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Article

Chenaz B. Seelarbokus

Over the course of the twenty-first century, international environmental cooperation has been spurred through various new international environmental institutions and programs, and a dramatic strengthening of international environmental law-making. With the burst of environmental treaty-making the corpus of international environmental law (IEL) has expanded to include significant international environmental agreements (IEAs) in the sphere of climate change, ozone layer depletion, biodiversity, and so on; as well as the recognition of important principles such as good neighborliness and the common heritage. IEAs function similarly to international treaties—indeed, the only difference between an IEA and other international treaties lies in the subject matter. IEAs function as the instrument for laying down the principles of international laws binding upon states was established by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Over the years, IEAs have not simply increased in number, but have also undergone an evolution in their structural design. In the early 1930s, IEAs tended to be simple in terms of their requirements, vague in terms of their objectives, and utilitarian in their ethos for protecting the environment. With time, however, as environmental sciences evolved to incorporate new principles and concepts, the structure of IEAs has followed in tandem to incorporate the new understandings and the new concerns.

Article

Gary Bryner

Environmental justice brings together two of the most powerful social movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, environmentalism and civil rights. Despite the success in reducing pollution and improving environmental quality in many areas, the reduction of race- and income-based disparities in environmental conditions, such as the levels of pollution to which individuals are exposed, has seen limited progress. Minority and low income communities continue to bear the brunt of environmental burdens. The idea of environmental justice also helps clarify the ethical issues underlying climate change and compels action to reduce the threat even in the face of uncertainties and to help poor nations with the costs of adapting to disruptive climate change. A major challenge in environmental justice is deciding how to define the problem. Five options for framing the issue of environmental justice capture most of the approaches taken by advocates and scholars. These are the civil rights framework; theories of distributive justice, fairness, and rights; the public participation framework, social justice framework, and ecological sustainability framework. These frameworks are not mutually exclusive. They overlap considerably and proponents of one primary framework may rely on elements of others as they frame the issues. Advocates of environmental justice will find that elements of each can contribute to their goal. No one framework is sufficient, but in recognizing where those with other views are coming from, we can develop opportunities for creative solutions that bring together alternative approaches.

Article

The early literature on international environmental politics (IEP) had a decisively global scale, in the sense that the key environmental problems of the day, population and resources (including ocean resources), were viewed as global rather than national or regional. This is not to say that transboundary and other international issues were not significant but, rather, to observe that the global scale was introduced into the study of IEP immediately after World War II, as it was with respect to economic, political, and military issues. Two factors seem to account for this global view of IEP: the global ends and means of American politics and the resource and naturalist legacies of colonial empires. The globalization of environmental issues continued unabated during the early 1960s to the middle 1970s, growing more complex over time as a result of the assertion of the Global South, and became more contested in the decades that followed. By the 1990s, the globalization of IEP and its study was broadened and deepened by the two grand narratives that dominate and contest the contemporary study of IEP. As a consequence, the diffusion of the study of IEP has continued and accelerated. European institutions and scholars are now as prominent while other English-speaking countries have contributed fundamentally to our thinking about IEP. IEP scholarship is also becoming more prominent in other areas, particularly the South.

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

Jörg Balsiger and Stacy D. VanDeveer

Only recently has international environmental politics scholarship focused more explicitly on “regionalism” as a distinct phenomenon, one which has received much more sustained attention among specialists in international security and international political economy. By the early twenty-first century, regional environmental governance had become commonplace. Since the term “region” has had different connotations in different disciplines, the analytic and empirical scope of studies of regional environmental governance has varied considerably. As such, analyses of regional environmental cooperation have incorporated both constructivist views of regions that transcend the nation-state grid, and rescaling arguments placing greater emphasis on subnational governments, transboundary mobilization, and the importance of ecoregional initiatives. Regional agreements increasingly point to some sort of ecoterritoriality, state actors are increasingly complemented by nonstate or substate actors, and the thematic scope increasingly expands beyond purely environmental issues to encompass broader notions of sustainable development. There are three typical types of regional agreements: interstate regional environmental governance, ecoregional environmental governance, and ecoregional sustainable development governance. Interstate regional environmental governance is most typical of regional economic organizations with an environmental mandate that covers single or multiple environmental issues. Meanwhile, ecoregional environmental governance is widely seen in agreements for mountain ranges, regional seas, or river basins. Case studies on marine and mountain regional environmental governance illustrate that various regional arrangement remain in quite different states of institutionalization. Yet they also illustrate the growth of ecoregionalism in transnational environmental governance.

