Perspectives in global environmental governance

  • Published: 12 April 2023
  • Volume 3 , pages 5–11, ( 2023 )

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  • Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira 1 , 2 &
  • Haoqi Qian 2  

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1 An interconnected world

There is a rising consensus about the increasing interconnectedness of countries, nations and societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement are examples that countries recognize their interconnected interests and goals. This is particularly evident in global environmental issues, as they require global policy making. Since the alert of The Limits of Growth (Meadows et al., 1972 ) and the first high-level global conference focusing on environment held in Stockholm in 1972, the world has been experiencing various environmental problems as well as related economic and social impacts (Glemarec & Puppim de Oliveira, 2012 ). The emergence of global environmental issues, such as climate change, marine pollution and biodiversity loss, has created new challenges for governance and requires political support for and innovation in global public policies.

Many of the drivers of decision-making are now global, melding with domestic interests yet not questioning the “sacred” right of national sovereignty. We do not have a state-like global public policy for environmental issues, as the implementation of global agreements rely on domestic policies, supported by international mechanisms such as climate finance (Qian et al., 2023 ). There are also other forms of interactions between global and domestic institutions that drive policies, such as markets (Chen & Xie, 2023 ) and paradiplomacy of non-state actors (Macedo et al., 2023 ). However, new global environmental governance frameworks and policy mechanisms are needed to coordinate the local and global public interests as climate policies are not moving in the speed we need to avoid uncertain consequences of global environmental change. We face quite a few obstacles to fulfill these attempts since a successful global solution involves many actors and factors. For example, countries may be reluctant to bear significant costs to avoid pollution that affect their neighbors (Ali & Puppim de Oliveira, 2018 ). There is also an asymmetry to power in decision-making. Small island states are among those most vulnerable to climate change, despite having insignificant emissions, but they have limited influence in international climate negotiations.

This special issue aims to gather contributions that analyze the governance of global environmental issues at local, national and international levels, with a particular focus on multilevel governance and innovative public policies. A set of interdisciplinary empirical papers on relevant topics combine different theoretical and methodological approaches. They introduce novel ideas and evidence-based policy lessons to improve global environmental governance.

2 Challenges in global environmental governance

Environmental governance becomes much more complicated within the global context than it is limited to one country (Lemos & Agrawal, 2006 ). One of the core difficulties faced by global environmental governance is how to find solutions that can effectively eliminate the negative externalities globally. Unlike governing environment within a country, global environmental governance has two intrinsic challenges that make it hard to achieve the true “global solutions”.

The first challenge is actors’ unwillingness to take collective actions. In practice, there lacks a global authority that can impose enforceable rules to change all actors’ incentives and the corresponding actions. The interests of local actors are also different from those of global organizations (Pinto & Puppim de Oliveira, 2008 ). Collective actions only exist in small- to medium-scale groups and free riding problem is still the main concern. During the past decades, scholars seek to apply polycentric governance theory to find alternative solutions to the failure of global commons (Carlisle & Gruby, 2019 ; Ostrom, 2010 ). As a result, it is worthwhile to study the current practices in an individual country or within a group of countries.

The second challenge is actors’ limited understandings of complex ecosystem and societal dynamics. In addition to the free-rider problem, knowledge gaps among actors with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests will affect the effectiveness of collaborative environmental governance (Bodin, 2017 ; Guttman et al., 2018 ; Young, 2021 ). For example, addressing long-term environmental problems, such as climate change, needs establishing sustained collaborative networks involving a large group of actors with different backgrounds to lead to the cultivation and maintenance of common norms and routine deliberation (Dietz et al., 2003 ). While in addressing transient environmental problems, more-centralized collaborative and participatory networks with some specific actors can provide rapid responses (Bodin, 2017 ; Puppim de Oliveira, 2005 ). The dynamics of collaborative governance regimes has to be better understood (Ulibarri et al., 2023 ). Therefore, there exist urgent needs to bring people with different knowledge backgrounds together to find future solutions for global environmental governance (Jabbour & Flachsland, 2017 ).

Since the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the global environmental governance has stepped into a new era (Agrawal et al., 2022 ). The conventional struggles in environmental governance mainly lie in making trade-offs between environmental protection and economic growth (Zhang, 2021 ). Under the new global development framework, environmental governance, thus, faces more challenges required by different SDGs (Li & Puppim de Oliveira, 2021 ). Public administration, and the area of public affairs more broadly, has been slow in discuss sustainable development (Puppim de Oliveira et al., 2015 ) Therefore, main targets of global environmental governance should not only focus on the efficiencies of different solutions but also shift towards to equities across countries, especially across developing and least developed countries. For example, there are a rising number of studies that draw attention to global environmental governance’s co-benefits on poverty and inequality (Campagnolo & Davide, 2019 ), health (Laurent et al., 2022 ), and social economy (Singh et al., 2021 ).

3 Trends in global environmental governance

The papers bring interesting insights on global environmental governance by looking at different aspects of the governance regimes and actors at various levels.

First, there are strong interactions between international governance regimes and local institutions and organizations. International governance regimes influence domestic policies. For example, when donor countries make some international political commitments, their behavior towards climate aid changes (Qian et al., 2023 ). International commitments, thus, are important drivers of changes in domestic policies. Also, those interactions between domestic and international institutions lead to different policy developments at the country level because of the variation in economic, social and political local contexts. Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have used a distinct set of mechanisms to pursue climate neutrality (Liu et al., 2023 ). In Japan, fiscal and financial mechanisms and regulatory reforms are the main approaches to climate neutrality, while Singapore relies more on commercialization mechanisms and investments.

Second, governance institutions interact with each other in a complex dynamics that shapes governance but still not fully understood. For instance, Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCMs) and Compliance Carbon Markets (CCMs) maybe be created independently but over time they interact. It seems that the hard regimes, like CCMs, shape and even absorb or squeeze out softer governance regimes such as VCMs (Chen & Xie, 2023 ). The governance mechanisms led by non-state actors in paradiplomacy interact with countries’ governance building efforts, such as to negotiate agreements and implement policies to tackle global environmental problems (Macedo et al., 2023 ).

Third, where multilevel action is key for effective policies, lack of integration among domestic regimes exist, undermining the capacity of countries to respond to global challenges. International regimes trigger domestic responses through different mechanisms of interaction between global and domestic institutions. In Brazil, many local governments and cities interact with national and international networks of cities. This shapes local government responses to climate change, but those responses are not integrated with responses at the federal level (Macedo et al., 2023 ), leading to lost opportunities for joint coordinated actions. In Pakistan, intergovernmental relations (IGRs) are problematic due to the political difference among governments (Mumtaz, 2023 ). Local institutions, which are key to climate adaptation policies, are not clear about their roles and responsibilities.

Fourth, the polycentric response to climate change can improve the effectiveness of domestic organizations to respond to global environmental challenges through different mechanisms. Transmunicipal networks of cities can build capacity in subnational governments bringing resources and knowledge from global institutions directly to local actors (Picavet et al., 2023 ). Brazilian municipalities seem to have developed capacities to respond to climate change through the interaction with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (Macedo et al., 2023 ). Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have important roles in bridging intergovernmental relations (Puppim de Oliveira, 2019 ). In the case of Pakistan, CSOs have facilitated joint actions between national and province governments to implement policies to adapt to climate change (Mumtaz, 2023 ).

4 Future research challenges in global environmental governance

With the increasing complexities in environmental governance studies, there is a call for emphasis on interdisciplinary research that scholars investigate scientific, behavioral, social, and political factors believed to shape governance models and regimes (Rodela & Gerger Swartling, 2019 ). Articles published in this special issue discuss the global environmental governance from various perspectives. Analyses from Macedo et al. ( 2023 ) develop the interdisciplinary conceptualization of paradiplomacy. Chen and Xie ( 2023 ) conduct a comprehensive study of the interactions between two types of regimes of carbon markets. Mumtaz ( 2023 ) identifies key challenges for intergovernmental relations. These three studies all make the attempts to contribute to the existing literature from the perspective of environmental governance mechanism. Liu et al. ( 2023 ) focus the rise and development of carbon neutrality policies from the public policy perspective. Study conducted by Qian et al. ( 2023 ) incorporates both political and economic factors in explaining the determinants of international climate finance. From the methodology perspective, researchers are, thus, required to learn and adopt more advanced methods to address the interdisciplinary research questions (O’Neill et al., 2013 ). Moving forward on from this special issue, there exists huge opportunities and challenges in interdisciplinary research focusing on the global environmental governance.

Most studies in the existing literature tend to conduct environmental governance analyses within one country or a group of countries, and then generalize the findings to broader situations. In this special issue, two papers focus on single county’s practice. Macedo et al. ( 2023 ) focuses on cities’ climate actions in Brazil, and Mumtaz ( 2023 ) studies climate adaptation actions in Pakistan. Other three papers focus on more than multiple countries. Liu et al. ( 2023 ) compare the carbon neutrality policies in three economies in Asia–Pacific region, Chen and Xie ( 2023 ) compares different carbon markets across the world, and Qian et al. ( 2023 ) focus on certain traditional donor countries. In future research, we still need more analyses that can provide insights from practices at different scales. Moreover, it is also important to conduct in-depth studies about the roles of international organizations, institutions and agreements in global environmental governance in the future (Dimitrov, 2020 ; Hale, 2020 ; Mitchell et al., 2020 ).

Lastly, various new global environmental issues are emerging which bring huge challenges to the academia. This special issue’s focus is on climate change, an increasingly important global environmental issue in the past decades. The theoretical contributions and policy implications achieved from this special issue can shed light on improving the global environmental governance. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, different types of global environmental issues definitely need specific approaches according to their unique features. For example, the global marine environmental governance issue is different from the climate change issue in that it involves conservation of biodiversity in addition to pollution control (Grip, 2017 ). The Fukushima disaster also raised challenges for the marine governance of nuclear wastewater discharges (Xu et al., 2022 ). Moreover, global economic activity induced environmental issues including e-waste management and Arctic development also need new wisdoms to find potential solutions (Zagrebelnaya, 2022 ; Zeng et al., 2017 ). We hope this special issue can be a good starting point which can contribute to the academia to find solutions for global environmental governance.

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Puppim de Oliveira, J.A., Qian, H. Perspectives in global environmental governance. GPPG 3 , 5–11 (2023).

