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Article

Swati Srivastava

Transnational corporations (TNCs) have assumed a greater share of global power vis-à-vis states. Thus, understanding how to assign corporate responsibility has become more urgent for scholars in international studies. Are corporations fit to be held responsible? If so, what are the existing ways of doing so? There are three research themes on conceptualizing corporate responsibility: (a) corporate criminal liability, in which corporations are assigned responsibility by determining criminal intent and liability in domestic law; (b) corporate social responsibility (CSR), in which corporations are assigned responsibility through praise and blame for adopting voluntary standards that conform with societal values; and (c) corporate international responsibility, a subset of CSR in which corporations are assigned responsibility by hardening international law, especially in human rights and the environment. The three themes feature research on corporate responsibility across a variety of disciplines, including law, criminology, global governance, sociology, business, and critical theory. Each theme prioritizes different debates and questions for research. For corporate criminal liability, the most important questions are about corporate intent in assigning blame for criminal behavior and how to deal with corporate criminal liability in domestic law. For CSR, the most important questions are about determining what obligations corporations take on as part of their social compact, how to track progress, and whether CSR leads to nonsymbolic corporate reforms. For corporate international responsibility, the most important questions are articulating on what grounds corporations should be held responsible for transnational violations of CSR obligations in state-based public international law or contract-based private international law. There are a range of ways to evaluate corporate responsibility in the three research themes. As such, the future of conceptualizing TNCs’ responsibility is diverse and open for examination by scholars of international studies.

Article

Climate change politics refers to attempts to define climate change as a physical phenomenon as well as to delineate current and predict future effects on the environment and broader implications for human affairs as a foundation for political action. Defining the causes, scale, time frame, and consequences of climate change is critical to determining the political response. Given the high stakes involved in both the consequences of climate change and the distributive implications of policies to address climate change, climate change politics has been and remains highly contentious both within countries and across countries. Climate politics presents difficulties for study given its interdisciplinary nature and the scientific complexities involved in climate change. The international relations literature surrounding climate politics has also evolved and grown substantially since the mid-2000s. Efforts to address the consequences of climate change have evoked controversial ethical and distributive justice questions that have produced an important normative literature. These debates increasingly inform the ongoing negotiations surrounding responsibility for the problem of climate change and the policies required to address climate change. There is also a larger debate regarding the complex linkages between climate change and broader ecological as well as economic and political consequences of both the effects of climate change and policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove them from the atmosphere. As we enter the 2020s, a new debate has emerged related to the implications of the posited transition to the Anthropocene Epoch and the future of climate politics. Normative and policy debates surrounding climate change politics remain contentious without a clear path to meaningful political action.

Article

Climate change politics refers to attempts to define climate change as a physical phenomenon as well as to delineate and predict current and future effects on the environment and broader implications for human affairs as a foundation for political action. Defining the causes, scale, time frame, and consequences of climate change is critical to determining the political response. Given the high stakes involved in both the consequences of climate change and the distributive implications of policies to address it, climate change politics has been and remains highly contentious both within and across countries. Climate politics presents difficulties for study given its interdisciplinary nature and the scientific complexities involved in climate change. Climate change politics emerged in the mid- to late 1980s, as climate science became more accessible to policymakers and the public. However, scholarship on international climate politics was relatively slow to develop. Prior to 2008, major publications on international relations (except for policy journals) only lightly touched upon climate politics. Climate change was frequently referenced in articles on a range of topics, but it was not the primary focus of analysis. Since 2008 there has been a dramatic increase in literature focusing on climate change. The possibility of massive economic, political, and ecological dislocation from the consequences of climate change as well as from policies to address the problem have resulted in an extensive literature. Scholars have addressed aspects of climate politics from every paradigm within international relations, as well as drawing on research from numerous related disciplines. The international relations theories that shaped the scholarship on climate politics provide the foundation for understanding the ongoing normative debates surrounding domestic and international policies to address climate change.

