Jan 11 2017

Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime

Reviewed by Yasmin Zaerpoor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 An engaging argument for pursuing ecologically sustainable and democratically legitimate earth systems governance through democratic deliberation.

 Consensus and Global Environmental Governance


by Walter F. Baber and Robert V. Bartlett Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime, MIT Press, 2015, 272 pp

Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime is part of the MIT Press Earth System Governance book series. The series identifies normative discourses about global environmental governance. Following Deliberative Environmental Politics (2005) and Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence (2009), Baber and Bartlett’s third book examines the application of deliberative democratic theory to the practice of environmental politics. In Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence the authors argued that the democratic deficit and inefficacy of international environmental law can be addressed through a system of juristic democracy. In this system, environmental law backed by nation-states would be replaced by global common law derived from the rulings of numerous global citizen juries on hypothetical legal cases. Consensus and Global Environmental Governance highlights the practical difficulties and implications of using a deliberative approach to consensus-building.

Baber and Bartlett present convincing arguments regarding the merits of a more democratic process of global environmental policymaking in the first half of the book (Ch. 1–5). Chief among these are that a more democratic process would (i) ensure public support and stronger political will (something that has been missing from past negotiated climate agreements), (ii) lead to a much-needed shift in values and (iii) ensure more environmentally just outcomes. They point to several conditions that must be met for rules to be effective (Ch. 1) and advocate for deliberative techniques (such as juristic deliberation) to ensure “ecologically sustainable and democratically legitimate environmental governance” (Ch. 2). International law and negotiations, they argue, have been ineffective due to poor implementation and regulation marked by a democratic deficit (Ch. 3).

Baber and Bartlett anchor themselves squarely on the side of deliberative democracy in the broader academic debate. They address common criticisms: deliberation may (i) push conflict aside rather than resolve it; (ii) exacerbate existing inequalities and lead to unfair outcomes; (iii) discriminate against political perspectives held by minorities; (iv) be overly technical in nature, thereby inadvertently excluding historically disadvantaged groups; and (v) fail to affect policymaking, thereby further disenfranchising politically marginalized groups (Ch. 4). Like other deliberative democracy advocates, they respond to these complaints by emphasizing the importance of the design and implementation of the process of deliberation and by countering with a critique of the alternative (i.e., aggregative democracy).

The obvious challenge of a deliberative approach to international policymaking is that it becomes unwieldy. Baber and Bartlett propose a system of juristic deliberation in which citizen juries from around the world would be convened to adjudicate hypothetical environmental disputes. When transnational consensus is reached on a specific issue, the results of the deliberation would then be made available to “international tribunals for citation as a general principle of law in support of their resolution of specific environmental disputes” (p. 168). In this way, they argue, we would gain more insight into shared global values and identify similar approaches to disputes across cultures. In theory, this should enable policymakers to develop a new system of environmental policies built on normative consensus.

The authors use research on trial juries to support their call for citizen juries (Ch. 6), continue to develop their vision of juristic democracy in the second half of the book (Ch. 7–9) and conclude with a defense against charges that consensus may not be possible or desirable (Ch. 10). The book includes an example case (Appendix B) of a hypothetical water-warming dispute between three countries (Arroya, Panterra and Meerland). Baber and Bartlett describe the results of testing this case with twelve citizen panels from the United States, Germany, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Appendix A).

Their overarching argument is that democratic deliberation can be used at every step of global environmental governance and policymaking to build and identify normative, political and social consensus. Juristic deliberation can be used to spot “widely supported normative principles and general propositions of law” (i.e., normative consensus), whereas classic deliberative techniques (e.g., deliberative polling, consensus conferences, planning cells, etc.) can only be used to engage the public in choosing among alternative policy paradigms (i.e., identify political consensus). In the final step, policies are implemented through stakeholder partnerships to help ensure social consensus.

Although Baber and Bartlett argue persuasively that deliberative democracy has the potential to increase the political legitimacy of environmental governance and lead to more ecologically sustainable policies, the real challenge lies in convincing nation-states that the costs (including the political costs) associated with such deep engagement with the public will be offset in the long run.