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  • Published: 12 September 2023

Linking governance with environmental quality: a global perspective

  • Mohammad Naim Azimi 1 ,
  • Mohammad Mafizur Rahman 1 &
  • Son Nghiem 2  

Scientific Reports volume  13 , Article number:  15086 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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  • Environmental economics

Sustainable environmental quality is a global concern, and a concrete remedy to overcome this challenge is a policy priority. Therefore, this study delves into the subject and examines the effects of governance on environmental quality in 180 countries from 1999 to 2021. To maintain comparability and precision, we first classify countries into full and income-level panels and then, innovatively, construct a composite governance index (CGI) to capture the extensive effects of governance on CO 2 emissions. Complementing the stationarity properties of the variables, we employ the cross-sectionally augmented autoregressive distributed lags model to analyze the data. Our survey yields four key findings. First, a long-run nexus between CGI, CO 2 emissions, and other control variables is confirmed. Second, the findings indicate that CGI is crucial to improving environmental quality by reducing CO 2 emissions across all panels. Third, we find that while CGI maintains a similar magnitude, the size of its effects substantially varies according to the income level of the underlying countries. Fourth, the findings reveal that energy consumption, population growth rate, trade openness, and urbanization contribute to environmental degradation, while financial development and the human development index are significant in reducing CO 2 emissions. Our findings suggest specific policy implications, summing up that one common policy is not a good fit for all environmental quality measures.

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Environmental degradation is hazardous and a global concern. The desire for a sustainabile environmental quality has increased more than ever in the contemporary period. Environmental degradation is regarded as a significant risk to achieving sustainable development goals 1 . It affects every individual, business, and society. It is a threat from which no one is immune, nor is the world able to vaccinate against it 2 . It is unanimously believed that environmental degradation caused by emitted carbon dioxide, in particular CO 2 emissions, significantly harms humans’ lives 3 . Presently, CO 2 emissions have crossed the determined threshold level and are sharply increasing 4 . Figure  1 shows the annual global CO 2 emissions. It indicates that from 22.76 billion metric tons in 1900, CO 2 emissions rose to 37.12 billion metric tons in 2020, mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels and industry. The world now emits over 34 billion metric tons per year. Evidence reveals that increased poverty, overcrowding, weather extremes, deforestation, loss of species, poor quality of water, and famine are the apparent consequences of environmental degradation. The World Bank report 5 shows that environmental degradation caused approximately 8.1 trillion US$ damage cost in 2019, equivalent to 6.1 percent of the world’s GDP, and caused more than 90 percent of deaths in low- and middle-income countries.

figure 1

Source: Our World in Data.

World CO 2 emissions. Values are shown in natural logarithmic form.

Recent studies 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 have identified numerous factors that can reduce the contemporary level of CO 2 emissions. It includes controlled heating, draught-proofing, renewable energy, industrial automation with lower energy use, and many others. Undoubtedly, such subject-endogenous variables are effective in reducing CO 2 emissions; however, the effects of exogenous factors such as good governance that might be observable in reducing emissions cannot be disregarded. Effective governance offers the necessary support for fostering a society that is essential for a better state of the environment. It is highly perceived that countries with a good governance structure are considered to have relatively better environmental quality. For example, Chaudhry et al. 11 observed that effective institutional performance and efficient governance are substantive to promote sustainable environment. On the other hand, countries with poor governance have anemic environmental quality 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 . Weak social inclusion, corrupted institutions, and poor regulatory structures are found to be inimical to a sustainable environmental quality 16 , 17 , 18 . Leitao 19 noticed that corruption resulting from weak governance is positively associated with CO 2 emissions.

Prior literature has been central to warming up critical discussions on improving existing policies to enable governments to preserve environmental quality with respect to subject-endogenous factors 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ; however, it is important to reorient contemporary policy debates to the notion that recasting the relationships between environmental degradation and exogenous factors (say, good governance) could be a viable option 25 . Therefore, the present study primarily aims to establish the nexus between environmental degradation (CO 2 emissions) and good governance from a global perspective; nevertheless, it would be humbler to translate the constituent objectives of the study into three research questions. First, does good governance have a long-term relationship with CO 2 emissions? Second, what is the magnitude of the effects of good governance on CO 2 emissions? Third, do the effects of good governance vary according to the income level of the underlying economies? Providing evidence-based answers to these questions will not only help us achieve the objectives of this investigation but will also highlight specific policy areas where good governance helps governments and policymakers reorient their existing policies.

This study is a novel piece in the existing literature from several perspectives: First, unlike recent studies that have mainly focused on the impact of governance on environmental degradation 14 , 17 , 26 , 27 , 28 in regional- or country-specific contexts, the present study delves into the subject from a global perspective using a large panel of 180 countries. This approach verifies that how global emissions respond to good governance in general. Second, we innovatively construct a comprehensive composite governance index (CGI) to allow a precise evaluation of the effects of good governance on CO 2 emissions using a distance-based approach that measures the governance from a worst-case to an ideal situation based on the data points obtained from real governance scores of the World Governance Indicators (WDI). In spite of promoting a standard measurement for good governance, this technique helps us verify the overall variability of CO 2 emissions in the presence of major macro- and socio-economic variables. Third, to ensure capturing greater variability of environmental degradation with respect to the subject-endogenous variables, we split our panel into high-, upper-middle-, lower-middle-, and low-income countries. This approach highlights how good governance explains CO 2 emissions across various economic statuses. Indeed, it also helps identify what specific measures policymakers should take. From a policy perspective, it is crucial to understand how the existence of good governance interplays and to what extent other socioeconomic factors influence environmental degradation. Fourth, however, in a large number of studies, it was generally assumed that good governance has an indirect impact on environmental degradation. The present study documents that good governance has the direct-influential power to explain the behavior of CO 2 emissions across our recipient panels. Additionally, it is vital to verify that the conjecture of the direct effects of good governance can lead to the establishment of desired institutional channels to mitigate the impact of CO 2 emissions on various social, economic, and political factors. Finally, in addition to the significant contributions of the study to the contemporary body of knowledge, the outcomes of this investigation offer specific policy implications and open a new step in the existing literature.

The remaining parts of this study are structured as follows: “Literature review” presents an extensive review of literature underpinning both theoretical and empirical issues with reference to governance-environmental nexus. “Methodology” presents the methodology, data, variables, and the econometric methods used to analyze the data. “Results and discussions” presents the statistical results. “Conclusions” concludes the study.

Literature review

Good governance is a complex and multidimensional process of evaluating the extent to which public institutions manage the available resources, perform institutional affairs, and ensure that human rights are realized in a way that is essentially free of fraud and corruption with due consideration for the rule of law 29 . Good governance ensures that a nation’s interests are protected through effective conduits for governing and managing existing and potential resources 30 . North 31 , Greif 32 , and Acemoglu et al. 33 promoted the concept of governance through conduits of economic, social, judicial, and political elements that highly impact macro-level policies to preserve public resources for significant social inclusion, prosperity, and the wellbeing of a nation. Theories predict that good governance plays an essential role in the formulation of policies and practices that ensure a participatory development viewpoint through increasing people’s agency in the sense of process freedom concerning environmental policies. This means allowing both governments and individuals to actively engage in, plan for, and implement policies based on their development priorities and needs 34 . Numerous studies have examined the impact of good governance on a number of socioeconomic indicators such as growth, finance, health outcomes, food insecurity, and poverty across various geographical contexts 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 . However, the effects of good governance on environmental degradation have not been extensively studied, but there are some studies worth reviewing. For instance, Shabir et al. 38 investigated the effects of governance, innovative technologies, trade openness, and economic growth on CO 2 emissions in a panel of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries over the period from 2004 to 2018, using the common correlated effects mean group technique. The authors observed a bidirectional link between governance and CO 2 emissions. Wang et al. 39 explored the asymmetric effects of institutional quality, environmental governance, and technological innovations on ecological footprints. They employed a set of panel data for European Union countries from 1990 to 2019 and a series of dynamic panel regression methods. They noticed that innovation, institutional quality, and environmental governance are crucial to reducing the ecological footprint across the reviewed countries.

Sibanda et al. 28 examined the effects of governance on natural resources and environmental degradation from 1994 to 2020 using the generalized method of moments (GMM) technique. Their findings lend support for a statistical association between governance and environmental degradation. They also found that the rapid environmental degradation is significantly caused by the reluctance of the government to implement rules and regulations in the region. Xaisongkham and Liu 40 delved into the effects of governance on environmental degradation in a set of selected developing economies from 2002 to 2016. The authors employed the GMM technique and found that the rule of law and government effectiveness are significant factors in reducing environmental degradation in developing countries. They suggested that sustainable environmental quality entails effective institutions to regulate human behavior with respect to environmental protection. In the same vein, Jahanger et al. 41 used autocracy and democracy as proxies for governance quality and examined their effects on CO 2 emissions in a panel of 69 developing countries over the period from 1990 to 2018. The authors employed panel cointegration and FMOLS methods and confirmed that governance quality has a long-run relationship with CO 2 emissions. They also confirmed that democracy significantly reduces environmental pressures, while globalization and financial development impose adverse effects on the environment.

The literature also reveals that Azam et al. 42 evaluated the impact of good governance on environmental quality and energy consumption in a panel of 66 developing countries for the period spanning from 1991 to 2017 using the GMM method. The authors constructed a governance index using three indicators such as political stability, administrative capacity, and democratic accountability. They observed that, though good governance has been significantly positive in affecting energy consumption, globalization has been found to be insignificant in increasing environmental quality. Moverover, Gök and Sodhi 43 examined the link between governance and environmental quality in a panel of 115 countries classified as high-, middle-, and low-income countries from 2000 to 2015. The authors employed the system-GMM model and noticed that good governance improves environmental quality in high-income countries while having an adverse effect in middle- and low-income countries. Their conclusions suggested that improving the quality of governance is essential to environmental outcomes without tampering with existing policies. Contrary to this, Udemba 44 investigated the effects of good governance on environmental quality in Chile using a set of time-series data from the first quarter of 1996 to the fourth quarter of 2018 and a non-linear regression approach. The author found that both good governance and foreign direct investments are statistically significant for improving environmental quality in Chile. Furthermore, Ahmed et al. 45 examined the asymmetric effects of good governance, financial development, and trade openness on environmental degradation in Pakistan over the period from 1996 to 2018. The authors employed autoregressive distributive lags (ARDL) and non-linear ARDL models to test their hypotheses. In addition to confirming a long-run nexus between the predictors, the authors found that positive shocks to financial development and institutional quality have a significant effect on environmental degradation, while the quality of institutions is highly sensitive to enhancing environmental quality.

