Environmental governance is a term used to describe how decisions about the ENVIRONMENT are made and who makes such decisions. It is a broad term that includes the formal and informal institutional arrangements for resource and environment decision-making and management. Environmental governance includes and extends beyond government to involve the private sector, Aboriginal communities and civil society organizations. Thus, environmental governance involves a range of institutions, social groups, processes, interactions and traditions, all of which influence how power is exercised, how public decisions are made, how citizens become engaged or disaffected, and who gains legitimacy and influence and achieves accountability.

When federal and provincial governments first established environmental protection agencies in the 1960s and 1970s, they assumed that "management" would be the responsibility of those agencies, and would be undertaken through new laws, regulations, policies and programs. Today, however, governance suggests that protection of the environment goes far beyond government agencies and the formal regulations they create and enforce. Governance requires new kinds of relationships that incorporate different kinds of knowledge, and institute new forms of collaboration with a broad range of stakeholder groups.

Environmental governance is broader than ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT. Environmental management refers to the actual decisions and actions taken with regard to policies or programs about the environment. Governance implies leadership and draws attention to the fact that there are important actors outside of formal government structures who are also key players in governance, as well as mechanisms beyond government policies and programs that contribute to decision-making.

Internationally, the United Nations Environmental Programme promotes governance by supporting actions that link science with public policy objectives. These objective encourage the establishment and delivery of environmental policies and strategies, and support governments to strengthen their environmental policies and programs and meet environmental objectives through engagement of non-governmental stakeholders including civil society. In Canada, the province of British Columbia has served as a model of environmental governance through the broad engagement of interested parties in its strategic land and resource planning processes. First established in the 1990s, land use planning on CROWN LANDS (92% of the province's land base) and adjacent marine areas involves government agencies, First Nations, private sector groups and civil society organizations. As the processes have evolved, the province has started to employ land use plans and associated agreements to support the establishment of government-to-government relations with First Nations.