Mar 27 2015


Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

In a free market economy, the incentive to externalize costs is so huge that the seller and the buyer reach an unapologetic understanding to get away with it.

cheaponomics copyCheaponomics: The High Cost of Low Prices, by Michael Carolan, Earthscan/Routledge, 2014

Cheaper products are a marketing gimmick but an enticing one nonetheless. Deep discounts on popular brands release pent-up demand, and less expensive products encourage over-consumption. ‘Cheapness’ has become an enigma. While one may avoid buying anything considered ‘cheap’, striving for bargains remains alluring, and the lowest possible price paid for a quality product can be a measure of shopping prowess.

In Cheaponomics: The High Cost of Low Prices, sociology professor Michael Carolan states that ‘Cheapness is an illusion.’ Low prices arrive an at alarmingly high cost because this low price neither reflects the real cost of production nor accounts for the environmental factors. A 2008 UN study estimated that the cumulative cost of environmental damages caused by 3,000 of the largest publicly-traded corporations in the world could run future generations up to 2.2 trillion USD.

In a free market economy, the incentive to externalize cost offers a comparative advantage to both buyers and sellers, albeit at a tremendous cost to these later generations. Carolan questions the economic status quo, arguing that a system that socializes costs for the benefit of few can do little to enhance well-being for the majority. Drawing on a wide range of examples, he unfolds the compulsive economy of cheaper goods which create a false sense of consumer celebration by making large social and income inequalities tolerable. Over-consumption, which is linked to cheaper products, lies at the root of present-day crises from growing urban trash to mounting atmospheric emissions.

Cheaponomics is a revelation, and Carolan concludes an engaging story with a set of practical recommendations. Governments ought to incentivize accurate pricing and enable affordability as the key to price rationalization in the market. Real cost may make goods expensive in the short term but not over the long term as these would be designed to last longer and avoid wastage. Affordability is about enabling, about capabilities and about holistic well-being rather than the shallow advantages of cheap goods.

Sep 12 2014


Reviewed by Mike Gunter, Jr., Rollins College

 A thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security

Jorg Freidrichs2

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, by Jörg Friedrichs, MIT Press, 2013

International development scholar Jörg Friedrichs offers a thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security. Arguing our industrial society is inherently transitory, Friedrichs goes beyond other recent analyses on climate change politics, spelling out in his sixth chapter the “moral economy of inaction.” Such inaction prevails thanks to the four obstinate obstacles of free-riding with collective action problems, psychological coping with seemingly intractable threats, and the discount factors of both time and space. This follows the logic of David Hume (1739) that the more distant a threat is, the less one cares.

After introducing his topic and discussing the links between climate change and energy scarcity in his first two chapters, chapters three and four delve into an intriguing set of case studies. With its focus upon climate change, the second case study in chapter three contrasts the medieval Norse settlements of Iceland and Greenland during the Little Ice Age (pp. 67–71) and makes a convincing argument that settlers in Iceland were more flexible then their Greenland brethren, adjusting agriculturally and becoming more accomplished fishermen.

Similarly, chapter four offers two case studies focusing upon energy scarcity. The latter study, which compares the Hermit Kingdom in North Korea to the Castro regime in Cuba, is more interesting. Both communist regimes were hurt by the loss of Soviet oil subsides at the end of the Cold War. However, while hundreds of thousands died from hunger in mid-1990s in North Korea, those in Cuba exploited the social capital offered by family, friends, and neighbors and survived.

Friedrichs next prescribes four solutions for our twin threats including lower energy consumption, better energy efficiency, the switch from fossil fuels, and carbon capture and storage. At the same time, he takes into account realistic limitations. The rebound effect, or Jevons paradox, for example, limits efficiency as there is considerable risk it will not lead to lower consumption, but will rather, because of reduced costs, actually encourage higher consumption.

Finally, despite its numerous strengths, the book falls short in the fifth chapter, a critique of the struggle over knowledge about climate change and peak oil. While Friedrichs is certainly correct that our knowledge base is flawed, one might take issue with his analysis as to why. Regarding climate in particular, Friedrichs gives the so-called skeptics too much credit. Mainstream climate scientists are labeled as alarmists while skeptics are assigned their preferred choice of terminology (instead of the deniers label) simply for the reason that they “openly talk about climate change” (p. 129).