Akhbari and Nejati 46 proxied governance by corruption index in a panel of 61 developing countries from 2003 to 2016 using a dynamic panel threshold model. They observed that an increase in the corruption index above a certain threshold level causes environmental quality to decrease in developing countries while having an insignificant impact below the threshold level. Dhrifi 47 also assessed the impact of governance on environmental degradation in a panel of 45 African countries over the period 1995 to 2015 using the GMM technique. The author noticed a positive relationship between governance and environmental degradation and a negative link with health outcomes. Further, Wawrzyniak and Doryń 48 investigated the influence of good governance on moderating the relationships between economic growth and CO 2 emissions in a panel of 93 emerging and developing economies from 1995 to 2014. The authors used government effectiveness and control of corruption indicators as proxies for governance and employed the GMM model. Their findings revealed that government effectiveness is significant in moderating the influence of economic growth on CO2 emissions. Similarly, Samimi et al. 49 employed a set of annually aggregated datasets for a panel of 21 countries in the Middle East and North Africa from 2002 to 2007 to examine the impact of good governance on environmental degradation. The authors used three indicators, such as government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and control of corruption, as proxies for good governance. They found that government effectiveness has a positive effect on environmental quality, while the remaining two indicators were found to be insignificant. Finally, Tamazian and Rao 50 investigated the relationships between financial development, environmental degradation, and good governance in a panel of 24 transitional economies from 1993 to 2004. Using the standard reduced-form modeling approach and GMM models, the authors found that both financial development and good governance (institutional quality) are crucial factors for environmental performance.

Recent studies have significantly contributed to enhancing the contemporary body of knowledge in the field; however, a critical review of the cited studies reveals several gaps. First, good governance is a multifaceted concept, and its precise effects may not be well examined by using single or inconclusive proxies. For example, various studies employed different proxies for good governance, among which government effectiveness and control of corruption are the most common ones. To rectify this issue, we developed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Composite governance index (CGI) is an accurate predictor that allows more precise evaluation of the effects of good governance on the subject.

Second, prior studies achieved conflicting results about the effects of good governance on environmental quality, leaving the subject unattended to offer specific policy implications. Therefore, to address this empirical shortcoming, the following hypothesis is developed:

Hypothesis 2: CGI has a long-term and positive link with CO 2 emissions.

Third, the review of recent studies reveal that holistic measures to highlight global perspectives and precise comparability of the effects of good governance on environmental quality are missing. To address this empirical shortcoming, we developed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Based on the size of the underlying economies, the effect size of good governance varies and thus exhibits non-monotonic behavior.


In this section, we explain the methodological approach used in the study to assess the effects of good governance on CO 2 emissions. This approach has been widely used in prior literature and leads to a systematic way of testing the hypotheses developed 51 , 52 . Although we describe the methods sequentially in the following sub-sections, we summarize them through a visual abstract depicted in Fig.  2 .

figure 2

Source: Authors’ creation.

Visual abstract.

Data presentation

The present study focuses on the effects of good governance on environmental degradation in 180 countries from 1999 to the most recent updated datasets in 2021. Table 1 presents the list of reviewed countries. Based on the primary objective of the study, we first group the countries into a full panel and then into income level categories such as high-income (HIC), upper-middle-income (UMIC), lower-middle-income (LMIC), and low-income (LIC). The classification is based on the World Bank’s 53 report and allows us to maintain rational comparability of the results to offer a global image of the nexus between good governance and environmental degradation.

Selection and description of variables

We use a set of variables that are consistent with the theoretical framework and recent empirical works (see, for instance, 54 , 55 , 56 ), except for the CGI, which is innovatively constructed to capture the extensive effects of good governance on the subject. The variables are described as follows:

Measurement of environmental quality

CO 2 emissions (CO 2 ) have been used as the dependent variable. It is expressed in metric tons per capita. CO 2 stems from the combustion of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement. It includes carbon dioxide produced during the consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring 57 .

Measurement of good governance

A comprehensive composite governance index (CGI) has been constructed using the proposed methodology by Sarma 58 and six governance indicators such as control of corruption, government effectiveness, political stability, the rule of law, regulatory quality, and voice and accountability. For two reasons, it is important to construct a CGI. First, it is a more efficient approach to exploring the extensive effects of good governance on the subject compared to individual indicators and other index construction methods. Second, the incorporation of CGI allows the study to include more control predictors, leading to an appropriate specification and more accurate results 59 , 60 , 61 . Table A1 of Appendix A explains CGI’s construction process in detail. CGI is expressed in numbers ranging from 0 (imperfect) to 1 (perfect) governance.

Measurement of income level

GDP growth rate (EG) has been used to present economic variations through various stages of development at which CO 2 emissions are produced 62 . EG is expressed as an annual percentage.

Measurement of financial development

The financial development index (FDI) of the International Monetary Fund has been used as the best-fit proxy for financial development. FDI is expressed in numbers from 0 to 1 (high). Recent studies indicate that financial development influences CO 2 emissions 63 , 64 . Therefore, we control for the effects of FDI on CO 2 emissions.

Measurement of energy consumption

Energy consumption (EGY), expressed in kilograms of oil equivalent per capita, is used as a control variable. Recent studies suggest the use of EGY as a key pollutant predictor in the analysis of environmental quality and other socioeconomic indicators. It is evident that EGY supports higher growth 65 , while it also increases the use of fossil fuels, resulting in higher CO 2 emissions. Chontanawat 66 and Elfaki et al. 67 argue that there is a triangle causal link between EGY, EG, and CO 2 emissions.

Measurement of human interaction

In order to control for the effects of human interaction on CO2 emissions, we employ three common variables, namely, the human development index (HDI), population growth rate (PGR), and urbanization (URB). HDI, PGR, and URB, respectively, are expressed in numbers from 0 to 1 (high), annual growth rate, and percentage of the total population. Studies indicate that human intervention has substantively disturbed the contemporary ecosystem. However, effective administration of human activities, as well as utilizing their potential, may improve environmental quality 21 , 68 . Moreover, a higher proportion of greenhouse gas emissions is linked to the process of global urbanization, which is primarily evident in nations following growth-targeting regimes 56 . These emissions are mostly produced by construction projects, higher energy consumption, and the use of chemical materials.

Measurement of trade openness

Trade openness (TOP), expressed as a percentage of GDP, is our final control variable. Though recent literature is largely inconclusive about the effects of TOP on CO 2 emissions 69 , two main findings—positive and negative impacts—are evident. The study incorporates TOP into the analysis to avoid any potential spuriousness.

Sources of data

The datasets relevant to governance indicators come from Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI). The datasets for FDI have been collected from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while the required datasets for HDI were compiled from PWT 9.0 (Penn World Table), sourced from Feenstra et al. 70 . The data for all other variables has been collected from World Development Indicators (WDI).

Model specification

Our main primary objective is to examine the effects of CGI—that is, the composite governance index—on CO 2 emissions in a large panel to represent a global image. Assuming that good governance is essential to environmental quality, as suggested by theoretical expectations of institutional impacts 71 , we initiate with the following dynamic panel multivariate specification:

where all variables are defined before, \(\eta_{i} =\) intercept, \(\lambda_{1i} ,...,\lambda_{8i} =\) long-run coefficients, and \(n_{t} =\) country-specific unobserved effects. The estimation of Eq. ( 1 ) requires us to select and compute a number of econometric techniques that are explained in the following sub-sections.

Cross-sectional dependence test

In panel data analysis, appropriate specification requires several prior estimations, one of which, in particular, is the cross-sectional dependence (CD) test. Rapid globalization, unrestricted trade, common technological deployment, and capital mobility are some obvious reasons why countries may exhibit CD 72 . Thus, we begin with the CD test of Pesaran 73 , which takes the following form:

where \(\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\rho }_{ij}\) is the sample estimates of the pair-wise correlation of the residuals and “ \(T_{ij} = \# \,\,(T_{i} \cap T_{j} )\) is the number of common time-series observations between unit \(i\) and \(j.\) ” Eq. ( 2 ) shows that under the null hypothesis of no cross-sectional dependence \(CD\,\,^{\underrightarrow d} \,\,N(0,1)\,\,{\text{for}}\,\,N \to \infty \,\,{\text{and}}\,\,T\) 74 . To ensure the robustness of the results obtained from Eq. ( 2 ), we use the proposed model of Pesaran and Yamagata 75 to tes the null of slope homogeneity of the panels under review.

Stationarity test

Next, in light of the rejected null of no CD, the common panel unit root test may generate inconsistent results that may lead to misspecification. Therefore, we use the proposed test of Pesaran 76 , the so-called CIPS (cross-sectionally augmented Im, Pesaran, and Shin) method. It is based on the foundational cross-sectionally augmented Dickey and Fuller (CADF) test with augmented cross-sectional mean \(\overline{y}_{it}\) and differenced cross-sectional mean value \(\Delta \overline{y}_{it}\) of the variables under review as follows:

where as a common test of the null \(\gamma = 0\) for every \(i\) against its alternative \(\gamma_{i} < 0,...,\gamma_{N0} < 0,N_{0} \le N\) and then, given by the average of individual CADF as:

As a common practice, it notes that for the rejected null of panel non-stationarity, the critical value of a desired significant level must be less than the CIPS test statistics at the level. CIPS is advantageous over other panel unit root tests. It neatly detects the true stationarity of the panel variables arising from common unobserved factors 76 , thus leading to an appropriate specification.

Cointegration tests

Again, for the rejected null of no CD, common panel cointegration techniques may be biased. Thus, we employ the proposed model of the Westerlund 77 test, which has two key advantages over other panel cointegration methods. First, it accounts for the effects of any CD existing in the panel, and second, it considers the lead-lag length for small samples. The study employs the following compact form of the test:

where \(d_{t} (1,t)^{\prime} =\) deterministic regressor, \(\eta^{\prime}_{i} =\) vector of parameters \((\eta_{1i} ,\eta_{2i} )^{\prime},\) and other parameters hold similar meaning as explained before. To estimate the error-corrected form through the least squares method, we modeify Eq. ( 5 ) and represent it as follows:

Having all vectors defined before, \(\varphi_{i} =\) speed of adjustment at which the model returns to its initial equilibrium. Moreover, Eq. ( 6 ) adjusts the errors to be independent across all \(t\) and \(i.\) It also corrects for any CD through bootstrapping method.

CS-ARDL model

To examine the effects of CGI and other control variables on CO 2 emissions in a group of panels, we use the CS-ARDL (cross-sectionally augmented autoregressive distributed lags) model of Chudik and Pesaran 78 , which is an appropriate technique for the case of our inquiry. The rationality of using the CS-ARDL model is based on two key empirical reasons. First, for the rejected null of no CD, common panel techniques fail to capture the true effects and may produce inconsistent and biased coefficients. Second, it corrects any slope heterogeneity and allows the variables to exhibit mixed stationarity properties. Having said that, we proceed to specify the CS-ARDL model by augmenting the symmetric ARDL with a linear combination of cross-sectional mean values of the lagged dependent variable and explanatory variables to capture the CD in the error term as follows:

where \(y_{it} =\) dependent variable, \(x_{it} =\) explanatory variables, \(u =\) lag operator of the dependent variable, \(v =\) lag operator of the independent variables, \(\vartheta_{i} =\) intercept, \(\lambda_{i} =\) speed of adjustment of panel to its long-run equilibrium, \((y_{it - 1} - \eta_{i}{\prime} x_{it - 1} + \varphi_{i}^{ - 1} \overline{y}_{t} + \varphi_{i}^{ - 1} \xi ^{\prime}\overline{x}_{t} ) =\) level terms of CD and cointegration between variables, \(\overline{y} =\) cross-sectional mean of the dependent variable, \(\overline{x} =\) cross-sectional mean of the explanatory variables, \(\lambda_{i} ,\,\,\eta_{i} ,\,\,{\text{and}}\,\,\varphi_{i} =\) long-run coefficients, \(\gamma_{i} ,\,\,\phi_{i,} \,\,\xi_{i} ,\,\,{\text{and}}\,\,\varpi_{i} =\) short-run coefficients, and \(u_{it} =\) the error-term. Equation ( 6 ) uses either mean group or pooled mean group estimators, the choice of which depends on the homogeneity of the slope coefficients of the long-term effects 79 . In our dynamic panel estimations, the study employs the pooled mean group estimator, observing it as an appropriate method to preserve the consistency and efficiency of coefficients.