Article

There is wide consensus among global environmental politics (GEP) scholars about the urgent need for leadership in international climate negotiations and other environmental issue areas A large number of GEP studies elaborate rhetoric and actions of aspiring leaders in GEP. In particular, these studies seek to identify which states have sought to provide leadership in international negotiations on the environment, and how they have exercised this role in institutional bargaining processes at the international level. The biggest share of GEP studies generally focus on leadership in environmental governance within the United Nations (UN), and international negotiations on climate under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in general, or the role of the European Union (EU) in those negotiations in particular. Many GEP scholars have also investigated the leadership role of the United States in international environmental regime formation, whereas there are no systematic investigations concerning China’s leadership in GEP. In addition to the states, GEP literature identifies a wide range of other actors as potential leaders (and followers) in environmental issue areas: international organizations, non-governmental organizations, corporations, cities, religious organizations, social movements, politicians, and even individuals. Since leadership is a social relation, a growing number of scholars have moved to study perceptions of leadership and to conceptualize the relationship between leaders and followers. GEP scholars also identify some qualitative aspects a leader must have in order to attract followers. Many empirical studies show that despite the EU’s aspiration to be a climate leader, it is not unequivocally recognized as such by others. At the same time, it seems that some forms of leadership, especially those based on unilateral action, do not necessarily require followers and recognition by others. In addition to the leader–follower relationship, the motivation of leadership constitutes one of the key controversies among GEP scholars. Some argue that self-interest is a sufficient driver of leadership, while others claim that leaders must act for the common good of a wider constituency (or at least be perceived to do so). To conclude, most scholars studying leadership in GEP regard structural leadership (based on material capabilities and hard power) as an important type of leadership. Much less attention has been paid to the social dimensions of leadership; this is undoubtedly a gap in the literature that prospective studies ought to fill.

Article

Elena McLean and Muhammet Bas

Natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanoes, or pandemics routinely have cross-border implications. Transboundary risks of natural disasters tend to be the greatest for neighboring countries but often extend regionally or even globally. Even disasters with seemingly localized impacts contained within the national borders of a given state may have indirect short-term or long-term effects on other countries through refugee flows, conflict spillovers, volatility of global commodity prices, disruption of trade relations, financial flows, or global supply chains. Natural disasters may increase the risk of interstate conflict because of commitment problems, reduced opportunity costs of conflict, shocks to status quo divisions of resources, or demarcation of territories among countries, or because of leaders’ heightened diversionary incentives in favor of conflict. In some cases, disasters may have a pacifying effect on ongoing hostilities by creating opportunities for disaster diplomacy among conflict parties. Population displacement in disaster zones can send refugee flows and other types of migration across borders, with varying short-term and long-term socioeconomic and political effects in home and host countries. Adverse effects of natural disasters on regional and global economic activity shape patterns of international trade and financial flows among countries. To mitigate such risks from natural disasters and facilitate adjustment and recovery efforts, countries may turn to international cooperation through mechanisms for disaster relief and preparedness. Regional and global governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are common means to initiate and maintain such cooperative efforts.

Article

Joana Setzer and Karen Anderton

Subnational diplomacy has become an increasingly important part of foreign policy and international relations. This observation concerns a state of affairs that is not necessarily obvious or given. First, by definition, subnational governments usually conduct subnational activities and address problems that affect their constituencies. Second, in many countries subnational governments undertake such an agenda without an actual legal framework authorizing such initiatives. However, with an intensified global interdependency, policy areas such as environmental protection, human rights, immigration, and trade, just to name a few, require action both at the international and territorialized levels, as many of them transcend political administrative boundaries. As a result, in the early 21st century it is possible to determine various forms of international relations conducted by subnational leaders. This activity involves direct interactions undertaken by subnational leaders and bureaucrats with other actors across borders (private, non-governmental, and governmental—national or subnational), participation in transnational networks, and/or participation in international policymaking. Because subnational governments are closer to the people and can test experimental or groundbreaking policies with less risk, oftentimes they can become pioneers of measures that can be rolled out or replicated elsewhere in the international domain. Such policy leadership is just one element of subnational engagement in the diplomatic arena whereby subnational governments move across jurisdictional levels, breaking the fixed scales in which they would traditionally operate. In the past years, scholars investigating the external relations undertaken by subnational governments have dedicated great effort to understanding the motivations for regions to go into the international arena. What these studies lack, however, is an understanding of what the implications are of subnational governments’ engagement in international relations.