Article

Matthias Finger and David Svarin

Transnational corporations (TNCs) refer to businesses that cross over borders, armed with capital as well as products, processes, marketing methods, trade names, skills, technology, and most importantly management. TNCs have drawn the interest of political scientists and specialists of international relations as they reflect a new, transnational, or even global economic reality. The shift towards trade liberalization and the expansion of market economies have enabled TNCs to grow in size and expand their operations all over the world. Thus, they also affect the natural environment. Three hypotheses or ideas have been put forward by various authors about TNCs’ relationships with the global environment: TNCs as “dirty industries” hypothesis, pollution haven hypothesis, and “business advantage of environmental standards hypothesis.” TNCs are said to operate in some sort of a political and legal vacuum, which they try to shape by defining private environmental standards and at the same time take advantage of this very vacuum to the detriment of the environment. However, they are obliged to deal with other actors such as environmental groups, governments, and consumers. TNCs are engaged in various environmental initiatives and activities relating to environmental protection, including voluntary initiatives, often mandatory environmental reporting, and private certification standards. Given their impact on the environment, it is important to engage TNCs in a global environmental governance processes and for states to adopt restrictive measures and foster international collaboration in order to regulate TNCs which neglect their environmental and social responsibilities.

Article

The literature on the political economy of the global environment is a hybrid of political economy, international relations (IR), and international environmental politics, looking at the formal and informal institutional factors which give rise to unsustainable habits. The physical environment has long been the subject of social scientists, who recognized that patterns of social activity might contribute to environmental degradation. One of the most common formulations of environmental issues as a collective action is through the metaphor of the Tragedy of Commons, which argues that overpopulation worldwide would undoubtedly contribute to extensive resource depletion. Following the formulation of the core properties of environmental issues as lying at the interstices of a variety of human activities, implications followed for how to conduct research on international environmental politics and policy. Realist and neorealist traditions in international relations stress the seminal role of power and national leadership in addressing environmental problems. Neoliberal institutionalists look at the role of formal institutional properties in influencing states’ willingness to address transboundary and global environmental threats. On the other hand, the constructivist movement in international relations focuses on the role of new ecological doctrines in how states choose to address their environmental problems, and to act collectively. Ultimately, the major policy debates over the years have addressed the political economy of private investment in environmentally oriented activities, sustainable development doctrines, free trade and the environment, environmental security, and studies of compliance, implementation, and effectiveness.

Article

Changes in the environment can impact international relations theory, despite enjoying only a limited amount of attention from scholars of the discipline. The sorts of influence that may be identified include ontology, epistemology, concepts, and methods, all of these being related to varying perspectives on international relations. It is likely that the most profound implications arise at the ontological level, since this establishes assumptions about, for example, whether the world we wish to understand is both political and ecological. However, more recently the recognition of the practical challenge presented by the environment has become widespread, though it has not yet translated into a significant impact on the discipline of international relations, even when theoretical implications are noted. It is now almost obligatory to include the environment in any list of modern international relations concerns, as over time it has become necessary to include peace, underdevelopment, gender, or race, as they quite rightly became recognized as significant aspects of the field. Moreover, the environment, as a relatively novel subject matter, has naturally brought some critique and innovation to the field. However, studies of the environment are also subject to such descriptors as “mainstream” and “radical” in debates about how best to tackle the subject. As is often the case, the debates are sharpest among those with the greatest interest in the subject.

Article

Elizabeth L. Chalecki

The term environment is often used as a short form for the biophysical environment, which refers to the biotic and abiotic surrounding of an organism or population, and consequently includes the factors that have an influence in their survival, development, and evolution. All life that has survived must have adapted to conditions of its environment. On one hand, part of the study of environmental science is the investigation of the effect of human activity on the environment. On the other hand, scholars also examine threats posed by environmental events and trends to individuals, communities, or nations, otherwise known as environmental security. It studies the impact of human conflict and international relations on the environment, or on how environmental problems cross state borders. Environmental security is a significant concept in two fields: international relations and international development. Within international development, projects may aim to improve aspects of environmental security such as food security or water security, along with connected aspects such as energy security. The importance of environmental security lies in the fact that it affects humankind and its institutions anywhere and at anytime. To the extent that humankind neglects to maintain the planet’s life-supporting eco-systems generating water, food, medicine, and clean air, current and future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe instances of environmentally induced changes.

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

Environmental politics refers to the examination of the environmental stances of both mainstream political parties and environmental social movements. It also includes the analysis of public policymaking and implementation affecting the environment, at multiple geo-political levels. In most cases, the United States is the most important country involved in international environmental politics, being the world’s largest consumer and polluter of natural resources. For instance, the United States surpasses any other countries in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), except China. With less than one-twentieth of the world’s population, the United States produces nearly one-fourth of the world’s GHGs. However, by diminishing its emissions of such pollutants, the United States could have an immensely disproportionate positive impact on international environmental problems. Having the world’s largest economy, the United States has considerable financial resources that can be directed at environmental problems internationally, and its technological advancement has great potential in this regard. The United States can either boost or delay multinational negotiation of agreements, thereby influencing whether there will be effective environmental protection on the ground throughout the world. It is important to note the significance of studying the role of the United States in international environmental politics in order to better understand the major issues exercising US policy, and to reveal that the forces shaping US environmental foreign policies are complex and disparate.