FMOLS and DOLS tests

As suggested by prior literature (refer 38 , 80 , 81 ), we test the robustness of our estimated outcomes obtained from the computation of Eq. ( 7 ) using the fully modified least squares (FMOLS) and dynamic ordinary least squares (DOLS) techniques. Phillips and Hansen 82 developed the FMOLS model to estimate an optimal cointegrating equation; however, based on the preference for correcting serial correlation and endogeneity bias, we apply the FMOLS method proposed by Pedroni 83 as expressed below:

where \(\eta_{it}^{*} = \eta_{it} - (\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{L}_{21i} /\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{L}_{22i} )\Delta y_{it} ,\,\,\,\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\psi }_{i} = \overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\zeta }_{21i} \overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\Xi }_{{_{21i} }}^{0} - (\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{L}_{21i} /\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{L}_{22i} )(\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\zeta }_{22i} + \overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\Xi }_{{_{22i} }}^{0} )\) and \(\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{L}_{i}\) presents the lower triangulation of \(\overset{\lower0.5em\hbox{$\smash{\scriptscriptstyle\frown}$}}{\Xi }_{i} .\) Moreover, DOLS is a rather parametric technique and has a similar asymptotic distribution to that of FMOLS 84 . We use and report both to confirm the consistency and robustness of the estimated outcomes.

Results and discussions

Descriptive summary.

A summary of statistics has been provided to reflect the overall state of the predictors used in the study. While Table 2 presents the summary statistics for the full panel, it also disaggregates them by income-level groups. Though one can read through it, it shows that the mean values of CO 2 emissions and CGI, two variables of interest, are 5.091 metric tons per capita and 0.746, respectively, in the full panel. Better insight is achieved when the statistics are compared by income level. It shows that despite the fact that HIC has the highest mean value of the CGI, it also produces the highest CO 2 emissions compared to UMIC, LMIC, and LIMC.

Using actual series, we further generate an annual average trend of the CGI and CO 2 emissions across income groups and depict them in Figs.  3 and 4 , respectively.

figure 3

CGI annual average plot by income group.

figure 4

Annual CO 2 emissions plot.

Figure  3 indicates that CGI has been smoothly improving over the years in HIC and LIC, while LMIC and UMIC panels exhibit some structural breaks. On the other hand, CO 2 emissions were significantly reduced over the years in HIC and LIC, whereas in UMIC and LMIC, a downward shift was only evident from 2018 onwards (Fig.  4 ). Furthermore, before any empirical analysis, we estimated the pairwise correlation matrix and found that there is no significant correlation between all the variables, both in the full and income-level groups. To save space, we avoided reporting the correlation analysis, but it can be provided upon request.

CD and unit root test results

Prior to any inferences, as described earlier, the study tests the null of no CD among the full and the income-level panels. The results are reported in Table 3 and indicate that except for URB in full, UMIC, and LMIC panels, all other variables are significant to reject the null of no CD. Moreover, the study examines the slope heterogeneity using the proposed model of Pesaran and Yamagata 85 . It is also used to ensure that the results derived from the CD test are consistent. The results reported in Tables 4 and 5 indicate that for all panels, the null is rejected at 1% and 5% significant levels, implying that the slopes are heterogeneous across the panels.

The results obtained from the CD test suggest examining the unit root of the variables. To this end, we use the CIPS test of Pesaran 76 and report the results in Table 7 . The results demonstrate that EG, FDI, and HDI are significant to reject the null of the unit root at the level, while the remaining variables are first-difference stationary in the full and LMIC panels. For HIC, only EG is level-stationary, and the other predictors are first-differenced stationary. The results for the UMIC panel, FDI, and HDI reject the null, while others become significant to reject the null after the first difference. Finally, LIC also shows mixed integration. It indicates that FDI and TOP can reject the null, while other variables display first-differenced stationarity.

Panel cointegration results

In the presence of CD and slope heterogeneity across the full and income-level panels, the study computes Westerlund’s 77 panel cointegration test. The results are presented in Table 6 . The findings demonstrate that, with no exception, there exists a long-run relationship between the variables. For instance, for the full panel, the variance ratio is 3.96 with a corresponding p-value of < 0.01, which significantly rejects the null of no panel cointegration. However, the variance ratio for HIC is significant at 5% to reject the null, and other income-level panels are significant at a 1% level.

The findings are consistent with theoretical and empirical expectations, and they support the notion that in the long run, CO 2 emissions move in tandem with CGI and other control variables augmented in the study. Additionally, our results are consistent with the findings of Goel et al. 86 , Lau et al. 87 , and Fatima et al. 88 , who also documented significant cointegrations between the predictors of institutional quality and CO 2 emissions. While cointegrated vectors suggest that CGI and other control variables affect CO 2 emissions differently across all panels, they also trigger delving into the scale and magnitude of the effects of CGI and control variables on the subject matter. Thus, we proceed to estimate the CS-ARDL model in the following section.

CS-ARDL estimates

All prior estimations (Tables 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 and 6 ), and the cointegration results in particular, have been conducive to one of the objectives of this inquiry. In Table 7 , we present the main empirical findings of the study obtained through the estimation of the CS-ARDL model expressed in Eq. ( 7 ). Table 7 simplifies the results. Its upper part reports the short-run estimates, while the lower part presents the long-run effects. Diagnostic checks are offered underneath long-run estimation, and the row-ordered panels of the table offer an inter-group comparative analysis.

For the CGI-CO 2 nexus—the central theme of the study—the results indicate that, though the sign of the coefficient is as expected, the short-run effects are insignificant across all panels, while the long-run estimates are significant at a 1% level. We find that a 1 percent increase in CGI causes CO 2 emissions to decrease by 0.678 metric tons per capita in the full panel, all other things being equal. When we disaggregate it by income groupings, the results show that a 1% increase in CGI can reduce CO 2 emissions by 0.338, 0.245, 0.104, and 0.097 metric tons per capita in the high-, upper middle-, lower middle-, and low-income panels, respectively. Intuitively, the results display two key findings. First, it demonstrates that good governance is an essential tool to reduce CO 2 emissions. It is more about institutional governance and sound administrative settings for effectively channeling the available resources toward sustainable environmental quality. Second, keeping the first implication in place, the results also indicate that the size of the effects of CGI substantially differs across income-level groups. It indicates that high-income countries enjoy more favorable effects generated through good governance to reduce environmental degradation, while it keeps reducing in upper-middle-income countries and even lowers in lower-middle-income and low-income countries. This might be due to the financial, technical, and social commitment of the countries towards the implementation of good governance. The findings are theoretically valid and acceptable. High-income economies, comparatively, have institutionalized good governance as an integral part of their normal administrative endeavors, while a high corruption tendency and lower rule of law are signaled in low-income economies. Our results are partially consistent with the findings of Vogel 89 , Bhattarai and Hammig 90 , Ehrhardt-Martinez et al. 91 , Cole and Neumayer 92 , Welsch 93 , Esty and Porter 94 , Fan et al. 95 , Culas 96 , Newell 97 , Berkman and Young 98 , Bulkeley 99 , Arvin and Lew 100 , Pour 101 , Newell et al. 102 , and Jahanger et al. 41 , who employed a single dimension and found that governance (institutional quality) has a negative impact on CO 2 emissions. Nevertheless, our findings fully support the outcome of studies conducted by Shabir et al. 38 , Wang et al. 39 , Sibanda et al. 28 , and Xaisongkham and Liu 40 .

In terms of the control variables, the findings show that EGY has a significant impact on CO 2 emissions both in the short- and long-run across all panels. It indicates that in the short (long) run, a unit increase in EGY causes CO 2 to increase by 0.328 (0.741), 0.717 (0.312), 0.522 (0.227), 0.191 (113), and 0.229 (0.100) metric tons per capita in the full, HIC, UMIC, LMIC, and LIC panels, respectively. The results imply that higher EGY produces more CO 2 emissions. These findings show that EGY is yet another vital component that directly leads to the degradation of environmental quality worldwide. Due to rapid development, energy demand has been increasing around the world 103 . The burning of fossil fuels is used to meet a sizable percentage of this need. As a result, energy use significantly contributes to the decrease in environmental quality. Our results support the findings of Javid and Sharif 104 for Pakistan; Shahbaz et al. 105 for low, middle, and high-income countries; Farhani and Ozturk 106 for Tunisia; Beşe and Kalayci 107 for Egypt, Kenya, and Turkey; and Adebayo and Kirikkaleli 108 for Japan; but contrast with those of Jebli et al. 109 for OECD member countries; and Shafiei and Salim 110 , who, respectively, provided significant statistical evidence that more EGY has a reversible effect on CO 2 emissions.

Except for the high-income panel, the coefficient of EG yields a positive sign at 10% significance, implying that EG accelerates CO 2 emissions in UMIC, LMIC, LIC, and the full panel. Specifically, a 1% increase in EG causes CO 2 emissions to increase by 0.021 (0.213), 0.047 (0.039), 0.061 (0.124), and 0.023 (0.201) metric tons per capita in the short (long) run, respectively, in the full, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income panels. These results correspond to those of Pilatowska et al. 111 for the EU, Kasman and Duman 112 for new EU members, Bekun et al. 113 for 16 EU members, Saidi and Rahman 114 for OPEC countries, and Khan 115 for South Asian economies. The results are linked to stylized facts. It is expected that environmental quality will pay a price with an increase in overall economic output and national consumption. This implies that when the use of non-renewable resources increases, environmental degradation also increases, and thus, the potential loss of environmental ecosystems is only one of the negative effects of rapid economic growth on the environment. However, not all types of growth harm the environment. A sound allocation of funds to environmental preservation when real earnings rise is found to be effective and, as such, good governance.

