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.
Jack Manno and Adam Fix
Franklin Barr Lebo
International development has remained a key driver of global economic relations since the field emerged in the mid-20th century. From its initial focus on colonization and state building, the field has grown to encompass a wide range of issues, theoretical problems, and disciplinary traditions. The year 1945 is widely considered as a turning point in the study of international development. Three factors account for this: the emergence of the United States as an economic hegemon after World War II; the ideological rivalry that defined the Cold War; and the period of decolonization that peaked around 1960, forcing development issues, including foreign aid, state building, and multilateral engagement, onto the global agenda. Since then, development paradigms have continuously evolved, adapted, and been reinvented to address the persistent gap between the prosperous economies of the “developed North” and the frequently troubled economies of the “Global South.” In the early 2000s, a loosely knit holistic paradigm emerged that recognized the deficiencies of its predecessors, yet built on their strengths. Now called “development cooperation,” this holistic approach embraces methodological pluralism in the scholarly study of development, while recognizing that multiple stakeholders contribute to the development agenda in practice from policy practitioners, entrepreneurs, and corporations to nonstate actors such as community groups and Indigenous peoples. In 2015, development cooperation was on full display with the adoption by 193 countries of the expansive United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to serve as the global guideposts for future development initiatives. While exceedingly optimistic in good times, the economic effects of the global pandemic wrought by the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 threatened to undo many of the perceived global gains realized in the development context over the preceding 25 years. Regardless of the speed of recovery of the global system, the profound reverberations on foreign aid and thus the backsliding of global progress indicators is a likely outcome for many years to come.
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.
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.
Nanette S. Levinson
Over the last six decades, discussions and approaches to communication and development have evolved considerably. Some of these changes particularly focus on the transformation of the nation-state role, from its initial conception to its current formation, as well as the transition from the study of political and economic progress to the analysis of cultural components and social development today. These major approaches include modernization, diffusion of innovation, dependency paradigm, monistic-emancipatory approach, institutional theory approach, industrial policy, strategic restructuring model, evolutionary paradigm, interorganizational approach, ecosystem approach, and an approach that highlights culture, power, age, gender and disability dimensions. Part of this investigation includes research trends in communication and development. Scholarship identifying such trends highlights newer technologies as well as a continuing presence of digital inequalities. Additional research is needed to capture processes such as cross-organizational and cross-cultural learning and improvisation in terms of communication and development, and to recognize the roles of power and culture in these domains. Furthermore, taking a co-processes approach prevents one from assuming that there is only one correct pathway in the field of communication and development
Dennis Dijkzeul and Carolin Funke
The manner in which international organizations (IOs) deal with vulnerable groups (VGs) has implications for the study of International Organization. Vulnerability provides an uncommon, but useful, vantage point from which to examine some of the strengths and shortcomings, as well as the relevance and challenges, of IOs. For IOs, the questions of “who is (considered to be) vulnerable” and “who does what, when, and how to address vulnerability?” need to be answered from both an empirical and a normative perspective. In this respect, it is important to highlight the different definitions, disciplinary perspectives, and evolving paradigms on vulnerability. Addressing the plight of VGs, specific IOs help people at risk or in need, especially when states are either unwilling or unable to do so. Yet VGs have usually struggled to make their voices heard, while structural causes of vulnerability have been hard to address. When aid arrives, it often is late, inadequate, or has unexpected side effects. Implementation of IO policies to support VGs usually lags behind norm development. Still, IOs have carried out considerable work to support VGs.
Environmental security focuses on the ecological conditions necessary for sustainable development. It encompasses discussions of the relationships between environmental change and conflict as well as the larger global policy issues linking resources and international relations to the necessity for doing both development and security differently. Climate change has become an increasingly important part of the discussion as its consequences have become increasingly clear. What is not at all clear is in what circumstances climate change may turn out to be threat multiplier leading to conflict. Earth system science findings and the recognition of the scale of human transformations of nature in what is understood in the 21st century to be a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, now require environmental security to be thought of in terms of preventing the worst dangers of fragile states being unable to cope with the stresses caused by rapid environmental change or perhaps the economic disruptions caused by necessary transitions to a post fossil fueled economic system. But so far, at least, this focus on avoiding the worst consequences of future climate change has not displaced traditional policies of energy security that primarily ensure supplies of fossil fuels to power economic growth. Failure to make this transition will lead to further rapid disruptions of climate and add impetus to proposals to artificially intervene in the earth system using geoengineering techniques, which might in turn generate further conflicts from states with different interests in how the earth system is shaped in future. While the Paris Agreement on Climate Change recognized the urgency of tackling climate change, the topic has not become security policy priority for most states, nor yet for the United Nations, despite numerous policy efforts to securitize climate change and instigate emergency responses to deal with the issue. More optimistic interpretations of the future suggest possibilities of using environmental actions to facilitate peace building and a more constructive approach to shaping earth’s future.
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.
Peter M. Haas
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.
Daniel J. Whelan
The right to development is an internationally recognized human right that entitles every human person and all peoples to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural, civil, and political development. It is a right held both by individual human persons and all peoples. The right was enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in December 1986. It has since been reiterated as indivisible with all other human rights in scores of UN resolutions and summit outcome documents, most notably the 2030 Agenda for Development, adopted by consensus in 2015. The right to development entails a variety of obligations on states (at the domestic and international levels), regional actors, non-state actors (e.g., transnational corporations), and international organizations. Since 2019, the UN Human Rights Council’s Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development has been discussing a draft Convention on the Right to Development to codify these obligations. Since it first came under discussion at the UN in the 1970s, the right to development has consistently generated debate and controversy among scholars and governments, which has frustrated the formation of a consensus around both conceptual issues (the nature and scope of such a right and how it is defined) and practical considerations (the extent of obligations, who holds them, and challenges of monitoring and implementation). There are those, especially (but not exclusively) in the Global South, who view the right to development as rightfully prioritizing the international duty to cooperate, which is a prerequisite for, first, the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights, and then of civil and political rights. This duty obligates developed countries to provide economic, technological, and other resources to developing states, free of conditionalities. In contrast, although generally agreeing that there are important “soft” obligations for development, skeptics, especially (but not exclusively) in the Global North, are wary of making such aid and assistance obligatory, and they are concerned that the right to development may be (or has been) used to justify curtailing especially civil and political rights in the name of “development.” They instead argue for a “human rights approach to development” that entails national-level commitments to good governance, transparency, accountability, and respect for all human rights in the development process.