GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE RECONSIDERED by Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg

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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