Friedrichs justifies this reasoning by saying that the deniers label should only be reserved for those who avoid the issue altogether, but in doing so cedes significant rhetorical power to skeptics in terms of agenda setting. Additional references to skeptics as typically less published and less cited than peers (p. 133) is a gross understatement and there is a lack of attention to their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Sep 11 2014


Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Independent Reviewer

An authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States

River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, Colombia University Press, 2012

Dictatorships are loathed the world over for the fatalities they cause. But rarely have democracies been reprimanded for the living rivers they destroy. Isn’t it a fact that the United States of America has led the world in inflicting grievous damage on its rivers?

It indeed is! In its two centuries of experience in manhandling rivers, the US Army Corps of Engineer has dammed, diverted and dried up nearly all the country’s rivers. It apparently never occurred to this elite force that moving water could also be a resource. Pouring concrete to impound or divert flows has prevailed as a water development strategy known as ‘water hubris’ guiding river management. As a result, some 3.3 million small and big dams have converted free-flowing rivers into a series of interconnected reservoirs in the US. Yet none of these projects have lived up to the promise of being self-sustaining. Annual maintenance expenditures alone have caused the initial cost–benefit calculus to go haywire.

Dam building and river engineering generate sufficient political capital to sustain themselves while water projects have become instruments of power, prestige and political gamesmanship. To get a sense of how water hubris has been nurtured, Daniel McCool, Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, provides bio-sketches of two leading agencies: the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Through their relentless pursuit to “curb the sinful rivers,” these two agencies have turned water hubris into a moral right, almost in religious terms, to conquer rivers. No wonder, then, that calls for new water projects are almost always accompanied by dire projections of impending “water crises.” The actual crisis is that the real requirements of water management are lost in the din.

The collapse of the Teton Dam on World Environment Day in 1976 may have been the tipping point. From a 27 km long reservoir, 80 billion gallons of water swept through the 305-feet-high earth-filled dam killing about a dozen people in Rexburg, Idaho. Ironically, the disintegration of the Machhu Dam in Gujarat in 1979, which killed as many as 25,000, hasn’t had any impact on the prevailing water hubris in India.

It has been officially acknowledged that there are 15,237 dams in the US with high hazard potential. As many as 890 of these dams have been dismantled due to public outrage. Water hubris appears to be giving way to a new water ethic in the US. Inspiring accounts of citizen triumphs against the institutionalized annihilation of rivers are worth emulating.

McCool confirms that not only has the status quo been challenged, but that some rivers are returning to their free-flowing condition. River instigators are working their way through a maze of institutional obstacles. River restoration is now something of a cottage industry. Indeed, there are as many as 2,500 non-profit groups in the US partnering with the agencies that originally built the dams now working to restore rivers to their pristine status.

River Republic is an authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States. McCool stresses that the great challenge for this generation is to figure out a way to reverse the downward corkscrew of our rivers before we reach a point where there is nothing left to save.

Personal anecdotes and insightful analysis make it an important book. River Republic offers essential lessons for entrenched water bureaucracy.


Jul 4 2014


Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Probably the best environmental economics textbook

An Introduction

Environmental Economics: An Introduction, by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field, McGraw Hill, 2012

Nearly everyone who has taken a course in environmental economics has some experience with the textbooks of Barry and Martha Field. In Environmental Economics (6th edition), they continue with their uniquely clear and logical overview of the field and its analytical tools. Light on pure math, but strong on useful description, concrete definitions and clear explanation of otherwise complex topics (such as discounting), the text is a must for any undergraduate or graduate interested in the discipline and looking for a standalone primer. Of the many environmental economics texts available, the Fields’ work stands out because they write in a style that is technically sophisticated but easy to read. This is atypical of most economics texts.

Substantial sections of the book are dedicated to reviewing key concepts in environmental economics and how they can be applied; showing how theory meets practice. These are the stronger chapters. They include overviews of cost–benefit analysis, trading of permits or “incentive-based strategies,” top-down command-and-control regulation, and so on. The weakness of the book, as with many economics texts, is that it overlooks the political dimension of environmental analysis. When they discuss cost–benefit assessment, for example, it appears as though costs and benefits occur uniformly across all members of society (when that is not the case). They do not address issues of power or access in environmental decision making, or mention environmental justice at all. They do include contemporary case studies, or “exhibits,” which showcase what happens when environmental economics is applied in the real world. Here is where some of the missing elements in their theoretical exposition appear. Some of the better exhibits touch on the “intelligible principle” of the Clean Air Act, and incentives for deterring offshore oil spills.

