Paul G. Harris
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ronnie D. Lipschutz and Felicia A. Peck
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.
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.
Robert Bartlett and Priya Kurian
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.
Katrina S. Rogers
Learning about international environmental politics requires students to comprehend large amount of information across multiple disciplines, while also considering the ramifications of broad issues in international relations as they relate to the environment. As such, teaching global environmental politics poses numerous pedagogical challenges. The concept of “pedagogical content knowledge” provides a most useful framework for teaching global environmental politics because of its dynamism and emphasis on the developmental aspects of learning. There are six steps that create a process for continuous improvement in a cycle of learning from one’s teaching: comprehension, transformation, instruction, evaluation, reflection, and new comprehension. Two surveys conducted concurrently between April and November 2008 were analyzed to reveal patterns that suggest strengths and weaknesses in content and pedagogy. The first analyzed 47 global environmental politics syllabi by 44 instructors teaching at major colleges and universities in the United States. The second was a confidential and anonymous online survey of 114 teachers in the field. The combined results of these two surveys show some inconsistency between what instructors say and what their syllabi show. Ultimately, teachers can improve learning by drawing on four major themes that can be distilled from the framework of pedagogical content knowledge: setting the context; building positive social norms; emphasizing inquiry, discovery, and synthesis; and creating the possibility of transformation. Possible future directions of teaching and learning include the incorporation of distance learning practices, electronic applications, and creative combinations of both with traditional methods.
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.
Various chemicals and heavy metals are released into the environment through industrial and manufacturing processes, agricultural use, the use of industrial and consumer goods, and the mismanagement and dumping of wastes. Such releases can cause major environmental and human health problems, both at the local level and across national borders. International cooperation can be a way of addressing the risks posed by hazardous substances and wastes. States and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have engaged in technical collaboration and policy-making on these issues for more than a century. Today, a host of IGOs work on policy-making and management of hazardous substances and wastes, including the International Labor Organization, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, and the Global Environment Facility. Multilateral cooperation on hazardous substances and wastes takes place under three separate treaties: the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. A substantial amount of scholarly literature covers numerous issues associated with hazardous substances and wastes, such as multilateral and national waste controls, persistent organic pollutants, and regional environmental policy developments. The case of hazardous substances and wastes can be used to further investigate the characteristics of vertical and horizontal institutional linkages and linkage politics, as well as the diffusion of principles, norms, ideas, and regulatory approaches across multilateral forums and national societies.