second, the split between legal primacy over a threat (recognized 

ability to enact and enforce regulation) and competency over a threat (mandate to address a threat) 

requires policies to cooperate or else leave threats unaddressed. In this essay illustrate these issues 

with a series of policy case studies relevant to the conservation of large marine mammals (whales, 

seals, polar bears, and sirenians) over the past 100 years. The characteristics of these policies 

reflect on general trends in international biodiversity governance and illustrate the outpacing of 

policy by threats.

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