Article

The field of gender and environmental studies deals with the ways that gender roles shape the access to and management of resources. From being dominated by old debates on whether the earth is our mother goddess or whether women are inherently closer to nature than men, gender and environmental studies has evolved into a largely activist-informed and materially-focused discipline. Feminist perspectives are now being articulated in a variety of wide-ranging themes and issues such as environmental justice, global climate change, population debates, disasters, water, and militarization. The main feminist perspectives for studying women and the environment can be divided into two “umbrella” groups: the “ecofeminist” camp and the “materialist” camp. The ecofeminist group argues that there is an “innate” connection between domination of nature and the oppression of women and that there exists a system of patriarchy in human society that leads to the domination of the “Other.” The materialist camp rejects this claim. It makes use of two approaches, feminist environmentalism and Feminist Political Ecology (FPE), to contend that women’s oppression is rooted in structural and material inequalities. Some of these feminist perspectives, including ecofeminism and feminist environmentalism, are applied by the field of Gender, Environment, and Development (GED) to the environmental policy domain. Three transnational environmental organizations doing GED work are GenderCC—Women for Climate Justice, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN).

Article

Ecofeminism can be described as both an ecological philosophy and a social movement that draws on environmental studies, critiques of modernity and science, and feminist critical analyses and activism to explicate connections between women and nature, and the implications of these relationships for environmental politics. Feminist writer Françoise d’Eaubonne is widely credited to be the founder of ecofeminism in the early 1970s. Ecofeminists embrace a wide range of views concerning the causal role of Western dualistic thinking, patriarchal structures of power, and capitalism in ecological degradation, and the oppression of women and other subjugated peoples. Collectively, they find value in extending feminist analyses to the simultaneous interrogation of the domination of both nature and women. The history of ecofeminism may be divided into four decade-long periods. Ecofeminism emerged in the early 1970s, coincident with a significant upturn in the contemporary women’s and environmental movements. In the 1980s, ecofeminism entered the academy as ecofeminist activists and scholars focused their attention on the exploitation of natural resources and women, particularly in the developing world. They criticized government and cultural institutions that constrained women’s reproductive and productive roles in society, and argued that environmental protection ultimately depends on increasing women’s socioeconomic and political power. In the current postfeminist and postenvironmentalist world, ecofeminists are less concerned with theoretical labels than with effective women’s activism to achieve ecological sustainability.

Article

Rodrigo G. Pinto

Social science research on environment and activism with a cross- or transnational scope (REACTS) is described as a consolidated but confused, stagnant field of scholarship, one which has yet to surpass the comparable state of international studies at large. Previous reviews of the literature in this growing and interdisciplinary research domain have gone so far as so divide it into either its cross-national or its transnational branch, respectively associated with cross-national and environmental social science (CESS), or transnational and environmental social science (TESS). As evidence of stagnancy, once the CESS and TESS branches of REACTS are combined, changes in the cross-national research agenda have been merely the reverse of the transnational one. From 1969–75, REACTS literature covered the themes of population, catastrophic limits to growth, interstate conferences and organizations, North–South relations, survivalist/lifeboat ethics, resource and land conservation, and the social movement organization/non-governmental organization/"third sector." From 1977–91, the issues covered shifted to emphasize violence/conflict, counter environmentalist backlash, seal hunting, whaling, rural energy (improved bioenergy cookstoves), and possibly baby foods, though the earlier concerns with population, (nature) conservation, interstate conferences and survivalist/lifeboat ethics continued. The resistance literature was considerably consolidated and there was a quantitative change in the attention that environmental activism itself received within the pre-existing orientations. In the post-1992 era, the thematic array of transnational REACTS expanded even further as additional issues made it to the agenda in international and environmental studies.

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

Xiang Li, Mengqi Shao, and May Tan-Mullins

President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI一带一路) in 2013. The BRI, which will pass through over 60 countries in Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, aims at improving and creating new trading routes and investment opportunities. It consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI), and is a continuation of China’s “opening up” policy. It comprises six overland and one maritime economic cooperation corridors, supporting the expansion of Chinese enterprises abroad to facilitate industrial upgrading at home, paving the way for Chinese outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) and trade abroad, and advancing the internationalization of the Chinese currency. In addition, the project is welcomed by recipient countries due to their need for infrastructure investment. China remains the biggest player in the initiation and implementation of BRI projects. As such, the impact of Chinese projects on the economic, political, cultural, and environmental fabric of host countries will likely be dramatic, especially since many BRI projects are large-scale infrastructure projects that cut across different regions and states. The COVID-19 pandemic further implicated the progress of BRI projects in these areas.