Given the large difference in price between old and new versions of this textbook, the cases are not sufficiently innovative or contemporary to justify the massive price increase.

May 30 2014

ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS FROM THE GROUND UP edited by Hali Healey, Joan Martinez, Leah Temper, Mariana Walter and Julien-Francois Gerber NATURE’S WEALTH: THE ECONOMICS OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND POVERTY edited by Pieter van Beukering, Elissaios Papyrakis, Jetske Bouma and Roy Brouwer

Reviewed by Mattijs van Maasakkers, Harvard University

Managing ecosystems services can reduce poverty.book9781849713993


Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, edited by Hali Healey, Joan Martinez, Leah Temper, Mariana Walter and Julien-Francois Gerber, Routledge, 2012


Nature’s Wealth: The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Poverty, edited by Pieter van Beukering, Elissaios Papyrakis, Jetske Bouma and Roy Brouwer, Cambridge University Press, 2013

The popularity of the “ecosystem services” concept continues to grow. Recently, two new edited volumes were added to the seemingly ever-expanding library of books describing the benefits that nature provides to people. Both publications follow the same general structure: offering a broad introduction to the idea of ecosystem services, followed by a series of in-depth case studies from all over the world. Perhaps surprisingly, this is where the similarities end.

The examples in Nature’s Wealth: The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Poverty are organized around concerns like biodiversity, marine and coastal ecosystems, and forests. The central hypothesis of the book is that the protection or restoration of ecosystem services is likely to alleviate poverty. Most of the case studies in Nature’s Wealth indicate that environmental protection, like the creation of Marine Protected Areas, can reduce poverty in a variety of ways. This kind of analysis, it turns out, doesn’t really need to dig into the ecosystem services concept at all. In fact, in the chapter on marine protected areas in the Asia-Pacific, ecosystem services are hardly mentioned. This is troublesome. An increasingly pressing question is whether using the concept of ecosystem services is helping to inform better resource management practices or not.

As Antunes et al. write in their introduction to Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, “The value commitment to work for a sustainable society has always been a distinctive feature of ecological economics as a scientific discipline” (p. 2). Or, to put it differently, the goals of the proponents of the ecosystem services concept have never been purely academic. So, while an ever-increasing number of publications using the ecosystem services concept indicates popularity among scholars and researchers, some of the original proponents have expressed concern that the practical goals associated with the concept have yet to be achieved. It has been more than five years since a group of prominent scholars argued that it was “time to deliver” (Daily et al. 2008). Since then, one of the early proponents of the concept has lamented that ecosystem services has gone from being “an eye-opening metaphor to a complexity blinder” (Norgaard 2010).

The book Ecological Economics from the Ground Up represents an original, useful and accessible examination of how the explicit use of the ecosystem services concept can inform environmental decision making in practice. For example, the introduction includes an extensive table of environmental advocacy organizations showing how they use ecosystem services concepts and methods. The remainder of the volume places the goal of working towards sustainability at it center. The writers of many of the cases are environmental activists directly involved in the conflicts they describe. This approach does not always yield the most even-handed accounts, but it does provide a detailed sense of how specific ecosystem service-based concepts and methods have been used to influence decisions. More disinterested (but certainly not uninteresting) explanations of key concepts and methods appear in text boxes throughout what are often deeply controversial cases. In the most successful chapters, this provides a rich account of how concepts and approaches drawing on the ecosystem services idea can influence environmental decision making in practice.

In summary, both of these books contribute to the environmental literature. Nature’s Wealth seeks to empirically test the hypothesis that environmental protection alleviates poverty under a variety of conditions and in different ecosystems. Since this assumption has come to be almost taken for granted in some quarters, this is a meaningful scholarly endeavor. However, this project is in some ways only tangentially related to the concept of ecosystem services. Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, on the other hand, is less scholarly and limited in its ambition to test specific hypotheses. It is a truly exciting and innovative contribution to the literature on ecosystem services.

Apr 24 2014

SPOILING TIBET by Gabriel Lafitte

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Development Analyst and Columnist, New Delhi, India


Spoiling Tibet, by Gabriel Lafitte, Zed Books, 2014

If current geological estimations are any indication, there are 80 million tonnes of copper, 2,000 tonnes of gold and 30 million tonnes of lead and zinc extractable from the Tibetan plateau. The cumulative value of these recoverable metals is US$ 420 billion. To imagine that the Chinese would have ripped apart the rooftop to the world in search of an embedded fortune is far from true because, as things stand, the region is cold, its air is perilously thin, its people are unwelcoming and it is poor in infrastructure.

