Identifying untapped legal capacity to promote multi-level and cross-sectoral coordination of natural resource governance

Nicola Harvey*, Ahjond Garmestani, Craig Allen, Anoeska Buijze, Helena van Rijswick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Natural resource governance in the face of climate change represents one of the seminal challenges of the Anthropocene. A number of innovative approaches have been developed in, among others, the fields of ecology, governance, and sustainability sciences for managing uncertainty and scarcity through a coordinated approach to natural resource governance. However, the absence of an enabling legal and regulatory framework has been identified in the literature as one of the primary barriers constraining the formal operationalization of these governance approaches. In this paper, we show how these approaches provide tools for analyzing procedural mandates across governmental levels and sectors in the natural resource governance space. We also find that there has been inadequate consideration of the potential in existing laws and regulations for cross-sectoral and multi-level coordination of natural resource governance. On this basis, we develop and apply a protocol that draws on the traditional legal method of doctrinal analysis to demonstrate how to identify existing, untapped legal capacity to promote coordinated governance of natural resources through an in-depth case study of water resources in South Africa. We then show how these untapped capacities within existing legal structures may be operationalized to improve natural resource governance. Further, this protocol is portable to other countries, provinces (states), and localities around the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalSustainability Science
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2023


  • Administrative law
  • Climate change
  • Coordination
  • Environmental law
  • Natural resource governance
  • Water


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