Article

Priya Kurian and Robert V. Bartlett

The fundamental conflicts and contradictions between environment and development, and various theoretical and practical efforts to reconcile them, have been a prominent part of the history of development thinking since environmentalism emerged as a significant political phenomenon in the 1960s. The idea of development as change for the better resonates perhaps with all civilizations and across time. All civilizations have development myths which reflect a self-awareness that a particular culture had at some time in the past advanced from a more primitive, less developed state. But these cultural myths of development are only incidentally material or economic. More pronounced concerns over the environment and development emerged during the 1960s and the 1970s. These decades were marked by the emergence of widespread public concern about environmental problems of air and water pollution, and the growth of the environmental movement led to national environmental policy developments and international efforts on the environmental front. In addition, development, environment, and sustainability are all normative concepts with implications for ethics and justice. The vast literature on sustainable development has spawned a range of critiques from a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. The environmental justice literature developed after early sustainable development literature, and raises questions about intragenerational equity.

Article

Lynn M. Wagner and Deborah Davenport

Both desertification and forest policies address environmental issues related to land. However, the types of land covered and the ways the issues associated with that land are conceptualized represent opposite ends of a spectrum, with the former policy area focusing on land degradation in areas with limited biodiversity and the latter relating to protection of lands comprising some of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Moreover, despite their common denominator as issues related to land, the international studies literatures on desertification and forests, like the international policy responses to them, have taken different paths. A number of United Nations (UN)-backed research efforts have sought to define the concept, assess the impacts, and identify possible actions to address the desertification phenomenon. International studies scholarship has also focused on transformations in international policy approaches to deserts, such as the implementation of certain plans of action. Forests, meanwhile, have received renewed attention at the international policy-making level, due to the fact that even though forests themselves fall within the jurisdiction of sovereign states. Historically, deforestation the world over has been associated with conversion of land for agriculture and human settlement. In recent decades, this has been particularly the case in developing countries, though recent deforestation trends have also been traced back to the current global economic system that encourages privatization of forestland.

Article

Even as globalization offers new opportunities to many and opens numerous political opportunities for social movements and other forms of political organizations, globalization also often disrupts existing forms of beliefs, values, and behaviors, as well as the global environment. The impacts of human activities on the global environment have become increasingly evident. Tangible evidence of global climate change is now becoming apparent in many places, as glaciers and permafrost melt, rainfall patterns change, and species move or die out. Indeed, the scale of human activity has seriously altered the biogeophysical state of planet Earth. The shifting patterns of industrial and intellectual production associated with globalization have also resulted in the relocation of environmental externalities from one country to another. The growth in global trade has made it easier to “export” negative environmental impacts to countries less able to afford strict regulation and less willing to impose it. Moreover, the “commodification of everything” has changed more traditional patterns of pollution and waste production in unforeseen ways, especially through cultural globalization—that is, the worldwide diffusion of high-consumption norms that put a premium on things. As such, there has been a growing turn toward efforts to use market tools and mechanisms to “globalize” environmental remediation. The three general categories for such “solutions” include the commodification of the “right to pollute”; ecological modernization, or reducing externalities throughout a commodity chain; and altering consumer preferences and motivating “virtuous” consumption.

Article

Thomas Bernauer and Anna Kalbhenn

Freshwater is one of the most valuable natural resources on Earth. However, many of the more easily accessible freshwater resources at local and regional levels have suffered from overexploitation due to increasing population density, economic activity, and unsustainable water management practices. Sustainable management of domestic water resources is a challenging task mainly due to water allocation, pollution, and other problems on international rivers. Social science research has contributed in a variety of ways to identifying sources of international conflict and cooperation, water management options, and institutional solutions for achieving sustainable international water management. The scholarly literature has tackled a wide range of crucial questions arising from the politics of international freshwater resources, such as: whether there is sufficient evidence for the “water wars” claim—that is, whether water-related factors influence the probability of armed conflict; the determinants of international river basin cooperation, in terms of policy output and policy outcome or impact; how we can determine whether international water management efforts are successful in terms of solving problems that motivate cooperation; and the extent to which the literature offer insights into institutional design options that are effective in terms of problem solving. These studies have produced a considerable amount of policy-relevant analytical concepts and empirical findings. For example, fairness (equity) is one of the key concerns of all governments when they engage in international water cooperation, and integrated water resources management may look nice on paper but does usually not produce the desired results.