Altogether, financial development, as proxied by the financial development index (FDI), negatively affects CO 2 emissions. Literally, it was expected that a well-developed financial sector would facilitate enhanced access to higher investments in lower carbon emission production that significantly decreased CO 2 . Magazzino 116 also found that financial development has a negative impact on CO 2 emissions. Further studies by Al-Mulali et al. 117 , Tang and Tan 118 , Ho and Ho 119 , and Rahman and Alam 20 also emphasize that a well-developed financial sector and access to credit significantly reduce CO 2 emissions due to informed and well-thought-out investments in low-carbon-producing projects. In the purview of human interaction with the environment, we regressed HDI on CO 2 emissions and found that, in contrast to a vast number of prior studies, HDI is significant for reducing CO 2 emissions in the long run. This might be due to the selection of proxies. Before augmenting HDI, we regressed HCI (human capital index) and found that it has a rather positive impact on CO 2 emissions. While HCI does not fully cover all aspects of human interaction with society, we swapped it with HDI. Our results align with Bano et al. 68 , Çakar et al. 120 , Zhu 121 , and Song et al. 122 , who also found that human capital development is a crucial predictor of maintaining a low-carbon environment. Moreover, the findings also indicate that PGR is strongly significant in impacting CO 2 emissions across all panels. It shows that a 1% increase in PGR causes CO 2 emissions to increase by 0.159, 0.19, 0.379, 0.301, and 0.121 metric tons per capita in the full, high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low-income panels, respectively, in the long run, while short-run effects are insignificant. The positivity of PGR can be traced through two conduits. First, growth in the population, especially uncontrolled growth, increases the demand for energy consumption, industry, and transportation alike, which significantly contributes to increasing CO 2 . Second, PGR is a significant predictor of increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Studies by Dong et al. 123 , Weber and Sciubba 23 , and Ray and Ray 124 support our findings on the positive impact of PGR on CO 2 emissions.

With respect to urbanization (URB), the findings reveal that while its short-run effects are only evident in the full and low-income panels, its long-run effects are significant across all panels. It shows that URB is another factor that, without exception, increases CO 2 emissions. The findings are linked to the fact that higher urbanization results in greater deforestation, higher freshwater extraction, and the utilization of more carbon-producing goods that reduce environmental quality in the long run 125 . Prior studies by Akalin et al. 126 , Nathaniel 127 , Kahouli et al. 128 , and Radoine et al. 129 also support our findings. Finally, our findings with respect to trade openness (TOP) are somehow similar to the existing literature. We only find that TOP is significant in high-income panels in the short run, while it only affects CO2 emissions in UMIC, LMIC, and LIC panels in the long run. Overall, our findings indicate that TOP would facilitate higher CO2 emissions. Studies that concur with our findings include Ertugrul et al. 130 , Ragoubi and Mighri 131 , Dou et al. 22 , Chen et al. 132 , and Adebayo et al. 108 , though studies by Mahmood et al. 133 and Yu et al. 134 found negative and spillover effects of TOP on CO 2 emissions, respectively.

All results reported in Table 7 are statistically robust. Diagnostic checks are reported underneath every panel estimation of the CS-ARDL model. They report two important facts. First, CD is corrected across all panels. Second, residuals are normally distributed and hold the underlying assumptions. Furthermore, to confirm the robustness of our estimates, we employed the FMOLS and DOLS methods and reported their results in Table 8 . Though the estimated long-run effects obtained from FMOLS and DOLS are slightly different than those obtained from the CS-ARDL model, they hold identical signs. Similar methods of robustness testing are common in the existing literature 38 , 103 .


Environmental degradation represents a serious concern for everyone. Governments constantly try to find rational remedies to minimize the effects of environmental degradation. However, there are various factors that contribute to environmental degradation, of which CO 2 is the most important. To that end, this study investigates the effects of good governance, energy consumption, economic growth, financial development, and other socioeconomic predictors on CO 2 in a large panel consisting of 180 countries classified as full, high-income, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income groups over the period from 1999 to 2021. Observing stationarity properties and panel heterogeneity, the study utilized the CS-ARDL model, which was statistically plausible to account for the rejected null of no cross-sectional dependence in the panels. Moreover, to capture the comprehensive effects of good governance, the key variable of interest, the study constructed a composite governance index (CGI) using six indicators of governance under the accountability, participation, and predictability dimensions.

For the full panel (say, the global panel) and all income-level groups, the findings suggest that there exists a long-run relationship between CGI, CO 2 emissions, and other control variables. The results obtained from the CS-ARDL technique indicate that CGI has only long-run effects on CO 2 emissions across all panels; short-run effects were found to be insignificant. However, we found that CGI is an important factor contributing to reducing global CO 2 emissions and improving environmental quality, but the magnitude of its contribution differs according to the economic size and presentation of the underlying countries. Additionally, economic growth was found to have a negative impact on CO 2 emissions in the high-income panel, while it exerts positive effects on the subject in the full, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income groups. Similarly, energy consumption, with no exceptions, was found to have a significant role in environmental degradation worldwide. Furthermore, the results demonstrate that trade openness can only be harmful to environmental quality in the upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income groups; full panel and high-income countries were found to be effectless. While the findings reveal that population growth and urbanization directly contribute to environmental deterioration, financial development has favorable effects on improving the quality of the environment worldwide. It implies that as a result of population growth and higher urbanization, demand for energy, industry, and transportation increases, resulting in increased CO 2 emissions. Comparatively, the results demonstrate that financial development negatively effects CO 2 , implying that a well-developed financial sector facilitates enhanced access to higher investments in lower carbon production that significantly decreases CO 2 emissions.

Policy implications

Our findings highlight several policy implications that are specifically discussed as follows:

Altogether, good governance is crucial to maintaining and improving global environmental quality, regardless of the size of its effects. It is imperative to institutionalize good governance to encourage efficient reiteration and utilization of resources for higher environmental preservation.

For high-income countries, economic growth is no longer a silver bullet to recast environmental quality; rather, it is regarded as another essential tool for upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income countries to reverse the negative impact of rapid growth on environmental quality. This suggests specific policy reorientations in their growth-targeting regimes.

Although budget implications are real concerns in low-income countries, the findings suggest that efficient energy consumption and the deployment of innovative ecological technologies in the production sector of the economy can spur environmental quality.

All in all, the growth and massification of populations in urban areas are harmful to environmental quality. Specific policy adjustments are required to facilitate the economic shift and ensure an even population distribution.

With no exception, human interaction with the environment is also a determinantal factor. Well-thought-out investments in human capital development can result in increased education and awareness to preserve environmental quality.

From a global perspective, while many factors contribute to global warming, CO 2 is the most important, implying economies must follow global policy incentives and implement new mechanisms to reduce CO 2 , such as better forest management, taxes on ecologically harmful behaviors, increasing the total cumulative area of the Earth sheltered in forests, and smoothing the transition to electric and hybrid automobiles.


This study highlights an important promotional role for the links between good governance and a sustainable environment and has provided a comprehensive statistical scenario of the effects of good governance on environmental quality from a global perspective, but it suffers from one major limitation: the exclusion of armed conflict effects from the analysis in some of the countries due to the unavailability of relevant datasets. Future studies can overcome this empirical shortcoming, depending on the availability of the required data.

Data availability

The datasets relevant to governance indicators come from WGI, FDI is collected from IMF, HDI has been compiled from PWT 9.0 (Penn World Table), sourced from Feenstra et al. (2015). The data for all other variables have been collected from World Development Indicators (WDI). All datasets are freely available and accessible to the public.

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Article contents

International organization and environmental governance.

  • Joshua W. Busby Joshua W. Busby Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas Austin
  • Published in print: 01 March 2010
  • Published online: 20 November 2017
  • This version: 20 November 2017
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While some attempts to deal with transborder environmental issues have a longer history, the formal international organizations that have buildings and staff were mostly created in the shadow of World War II. As global environmental governance has evolved, the lexicon in academia has changed from talking about transnationalism and interdependence to writing about regimes and, more recently, institutional design and effectiveness. The actors worthy of study have also changed. The discipline has moved, from writing about states and formal international organizations, to discussing a variety of non-state actors including nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and public-private partnerships. The field has come full circle to talk about internal bureaucratic processes and the politics of particular organizations.

This article aims to provide a thematic and somewhat chronological overview of the broader field of international organizational and environmental governance. This updated survey identifies some new topics that not have been captured by earlier efforts and reviews the following central themes:

1. International Institutions And Regime Theory

2. Ratification and Compliance

3. Regime Effectiveness and Design

4. Bureaucratic Politics and Organizational Pathologies

5. The Rise And Role Of Non-State Actors

6. From Government To Governance: Private And Hybrid Models

  • environmental governance
  • nonstate actors
  • international institutions
  • regime theory
  • international organizations
  • transborder international issues

Efforts to deal with environmental challenges across state borders have numerous historical antecedents. European nations signed a convention to regulate fishing on the Rhine in the 1850s, and in the 1880s, European governments sought to deal with overfishing in the North Sea (Rayfuse, 2007 ). In the early 20th century , four sealing nations negotiated a treaty to deal with the rapidly declining fur seal population in the North Pacific (Barrett, 2007 , pp. 19–48). In the 1940s, the United States and Canada began addressing cross-border pollution problems through the courts (Rowlands, 2007 , p. 318). However, international environmental governance did not really become a subject of sustained policymaking and public consciousness until the decades after World War II, when rapid industrialization and a rising world population demonstrated an unprecedented capacity of the human species to alter the planet’s atmosphere, ecosystems, and resources.

Of the 225 multilateral international environmental agreements in force in 2000 , only 4 had been adopted by 1945 (Barrett, 2003 , p. 135). Mitchell, using a more expansive definition of international agreements (to include modifications to earlier agreements), documented the increased pace of environmental agreements in the wake of World War II. The number of agreements, protocols, and amendments that had been reached increased from 3 in 1950 , to 75 in 1960 , 185 in 1970 , 331 in 1980 , 522 in 1990 , and 1,121 in 2010 . By 2012 , he identified 1,159 multilateral international environmental agreements (MEAs) and 1,375 bilateral environmental agreements (Mitchell, 2016 ).

The extension of rational scientific understanding and the growing organizational density of the international system created more impetus and platforms for transnational environmental regulation (Meyer, Frank, Hironaka, Schofer, & Tuma, 1997 ). While some attempts to deal with transborder environmental issues have a longer history, most of the formal international organizations that have buildings and staff were created in the shadow of World War II—the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund among them as well as a number of specialized environmental and conservation organs like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

While these organizations were established after WWII, the real impetus for international environmental institution building did not come until later. A strong environmental consciousness began to shape the domestic political scene in industrialized countries in the 1960s, sparked by books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Carson, 1962 ). These national concerns coalesced for the first time to become internationally recognized by the early 1970s. Earth Day was celebrated for the first time in the United States in 1970 . Delegates then met in Stockholm, in 1972 , for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, out of which came the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), headquartered in Nairobi (Ivanova, 2007 ). Since Stockholm, such conferences have become the most recognizable face of global environmental policymaking.

