`Spatial-environmental governance’ is a new sub-field of study proposed by Jamilah Mohamad in 2009 to reflect the increasing importance of governance in bringing about sustainable development. The term `environmental governance’ is already in popular use. However, taking into account the importance of spatial scales when dealing with environmental problems as often espoused by physical planners in the Netherlands, as well as the increasing availability of spatial analysis tools such as GIS, remote sensing, etc., it is thought that a term such as `spatial-environmental governance’ has to be introduced and the sub-field developed, taking into account progress made in other areas of corporate governance, etc.
Thus, the proposed Head of this Centre decided that the UM Spatial-Environmental Governance for Sustainability Research Centre (UMSERGE) be formed in 2009 and was registered under the Sustainability Science Cluster as a cluster centre with the support of a number of researchers mainly from the Geography Department in University of Malaya. However, researchers from other disciplines such as Anthropology and Sociology, Economics, Engineering and Business disciplines have either formally registered as members or have expressed their interest to be part of the research centre. The multi-disciplinary approach is an important part of this form of governance since we are dealing with complex systems such as environmental systems, ecosystems, urban systems, etc. A Google Search undertaken in 2009 showed that this research centre is the first such-named in the world.
The term `governance’ has been traced back to ancient Greek times with the meaning `to steer’. However, the term increasingly has broadened to take on board non-state actors such as civil society, the private sector and non-government organizations (NGOs) rather than simply government. There are, needless to say, various definitions of the term, but the majority seems to focus on three core concepts listed below (Lautze 2011): (1)Governance is consistently viewed as the processes involved in decision-making; (2)The processes of decision-making take place through institutions (including mechanisms, systems and traditions); and, (3)The processes and institutions of decision-making involve multiple actors.
Sustainable development interweaves the natural science principle of `sustainability’ – which can be described as the `capacity for continuance’ – and the social science concept of `development’ – which should be understood as the `progress of human systems’, and not simply associated as economic growth (Zeiji-Rozema, 2007). Research work to be undertaken under this centre will revolve around four main thrusts (a) Philosophy which sets the parameters of governance and conceptual framework (b) levels of governance- global,regional or local (c) areas of governance – watershed, protected area, urban, etc, (d) mechanisms of governance emerging from case studies undertaken. Many areas of governance can be explored depending on the nature of researchers’ interests and expertise of available members.