Article

While some attempts to deal with transborder environmental issues have a longer history, the formal international organizations that have buildings and staff were mostly created in the shadow of World War II. As global environmental governance has evolved, the lexicon in academia has changed from talking about transnationalism and interdependence to writing about regimes and, more recently, institutional design and effectiveness. The actors worthy of study have also changed. The discipline has moved, from writing about states and formal international organizations, to discussing a variety of non-state actors including nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and public-private partnerships. The field has come full circle to talk about internal bureaucratic processes and the politics of particular organizations. This article aims to provide a thematic and somewhat chronological overview of the broader field of international organizational and environmental governance. This updated survey identifies some new topics that not have been captured by earlier efforts and reviews the following central themes: 1. International Institutions And Regime Theory 2. Ratification and Compliance 3. Regime Effectiveness and Design 4. Bureaucratic Politics and Organizational Pathologies 5. The Rise And Role Of Non-State Actors 6. From Government To Governance: Private And Hybrid Models

Article

M. Leann Brown

Sustainable development (SD) is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition is articulated in Our Common Future, a political manifesto published in 1987 by the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). SD promises to resolve in a positive-sum manner the most daunting economic, environmental, political, and social challenges the world is currently facing. However, it has also become a much contested concept, mainly due to the comprehensiveness, ambiguity, and optimism inherent in its underlying assumptions. Ongoing debates within the literature deal with how to define, operationalize, and measure SD; how economic development and environmental protection are conceptualized as mutually supportive; how “nature” is treated in the literature; equity and overconsumption challenges to SD; and the governance, social learning, and normative transformations required to achieve SD. Reaching some consensus on definitions and operationalization of the multiple aspects of SD will lead to standards by which to assess development and environmental policies. Among the most urgent issues that must be addressed in future research are the roles and influence of the relatively new participants in governance, such as intergovernmental/nongovernmental organizations and corporations; the new modes of governance including public-private and private-private partnerships and network governance; and the impacts of implementing compatible and contradictory policies on the various levels and across policy areas.

Article

Among the many strengths of higher education is the adaptability of faculty to create curricula in response to the changing needs of society. Since the 1950s, there has been a growing awareness of the consequences of modernity on natural environmental processes. This, in turn, has led to a dramatic increase in course offerings on many subjects related to the environment and sustainability, including substantial teaching and research activity in global environmental politics. Examining what is being taught in the nation’s classrooms provides an opportunity to gain insight into how college teachers are preparing students for the world they live in. One way to demonstrate the complex ways in which global environmental politics can be taught is by viewing it through the lens of Shulman’s framework, called “pedagogical content knowledge.” Derived from principles in contemporary learning theory, Shulman proposed approaching pedagogy by having teachers work through six steps: comprehension, transformation, instruction, evaluation, reflection, and new comprehension. Viewing the teaching of global environmental politics through these six steps is useful to seeing the depth and complexity of teaching in this particular subject area. Using this framework, an analysis of how college teachers have approached their course preparation shows that most professors continue to use conventional approaches to teaching. These approaches include a traditional way of teaching, mostly lecture with classroom interaction and group work and a traditional choice of content, with an emphasis on literature with western epistemological worldviews. From this examination, one can conclude that the teaching of global environmental politics can be strengthened by integrating Shulman’s framework into the classroom: setting the context; building positive social norms; emphasizing inquiry, discovery, and synthesis; and creating the possibility of transformation.

Article

Environmental sustainability as a topic in international studies is most often considered in the context of sustainable development, a goal-oriented, normative concept that suggests the need to reconcile the often conflicting goals of economic development, environmental protection, and social progress. The concept of sustainable development begs the question of how to promote human welfare and prosperity (development) without undermining the ecological life-support systems on which all prosperity ultimately must depend (sustainability). More colloquially: How can we live well while living lightly on the Earth? Unfortunately, economic and social “development” to date has too often meant a steady increase of activities that have led to air and water pollution, cleared forests, drained wetlands, obstructed rivers, and other ecosystem disruptions. These material transformations alter the structure and function of ecosystems, often destroying the services that ecosystems provide and routinely renew: clean fresh water, healthy air, fertile soils, and the other basics of habitability. When pollution crosses borders, when natural resource depletion and environmental degradation cause people to migrate for survival, when global climate and the world’s oceans are threatened, then sustainability becomes an international concern and necessarily a focus of international studies. Ultimately, the challenge for international studies scholars studying sustainability is to understand how to create an international system imbued with consideration of ecological interdependence and coevolution, a sense of responsibility to future generations, and a capacity to make informed decisions based on ecological rationality. In order to find our way out of the sustainability conundrum, policies must be designed to improve welfare without increasing energy and material throughput. This means investing human resources into alternatives to consumption, such as innovations in simple living, collective action, nonmaterial personal satisfaction, and needs prevention.