In the 1980s, global and regional environmental problems such as the ozone hole, acid rain, rainforest destruction, and climate change have captured increasing attention. High-profile disasters such as the 1984 Bhopal chemical plant explosion in India and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska also generated pressures for action. Out of this resurgent environmental concern came the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), known more popularly as the Earth Summit held in Rio, Brazil. The Earth Summit was another touchstone moment in the history of the field, as thousands of delegates, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and industry representatives sought to address a myriad of issues from climate change to forests to biodiversity.

As the scope of work in the environmental space took off in the 1970s, new organizations have periodically emerged to deal with specific problems, such as the secretariats in Bonn dealing with desertification and climate change. In addition, new institutional arrangements and partnerships emerged in response to dissatisfaction with pure state-based and treaty-based approaches to environmental policy. Hybrid policy approaches involving states, firms, and advocates have been created in such diverse arenas as dams (the World Commission on Dams), corporate responsibility (the UN Global Compact), and deforestation (the Forest Stewardship Council) (for a summary of these developments, see Karns, Mingst, & Stiles, 2015 , pp. 529–572).

Political science has been following and describing the ebbs and flows in the practice of international environmental policy. The lexicon in academia changed from talking about transnationalism and interdependence to writing about regimes and more recently institutional design and effectiveness. The actors worthy of study also changed. The discipline moved from writing about states and formal international organizations to discussing a variety of non-state actors, including NGOs, businesses, and public-private partnerships. At the same time, even as new forms of private governance, non-state actors, and local governments captured researchers’ attention, the field has come full circle to talk about internal bureaucratic processes and the politics of particular organizations.

Scholars writing on international environmental governance always had a distinctively normative cast, and academics have written their work with an eye towards improved environmental protection. At times, the research in the field is hortatory rather than analytical, making it sometimes difficult to tease out explanation from prescription. At the same time, some scholars write mostly for policy audiences.

Influential research by political scientists that has been more descriptive and/or normative than consciously theoretical includes Elizabeth Economy’s vivid depiction of China’s environmental problems (Economy, 2004 ), Bjorn Lomborg’s iconoclastic challenge to the environmental establishment (Lomborg, 2001 ), and David Victor’s critique of the Kyoto Protocol (Victor, 2001 ). Moreover, important work in this area has been written by non-political scientists, including Ronald Coase’s research on externalities (Coase, 1960 ), Garrett Hardin’s observations on the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968 ), Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s work on the population explosion (Ehrlich, 1968 ), the Brundtland Commission’s final report on sustainable development (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987 ), former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental manifesto, Earth in the Balance (Gore, 1992 ), Elinor Ostrom’s work on collective action (Ostrom, 1990 ), and Scott Barrett’s book Environment and Statecraft (Barrett, 2003 ).

Given the vast literature, which is but a subset of the broader field of environmental politics, it is difficult to craft a comprehensive survey essay. Sage Publications has a four volume set on international environmental politics edited by Ronald Mitchell (Mitchell, 2008 ). With these caveats, this article aims to provide a thematic and somewhat chronological overview of the broader field of international organization and environmental governance.

Here international organizations implies formal actors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United Nations, in which states comprise the organization’s membership and primary donor base. International organizations are sometimes referred to as institutions , but that word has come to have a broader meaning like the word regime referencing the rules and norms that regulate behavior (Simmons & Martin, 2002 ). International organizations are entities that have a physical address, an office, and staff. The term environmental governance implies a much broader universe of mechanisms for dealing with problems affecting the natural world, including pollution, threats to and degradation of biodiversity, and ecosystem services.

Governance implies collective problem solving without a central, or in this case world, government. Internationally, governance signifies the variety of coordinating mechanisms that different actors, including but not limited to states, engage in across borders to try to address problems of common concern. Biermann and Pattberg suggest that the concept of governance “stems from national debates, where it is often used for new forms of regulation that differ from traditional hierarchical state activity” (Biermann & Pattberg, 2008 , p. 278).

Other important surveys have already been written on related topics, notably Ronald Mitchell’s piece in the 2002 Handbook of International Relations , Frank Biermann and Philip Pattberg’s piece on global environmental governance, which appeared in the 2008 Annual Review of Environment and Resources , and Pattberg and Oscar Widerberg’s 2015 piece in Millennium (Biermann & Pattberg, 2008 ; Mitchell, 2002b ; Pattberg & Widerberg, 2015 ). While less of an international relations specific overview, James Gustave Speth and Peter Haas’s 2006 book Global Environmental Governance provides a compelling narrative of the history of the practice of international environmental policy (Speth & Haas, 2006 ; see also Chasek & Wagner, 2012 ; Hale, Held, & Young, 2013 ). Similarly, Elizabeth DeSombre’s Global Environmental Institutions , Ronald Mitchell’s International Politics and the Environment , and Andresen, Boasson, and Hønneland’s International Environmental Agreements serve as compact introductory overviews of major issues in the field (Andresen, Boasson, & Hønneland, 2012 ; DeSombre, 2006 ; Mitchell, 2010 ).

This survey identifies some new topics that may not have been captured by earlier efforts and reviews the following central themes:

International Institutions And Regime Theory

Ratification and Compliance

Regime effectiveness and design, bureaucratic politics and organizational pathologies.

The Rise And Role Of Non-State Actors

From Government To Governance: Private And Hybrid Models

This article discusses each of those themes in turn, identifying important contributions to the literature and lacunae in each generation of scholarship. (These themes are similar to those covered by Mitchell ( 2002a , 2002b ), which included: the causes of international environmental problems, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation and effectiveness, and policy evolution and social learning).

The theoretical conversations that have taken place in this arena are largely between institutionalists and constructivists. The former are material rationalists and focus on the incentives of the major actors, mostly states, and their calculations of self-interest. The latter are more concerned with the roles played by non-state actors and the space for non-material sources of influence, morality, norms, and ideas.

Missing theoretically from most accounts of global environmental politics are realists. Realists, concerned about war between great powers, largely see environmental politics as unimportant. Mitchell makes several arguments about realists. First, concerns about relative gains ought to hinder environmental cooperation. However, because realists consider environmental issues to be low politics, states can afford to focus on absolute gains and cooperation in this realm (Mitchell, 2002b , p. 504). With the emergence of concern about the contribution of environmental change to conflict and other security outcomes, realists might revisit this issue space (Buhaug, Gleditsch, & Theisen, 2008 ; Busby, 2008b ; Gleditsch, 2012 ; Homer-Dixon, 1999 ; Kahl, 2006 ; Salehyan, 2014 ).

International Institutions and Regime Theory

Early studies on emerging environmental phenomena, mostly from outside political science, sought to demonstrate the gravity of the problem. Garrett Hardin ( 1968 ) suggested how the absence of private property rights could lead to overconsumption of common pool resources. That same year, Paul Ehrlich warned the world of impending famines as a result of overpopulation outstripping the earth’s food supply. In 1972 , the Club of Rome issued their Malthusian manifesto about the prospects for running out of natural resources and over-taxing the earth’s life-restoring functions (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & Behrens, 1972 ).

As policy makers started paying attention to the global consequences of environmental phenomena, political science began to reflect that changing reality. At the same time, scholars sought to challenge the emerging dominance of neo-realism in international relations, which, given its focus on the security dilemma and international anarchy, seemed quite pessimistic about the possibilities for international cooperation. In the late 1970s, Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane wrote about the complexities of increased interdependence that created mutual vulnerabilities to transborder phenomena, including environmental harms (Keohane & Nye, 1977 ). While these vulnerabilities created manifest needs for international coordination, realism seemed to imply that survival-seeking states in a world with no overarching international government could not afford to cooperate with their peers.

Using the same assumptions of realism, neo-liberal institutionalists demonstrated that the prospects for cooperation, including for environmental protection, were more promising. They broadened the discussion beyond international organizations to focus on international regimes where patterned decision-making affects policy outcomes in certain issue areas. Interestingly, a realist, Stephen Krasner, is one of the most cited scholars on regimes, defining them as “principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actor expectations converge in a given issue-area” (Krasner, 1983 ).

What Purposes Do Regimes Serve?

Among early works in this genre on international cooperation, Robert Axelrod used computer simulations to suggest that cooperation in repeated play interactions might be stable through reciprocal reward and punishment strategies (Axelrod, 1984 ). Robert Keohane elaborated the specific role that international institutions could play in eliciting cooperation by lowering the transactions costs of cooperation, gathering information, and monitoring behavior to detect and deter defection (Keohane, 1982 ). Using metaphors from elementary game theory, Kenneth Oye took these ideas further, suggesting that players who heavily discounted the future might be harder to cooperate with over the long-term. Moreover, echoing the earlier work of economist Mancur Olson, Kenneth Oye noted that large numbers of players could be an impediment to cooperation because coordinating the behavior of many actors was difficult given their diversity of preferences. Among the ways that actors can deal with such collective action problems are by lengthening the shadow of the future and limiting the number of players, with efforts to recruit a core group of committed actors with more uniform preferences (Oye, 1986 ; for a similar discussion, see Busby, 2006 ; Downs, Rocke, & Barsoom, 1996 ).

The literature on international regimes also reflected the rift between neo-liberal institutionalists/rationalists and constructivists (for a good reader on debates between rationalist and constructivists on regimes, see Kratochwil & Mansfield, 1994 ). Constructivists focused on the ways that regimes potentially have a deeper constitutive effect on actor identities. As bestowers of authority, regimes function to delimit the appropriate rules and norms, conditioning actors to obey. At the same time, regimes may facilitate social learning, shaping actors understanding of the problem, potential solutions, and their preferences. In this view, the Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) regime, for example, may well have facilitated a broader understanding of the relationships between air pollution and human health (Young & Levy, 1999 ).

Why Do Regimes Form?

In addition to basic questions about the functions regimes serve and whether regimes matter is the recognition that not all environmental problems get equal attention. Why do regimes for some issues form while others get ignored? Ronald Mitchell argues that “Highly visible, immediate, and dramatic environmental damage that actors in powerful states care about tend to receive international attention” (Mitchell, 2003 , p. 45). Oran Young evaluated both power-based (realist) and utilitarian or interest-based (neo-liberal) reasons for why environmental regimes get started in the first place. To this list, he later added knowledge-based reasons for the rise of regimes (reflecting the emergence of the constructivist research paradigm as well as contextual factors, which gets at the role of individuals and more idiosyncratic developments like crises) (Young & Osherenko, 1993 ).