But all this is to going to change as China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, ending in 2015, calls for massive investment in copper, gold, silver, chromium and molybdenum mining in the region. With an aim to achieve 30 per cent self-sufficiency in copper production by the end of the plan period, a state-driven agglomeration of the entire Chinese copper industry will be sufficiently capitalized to finance major expansions in Tibet, which is fast becoming China’s new copper production base. The Tibetan plateau – almost one-sixtieth of the entire global landscape – will be the object of intensive and potentially devastating mining and extraction projects in the years ahead. The signs are ominous!

Without a doubt, Gabriel Lafitte has profound knowledge about this landscape, its people and their cultural resistance. They want to protect the inner strengths of Tibet, cultivated in solitude in the mountains. Given the ecological fragility of the region, mining activities in the watersheds of major rivers, most of which are transboundary, will have a serious impact on hundreds of millions of people downstream in South and South East Asia. China’s track record on environmental concerns evokes little confidence.

Spoiling Tibet is a timely warning to the world about China’s hunger for mineral wealth, and the unscrupulous manner in which this wealth may well be extracted. In the Chinese growth agenda, mining plays a major role, one that will silence the feeble voices of resistance by increasing the non-Tibetan population in the region through mass tourism. But given its global implications, the world should not permit unilateral desecration of its roof top!

Nov 5 2013


Reviewed by Gregg Macey, Brooklyn Law School

David Hess delves into the politics and economics of the transition towards green energy and the development of a green workforce in the U.S.

Good Green Jobs in a Global Economy: Making and Keeping New Industries in the United States, by David Hess, The MIT Press, 2012, 304 pp.

In Good Green Jobs in a Global Economy (MIT Press, 2012), David Hess moves beyond the stale dichotomies of climate change response, such as mitigation vs. adaptation and market- vs. standards-based policies. The 111th Congress was our most dramatic attempt to enact a market-based solution to climate change. In the wake of H.R. 2454, S. 1733, and other dead bills, the Obama administration marshaled its existing executive authority, such as section 111 of the Clean Air Act, to adopt performance standards for stationary sources of carbon emissions. Hess offers a more nuanced approach to the congressional term and its crisis of leadership. He views it as a moment along a broader transition from a carbon-based economy. Good Green Jobs examines the unevenness of this “green transition,” how it leads to weaknesses in our industrial policy, and the prospects for bending the direction that the transition will take.

As a sociologist, Hess explores the transition with tools that are familiar to students of social movement theory: cultural frames, resource mobilization, and political opportunities. His past works share a concern for political opportunity structures used by locally owned organizations (Localist Movements in a Global Economy) and civil society groups aligned against harmful or risky technologies (Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry).  Good Green Jobs continues this focus, and at a particular level of analysis: social fields, and the definitional and object conflicts that happen within them. With qualitative data (interviews, observation of conference meetings, and surveys of industry reports) and statistical modeling (to explain variation in green transition policies), Hess locates the battle against climate change in cultural shifts at different levels of governance. These changes underlie the birth of a “developmentalist” ideology, which defends domestic industry through a mix of industrial policy and the remedy of unfair trade practices. This is the landscape in which our response to climate change takes shape.

Approaching climate change as a social movement challenge rather than a generic collective action problem yields substantial insights. Hess’s distinct form of field analysis isolates the “political ideologies associated with different types of policy interventions.” Change occurs at different scales (“organizational and urban scale to national or international”) in a social field, and by focusing on institutional change, Hess pivots from sociology’s preoccupation with how fields are reproduced. Hess uses these innovations to offer a roadmap for reform. He explains the green energy transition as an uneven selection of “demand” (e.g., cap-and-trade, renewable electricity standards) and “supply” (e.g., research and development, tax credits and subsidies, regional cluster development) policies. He surveys the role of coalitions in framing green development in each policy field, robust descriptive work that reveals constituencies that promote supply and regional demand policies, such as those found in California’s AB 32. He finds important variation across policy fields and scales of governance. The result is an account of the green transition’s political opportunity structures, and our slow, yet surprisingly robust transition from a carbon-based economy. Hess also suggests that we have entered a new generation of environmental policy, where sustainability and developmentalist design tools will predominate instead of market, command, or informational approaches. His multilevel study of policy fields, their shaping by localist and regional efforts, and the impact of systemic shocks such as funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, explodes the usual boundaries of environmental federalism. Stale fights over the benefits of state versus federal regulation, at times waged with little analytic backing, would benefit from Hess’s urgent and more complete analysis.

