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  • Change in Global Environmental Governance
  • J. Samuel Barkin (bio)
Biermann, Frank. 2014. Earth System Governance: World Politics in the Anthropocene. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gupta, Aarti, and Michael Mason, eds. 2014. Transparency in Global Environmental Governance: Critical Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Jinnah, Sikina. 2014. Post-Treaty Politics: Secretariat Influence in Global Environmental Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Monheim, Kai. 2015. How Effective Negotiation Management Promotes Multilateral Cooperation: The Power of Process in Climate, Trade, and Biosafety Negotiations. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Where does change come from in the architecture of global environmental governance? To the extent that a traditional answer to this question exists, it is that states self-consciously make changes in the architecture, to meet specific cooperative goals and in response to new information about the state of the natural environment. This is the classical neoliberal, institutionalist, regime theory answer: States, understood as rational unitary actors, create new institutions to reduce the market imperfections in international cooperation. This answer has informed much good work on global environmental politics over the past two decades, but it is limited by its terms of reference. States are often neither rational nor unitary, and they are not the only actors of relevance to global environmental governance.

A more recent counter-narrative to state-based regime theory abjures the state and the formal intergovernmental organizations created by states, looking both to other levels of government and to nongovernmental actors as sources of environmental governance. This approach looks at networks of nonstate actors as the source of voluntary global environmental leadership, built up from the grass roots rather than imposed from the top. This is a useful corrective to an exclusive focus on the state as the unit of analysis, and on conscious design rather [End Page 130] than network effects and unintended consequences. However, by taking an approach to understanding global environmental governance that differs from rational regime theory on so many axes, it leaves little common ground for conversation with that literature.

Such a conversation becomes more feasible if we see key differences as ranges rather than dichotomies, and if we allow for agency and political effects within, rather than just across, actors. These two approaches differ on two key dimensions: states versus other actors, and rational, top-down design versus bottom-up and networked effects. Examining different combinations of these spectra allows for more nuanced discussion of how change happens in global environmental governance.

Four recent books approach this broad question by focusing on different places at which these dimensions intersect. Sikina Jinnah, in Post-Treaty Politics, looks at the independent role of treaty secretariats and the interplay between secretariats and states in navigating issue overlap in the institutions of global environmental politics. Kai Monheim, in How Effective Negotiation Management Promotes Multilateral Cooperation, looks at the role of state negotiators, rather than of states as corporate actors, in generating successful cooperative outcomes. Transparency in Global Environmental Governance, edited by Aarti Gupta and Michael Mason, looks at the effects of increasing transparency on a range of different actors in global environmental governance. And finally, Frank Biermann, in Earth System Governance, focuses on top-down governance, but in a way that attempts to transcend the traditional assumptions and limitations of statecentric cooperation.

The question motivating Jinnah in Post-Treaty Politics is the conditions under which treaty secretariats, as international bureaucracies distinct from the member states of the treaty, hold the power to change global environmental governance. The set of cases through which she addresses this question all involve what she calls “overlap management”—situations in which there is either overlap between the core remit of the treaty and other issue areas, or overlap of the core remits of different treaties. Of the four cases, each of which constitutes a chapter in the book, two examine the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) secretariat: one focuses on the design of a general architecture for overlap management, and the other on the secretariat’s efforts to incorporate climate change concerns into the biological diversity discourse. The third case looks at the ways the World Trade Organization navigates the trade/environment overlap through a variety of mechanisms, including its Committee on Trade and the Environment and its...


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