A strain of realist research in international relations focused on the importance of hegemonic leadership in regime formation. Young noted that, in the environmental space, many regimes have not needed a hegemonic leader to get started. No superpowers were present in the Mediterranean Basin pollution control regime. Other regimes were formed because of the role of non-state coordinating bodies, like the role of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the emergence of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and UNEP’s important role in the ozone depletion regime.

Young also critiqued simple utilitarian bargaining models that presume a seamless ability of states to recognize joint gains from cooperation. Even where states are able to reach agreement, unanimity rules, integrative bargaining, and uncertainty ultimately complicate the political process of negotiations. He noted the importance of focal points such as across the board emissions cuts of CFCs in facilitating agreement. In his view, other factors may also generate a demand for regimes. Crises and shock events, like Chernobyl or the discovery of the ozone hole, have also been helpful in moving regime formation processes along. He also notes that agency is important. These structural dynamics obscure the important role played by individual policy entrepreneurs. For example, UNEP’s Mustava Tolba is frequently credited for shepherding the ozone negotiations to a successful conclusion (Mitchell, 2003 ; Tolba & Rummel-Bulska, 1998 ; Young, 1989 ; on the specific role of leadership in regime formation, see Young, 1991 ).

Despite the success in creating different international mechanisms to deal with environmental problems, there has been wide variation in the degree of political acceptance of those commitments. In some cases, important states have simply failed to ratify international treaty commitments (such as the United States and the Kyoto Protocol). In other cases, countries part of the regime have sought to undermine it by changing the rules or supporting rival organizations, as Japan has attempted with the whaling regime (Blok, 2008 ). When do states join or support international regimes? Why then do states comply with the terms of international environmental agreements? Or, put differently, under what circumstances do states fail to comply with their international commitments? Because accession to international environmental agreements and compliance are linked, they are discussed together.

Many scholars begin with the assumption that states take on international commitments when it is in their interest. However, states often have mixed motives with respect to international cooperation. On the one hand, they may benefit from the provision of collective goods, but they also wish to avoid the costs of participation. If all countries cooperate, they may be better off, but states may still face individual incentives to defect. At the moment of treaty ratification, how states calculate their interest depends on what goes in to their utility functions. While the immediate costs of implementation may be the most salient, a state’s interest will also be affected by its own environmental vulnerability and its current economic fortunes. Costlier commitments will be harder to make, particularly in tight economic circumstances, but states vulnerable to the environmental harm will be more likely to champion action.

Sprinz and Vaahtoranta suggest that combination of costs and vulnerability yields four possible ideal types of state behavior: states with high vulnerability and low costs will be leaders or pushers ; states facing high costs and low vulnerability will be laggards or draggers ; those facing low costs and vulnerability will be bystanders ; and those facing high costs and vulnerability will be intermediates (Sprinz & Vaahtoranta, 1994 ; for a similar formulation of leaders and laggards based on domestic pressure, existing high environmental standards, and vulnerability, see Haas, Keohane, & Levy, 1993 , pp. 16–17).

While these two dimensions provide a parsimonious explanation of state decision making, other issues will likely inform a state’s choices, including whether any concerns other than the specific costs of implementation are considered (such as their reputation for being a good international partner); whether ideational or principled attachments have any weight in their decision; whether other states, international organizations, or even non-state actors subsequently have an independent compliance pull based on enforcement capacity; and, finally, the importance with which the future weighs on their decisions.

Leaving aside the issue of ratification for the moment, the broader literature on compliance from the discipline of international law begins with the observation that states for the most part observe their international legal commitments. Noncompliance in this view is a management problem rather than an enforcement problem. Noncompliance is often a product of involuntary defection; states are unable to comply because of ambiguity in the initial treaty language, incapacity, lack of funding, or other factors outside of their control (Chayes & Chayes, 1995 ; Weiss & Jacobson, 1998 ).

Rational choice scholars problematized this perspective. Downs, Rocke and Barsoom argue that most agreements merely ask states for small incremental changes that at best represent “modest departures from what they would have done in the absence of an agreement” (Downs et al., 1996 ; Goldsmith & Posner, 2005 ; von Stein, 2005 , p. 612). Given that future international environmental agreements will demand deeper policy change, more robust enforcement mechanisms will likely be needed. Where deep cooperation has been tried, as in ocean pollution and overfishing of the Mediterranean, they cite the absence of punishment mechanisms for noncompliance as the main reason for failure. Regimes that had punishment mechanisms, such as the 1995 effort to address fishing rights in the North Atlantic, were far more successful because violators of the agreement were ultimately subject to stiff fines (Downs et al., 1996 ). The absence of adequate enforcement measures is Barrett’s main critique of the Kyoto Protocol (Barrett, 2003 , chap. 15).

This argument taps into a broader discussion of whether treaties self-select and screen in states for which treaty compliance is likely, or whether treaties have any independent compliance pull of their own that changes state behavior. Here, the argument is largely within the rationalist fold, between scholars such as Jana von Stein on the screening side and Beth Simmons, who suggests international agreements have more significance than merely codifying what states were prepared to do anyway. In von Stein’s view, treaty negotiations and international institutions at best serve to coordinate collective expectations (Downs et al., 1996 , p. 380; Goldsmith & Posner, 2003 ; Goldsmith & Posner, 2005 ; von Stein, 2005 , p. 612, 2008 ). International institutions possess no ability to encourage countries to comply because of weak or non-existent enforcement mechanisms. States will ratify treaties that specify policies they intend to enact anyway. Indeed, von Stein suggests preliminary evidence supports the view that countries were more likely to ratify the Kyoto Protocol when they were already “de facto relatively compliant” (von Stein, 2008 , p. 263). Barrett notes evidence to suggest that several environmental treaties (such as the Helsinki and Oslo Protocols on acid rain and the Sofia Protocol on nitrogen oxides) had little independent effect on emissions and codified state behavior (Barrett, 2003 , pp. 10–13, 230). Scholars like von Stein might also note that deeper commitments in treaties constitute “cheap talk” that nations have no intention of abiding by and cannot be compelled to implement (Farrell & Rabin, 1996 ; Morrow, 1994 ).

This view probably understates the importance of international agreements. Treaty negotiation is a costly commitment device that states take seriously (Simmons & Hopkins, 2005 ). For states that go to the trouble of negotiating and ratifying a legally binding treaty, states risk reputational losses by being unreliable (Simmons, 1998 , 2000 ; Simmons & Hopkins, 2005 ). For rationalists who believe in the compliance pull of international agreements, reputations have material roots. States can gain most from cooperative endeavors when they enter into long-run relationships under-girded by a sense of diffuse reciprocity , that cooperation now will be rewarded by cooperation in the long run. The costs of a bad reputation for a country should be a lost stream of benefits from missed opportunities or, at the very least, their partners will demand conditions before entering into agreements with unreliable collaborators (Guzman, 2005 , 2002 ; Keohane, 1986 ; Tomz, 2007 ). Thus, the decision by some countries to ratify Kyoto despite facing significant implementation costs could be an attempt to avoid the reputational damage of breaking their commitment. Reputational costs could come from their international partners or from domestic audiences who punish politicians for not keeping promises (on audience costs, see Fearon, 1997 ; Tomz, 2007 ).

However, most scholars of reputation suggest that these costs are likely to be modest and perhaps not sufficient on their own to alter state behavior (Guzman, 2002 , 2005 ). Moreover, since punishment is potentially costly to the punisher, there are collective action problems that make it a less potent mechanism to induce behavior change. Furthermore, states have a variety of kinds of reputation, a reputation for compliance only one of them and perhaps not the most important one (Downs & Jones, 2002 ).

Where neo-liberal scholars have debated the importance of reputation in eliciting state commitment and compliance to international agreements, constructivists emphasize prestige and other less clearly material motives for state accession to international agreements. Some scholars believe leaders have innate desires for prestige. In this view, the motivations are ultimately psychological, that humans are hard-wired to seek status (Larson & Shevchenko, 2010 ; Lebow, 2009 ; Markey, 2000 ). However, the prestige mechanism can also work through the domestic benefits leaders receive from good international press. Such positive media attention can enhance a leader’s stature and enable them to achieve more, internationally and domestically, even enhancing their re-election prospects or their legacy in history. Whatever its source, the prestige motive can help us understand what Marc Levy, in his discussion of European efforts to address acid rain, called “tote-board diplomacy,” where politicians engage in competitive promise-making (Levy, 1993 ). Harrison and Sundstrom, and Tiberghien and Schreurs, examine prestige and symbolic motives in the decisions of Canada and Japan to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (Harrison & Sundstrom, 2007 ; Tiberghien & Schreurs, 2007 ). Despite facing high costs of implementation, Japan ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Because the treaty had been negotiated on its home soil, the decision had added meaning (Busby, 2004 , 2010b ). In both cases, the limited implementation by Canada and Japan of their climate commitments raises legitimate questions about whether or not treaty accession is merely an instance of “cheap talk,” that leaders can reap temporary status gains by making a commitment but face little downside of not complying with them (Busby, 2008a ). This is particularly salient since Canada ultimately withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 .

Self-interest narrowly conceived, the compliance pull of an international reputation, or the broader prestige and symbolic concerns all potentially factor in state decisions to ratify international agreements. In addition, the domestic institutional and political context can also loom large in whether or not a state ultimately supports an international agreement (Keohane & Milner, 1996 ). As Putnam’s work on two-level games argues, national governments in international negotiations simultaneously must bargain with other states about the terms of the agreement and convince domestic players that that agreement is worthwhile (Putnam, 1988 ). In some systems, those institutional barriers for domestic agreement are onerous. In examining ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Harrison and Sundstrom focus on the importance of treaty ratification rules in different states (the high bar of two thirds support of the United States Senate is frequently cited as an impediment to U.S. accession). The relative enthusiasm for Kyoto by European governments is explained, in part, by the role played by small political parties (including the Greens) in parliamentary democracies (Harrison & Sundstrom, 2007 ).

Like Harrison and Sundstrom, Busby focuses on the mediating role of domestic institutions, emphasizing the policy gatekeepers who have the power to block or delay policy change (Busby, 2008a ; Busby & Ochs, 2004 ; see also DeSombre, 2006 , pp. 166–167; Jacobson, 2002 ). Raustiala, in explaining the biodiversity regime, focuses less on treaty accession and the ways in which the actual agreement may be shaped by powerful actors to fit with countries’ domestic regulatory orders (Raustiala, 1997 ). Other observers focus less on the institutional differences between states and more on the patterns of political influence by sub-national actors, including firms and environmental organizations. Thus, the robust response of the United States in the early 1980s against whaling is seen as a victory by domestic environmentalists in rallying powerful allies (Skodvin & Andresen, 2003 ), while the failure of the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is frequently seen as a result of outsized political influence by carbon-intensive firms (Gelbspan, 1997 ). The ability for environmentalists to externalize domestic environmental pressure is also invoked as a potent mechanism (Haas, Keohane, & Levy, 1993 ).