Jul 30 2013


Reviewed by Alexis Schulman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this book, Judith A. Layzer analyzes seven prominent Ecosystem-based management (EBM) initiatives to determine if EBM delivers the benefits its supporters promise.

2 - Natural Experiments Judith Layzer

Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment by Judith A. Layzer, MIT Press, 2008, 384 pp.

Although the sweeping environmental statutes passed in the 1960s and 1970s produced substantial improvements in US environmental quality, over the years these laws have also been assailed as too top-down, homogenous, and inflexible. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has found favor among industry critics, as well as scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists, as a panacea to the failings of the conventional, “command and control” approach to regulation. EBM rests on three core principles: the domain of management ought to be defined by ecological, not political, boundaries; stakeholders, those impacted by management decisions, need to be included in decision-making processes; and management rules should adapt over time to changing local conditions. EBM cheerleaders argue that this approach will yield improved environmental health, while protecting other social interests, reducing conflicts, and producing lasting decisions.

But does it?

In Natural Experiments, Judith A. Layzer examines the efficacy of EBM in practice by analyzing seven of the most prominent EBM initiatives in the US, including the Everglades Restoration Plan and the California Bay-Delta Program (CALFED). Lazyer is primarily interested in testing the proposition that EBM improves environmental outcomes, above and beyond what would be expected under the status quo. Methodologically, such an evaluation presents enormous challenges, including the demands of extensive counterfactual analysis across cases that vary greatly. It is not, therefore, surprising that her work is one of very few to address this critical question with any analytical rigor. Applying a multi-pronged qualitative analysis, replete with exceedingly detailed case studies and process tracing, Layzer’s most significant result lends support to EBM skeptics. She finds the collaborative dictum, in particular, “perpetuates, rather than mitigates, the existing power imbalance,” resulting in less protective management plans and poorer environmental outcomes. Instead political leadership—specifically a willingness to prioritize environmental protection over other interests—exerted within the “conventional political framework,” resulted in the greatest environmental gains.

Advocates of collaborative management may rightly argue that process design is critical, and these cases stray far from the ideal set out in the literature. Nonetheless, the question remains: given the failures of the collaborative efforts Layzer assesses, is collaborative environmental management practical for the scale and complexity of the environmental challenges we face? Or is EBM better off without it?

Dec 21 2012


Reviewed by Leah Stokes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Biermann and Pattberg examine how international institutions for the environment are changing with time due to new actors, new mechanisms and growing fragmentation.

Global Environmental Governance Reconsidered, by Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg, Eds., Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 320pp

Global Environmental Governance Reconsidered, edited by Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg, summarizes ten years of collaborative research on global environmental institutions. The book identifies three global governance trends: first, new actors are participating at the global scale; second, new private governance mechanisms are paralleling international treaties; third, new fragmentation in rules and institutions is occurring, both horizontally and vertically. These three concepts create the architecture for the book’s three sections and taken together they point to a decline in the state’s role in global environmental governance. The criticisms of private governance mechanisms, including poor implementation and a lack of capacity building, highlight problems in moving away from state-centered environmental institutions. However, as the chapter on market-based transnational governance experiments argues, increasing fragmentation in governance, while undermining multilateral negotiations, is a process likely to expand in the future.

The book is an interesting compilation of research projects, yet it has some weak points. While it examines international bureaucracies and transnational businesses, it does not focus enough on environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) or the role of the state. We know from earlier work that ENGOs are critical to raising awareness and transforming public opinion on environmental issues, catalyzing state action. In addition, the book’s focus on high-level institutional analysis eliminates some of the rich policy details that explain outcomes in specific cases, for example differences in genetically modified organisms (GMO) regulations, and causes for ambitious renewable energy policy. Nevertheless, the book provides an excellent summary of a collaborative, long-term study and should provide new material for debates on the use of science, the role of neoliberalism and the relevance of power in international environmental negotiations.

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