Compliance with regime commitments may or may not translate into improved environmental outcomes, the ultimate goal of policy. This section addresses the diverse meanings of regime effectiveness and principles of regime design.

Defining Effectiveness

As Bernaeuer notes, “we are ultimately concerned more about cleaner rivers, sustainable fisheries, or lower greenhouse gas emissions and less about political popularity functions or treaty ratifications” (Bernauer, 1995 ). Mitchell and others emphasize the need to move beyond merely tracking accession of states to international agreements to evaluating their behavior and finally determining whether or not regimes actually contribute to improved environmental outcomes. That task is not easy, in part because of conceptual confusion. Some analysts focus on process inputs or compliance, with little regard to the ultimate environmental impact.

Mitchell suggests that, to evaluate the effectiveness of a regime, we need a reference point of comparison; two standard reference points include relative improvement and goal achievement (Mitchell, 2003 , p. 49). However, the ability for us to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of different regimes, Mitchell argues, is made difficult by the fact that different environmental initiatives are supposed to yield widely incommensurate outcomes, reduced pollution in some cases, enhanced species protection in others. The inability to speak in terms of a common metric of success across regimes makes comparison problematic (Mitchell, 2002a ).

The problem goes further, as regimes may simply ratify what states were prepared to do independently and thus have little independent effect. Evaluating regime effectiveness thus requires exploration of the counterfactual: what would have happened in its absence? Even if states do not fully live up to their commitments, the aspirational quality of the commitments may inspire significantly changed behavior. That behavioral change—“good faith non-compliance,”—may or may not constitute a success, even if the action falls short of the announced target. For example, Hungary’s unlikely 10% reduction in sulfur emissions under the LRTAP was perhaps as or more important than the 30% mandated reduction other partners were able to deliver (Mitchell, 2002b , p. 508). Even if states fail to live up to their commitments, institutions may not be to blame. Pollution from a non-regulated tributary river, for example may neutralize the positive effects wrought by the institution (Bernauer, 1995 ). The problem goes deeper. States may live up to their commitment, but those actions may not contribute to improved environmental outcomes if the solution is a poor fit, given the scientific nature of the problem (Mitchell, 2002b , 2010 ; Young & Levy, 1999 ). Indeed, regimes may have unintended consequences, some of which may contribute indirectly to attainment of a regime’s goals and others may undermine them (Underdal, 2002 ).

Against this backdrop of regime effectiveness are other criteria like equity and efficiency. As Bernaeur notes, the field’s incoherence about what effectiveness criteria are most important to track and the sheer complexity of evaluating all of them have undermined research contributions (Bernauer, 1995 ). Comparative, quantitative analysis of regime effectiveness remains in its early stages.

This discussion of what constitutes regime effectiveness is a prelude to explaining why some regimes are more effective than others. Different authors have sought to explain the determinants of effectiveness. Underdal, for example, focuses on two dimensions: problem structure and regime capacity (Underdal, 2002 ). Mitchell, drawing from Weiss and Jacobson, focuses on four structural aspects: issue area , the international setting , the targeted actor , and the regime (Mitchell, 2002b ). Haas, Keohane, and Levy focus on the three C’s: the degree of environmental concern , a hospitable contractual environment (i.e., the ability for states to make and keep agreements with minimal fear of cheating), and the political and administrative capacity of states to implement the rules (Haas et al., 1993 , pp. 19–20). There is some overlap in these approaches. The emphasis here is on the nature of the problem and regime structure.

Nature of the Problem

Analysts have given this dimension different names, such as the nature of the problem, the issue area, and problem/situation structure. Underdal ( 2002 ) distinguishes between benign and malign problems, suggesting that some problems are simply more difficult to resolve (malign), thus making regime effectiveness inherently problematic. What determines the degree of malignancy of a problem, in Underdal’s view, is the degree of incongruity between actors’ interests, the explanation of which is ultimately complex and opaque.

Perhaps more useful are efforts to describe why some problems are harder to address, given the situation structure. Here, analysts often draw from game theory to suggest different game forms as metaphors for international politics. Where actors’ interests appear misaligned, scholars have invoked the game of Deadlock to show how cooperation is difficult to impossible. Where actors are drawn to cheating on each other, when both could be better off cooperating, scholars have used the metaphor of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Stag Hunt. Cooperation can be encouraged by changing payoffs, reducing the number of actors, lengthening the shadow of the future, and linking other issues (Oye, 1986 ).

In the environmental realm, Mitchell and Keilbach ( 2001 ) focus on situation structure, noting the difference between symmetric and asymmetric situations. In symmetric situations, such as the tragedy of the commons or Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situations, both sides potentially contribute to the problem, are victims, and have a preference for avoiding the negative outcome. In asymmetric situations, such as upstream users of a river resource, the upstream user benefits, while the downstream user receives the negative externality. As a consequence, while the downstream user wants to limit the externality, the upstream user does not. In these situations, the ability for one side to force the other to restrain pollution may be important. Weak, downstream users, lacking coercive power over powerful upstream users, may find it necessary to compensate the upstream parties by linking side issues, as the Dutch did with respect to the French in the 1970s, in regard to Rhine River chloride contamination (Mitchell, 2010 ; Mitchell & Keilbach, 2001 ).

In addition to asymmetric incentives, asymmetric power can influence the ultimate impact of regimes. Surprisingly, the role of power and bargaining leverage in regime design has received limited attention. Powerful states can sometimes exert their will on the nature of international regimes. In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States used the threat of trade sanctions to induce some recalcitrant states to force through a ban on commercial whaling (Mitchell, 1998 ; Peterson, 1992 ; Skodvin & Andresen, 2003 ). DeSombre identifies a variety of international environmental sanctions efforts by the United States, many of them related to fisheries, where environmentalists and protectionists made common cause in promoting transnational environmental goals through trade sanctions (DeSombre, 1995 ; for a US diplomat’s perspective, see Smith, 2012 ). In other areas, the influence came about in the process of international negotiations. For example, the flexibility mechanisms that were incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol, like emissions trading, were all incorporated at the insistence of the United States, despite European objections (ironically, the EU would become a robust defender of emissions trading, while the United States remained outside of Kyoto) (Grubb, Vrolijk, & Brack, 1999 ; Oberthür & Ott, 1999 ).

Raustiala and Victor suggest that, in the biodiversity and plant genetic resources regime, the United States has been prepared to go forum shopping, to look for the most favorable venues to secure its interests. In the face of efforts through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to provide developing countries with sovereign property rights over plant resources from their territories, the United States sought to shift the debate to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was thought more hospitable to protecting innovation through bio-prospecting (Raustiala & Victor, 2004 ). Forum shopping, however, has not always worked out as intended for the United States, as demonstrated by the limited, technical ruling by the WTO on the EU’s ban on genetically modified organisms (the United States had sought redress through the WTO rather than the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which was seen by the United States as an unfavorable venue for its interests) (Lieberman & Gray, 2008 ). (In 2010 , in a move to support developing countries’ interests, 193 countries adopted the Nagoya Protocol to the CBD to enshrine equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources. The United States, since it has not ratified the CBD, is also not a party to the Nagoya Protocol).

Power, as defined by the size of a country’s military or economy does not always determine influence. States that are needed to be part of the solution are able to extract bargaining leverage in international negotiations. Thus, if rainforest protection is the problem, heavily forested states like Brazil are able to exercise influence and secure better bargains because the problem cannot be resolved without them. Similarly, big emerging emitters like China and India have influence in the climate change arena by virtue of the absolute size of their greenhouse gas emissions (Busby, 2006 ; Mitchell, 2010 ).

While situation structure and the relative distribution of interests and influence are important in understanding regime design, scholars of public goods in economics like Todd Sandler have offered a more comprehensive analysis of why some problems are harder than others. He notes the traditional distinction between pure public goods (goods that are non-rival and non-excludable), for which the risks of under-provision and free-riding behavior are salient, and a variety of impure public goods, for which there are partial private incentives for provision. For pure public goods like clean air, the good, once provided, is freely available to all. Each person’s enjoyment of the good is non-rival: my enjoyment of clean air does not detract from your ability to enjoy the same good. At the same time, it is very difficult in practice to exclude people from receiving the good once provided. As a consequence, the prospect of free receipt of a good incentivizes free-riding behavior. Each actor waits for the other to provide the good, leading to collective under-provision of pure public goods. Issues like climate change and the ozone hole constitute pure public goods, but, for reasons discussed below, are subject to different collective action problems. Not all goods are pure public goods. Some goods are non-rival but excludable. Tolls and pricing can succeed in creating more private incentives for provision of these goods.

Other goods, like common pool resources, are rival but non-excludable (Sandler, 1992 , 2001 , 2004 ). Because common pool resources are characterized by scarcity, they lend themselves to severe distributional battles, giving actors that place less value either on the environment or the future more bargaining power. Barkin and Shambaugh note how developing countries had to be compensated to induce their participation in the ozone regime, as they otherwise would not have prioritized phasing out of CFCs. In addition to such compensation mechanisms, they suggest that those with market power, such as the United States or its consumers, might be able to discipline users of common pool resources, such as requiring all tankers entering its ports to have double hulls, or by refusing to buy fish caught in driftnets (Barkin & Shambaugh, 1996 ).

Sandler and others have identified additional characteristics that can affect problem resolution. The technology of aggregation is a third important feature and reflects the way in which individual contributions of the public good aggregate. Many issues are subject to so-called summation aggregation. Each person’s actions, say to reduce a ton of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, are functionally equivalent. However, for some problems, the actor that develops the public good ends up providing it for the entire system once the breakthrough is made. These are best or better shot efforts. Examples include vaccine development or perhaps the next innovation in clean energy technology. Best/better shot technologies require some coordination about who will lead the effort. While some duplication of activity may be useful to spur competition, extra effort merely wastes resources. Another example is so-called weakest link goods. Here, the level of activity by the weakest member, as in airport security or pandemic outbreaks, determines the amount of public good. Other goods are only provided if a certain threshold of activity is met. For example, an environmental bureaucracy may need a certain number of staff to be able to provide a minimum of monitoring capability—too few and the government simply does not have enough capacity to offer a minimal amount of expertise. Thus, policy makers have to recognize, in designing their regimes, what kind of technology of aggregation best categorizes the nature of the problem they are facing (Sandler, 1992 , 2001 , 2004 ).

Even here, goods that have very similar attributes in terms of being non-rival, non-excludable, and with similar technologies of aggregation may differ because of other problem attributes. Sandler notes that ozone depletion and climate change are both pure public goods problems with similar summation technologies of aggregation. However, the ozone hole ultimately was much easier to resolve given much more clarity about the net cost-benefit ratio of dealing with ozone compared to climate change. Ozone-depleting technologies were, unlike hydrocarbons, much less central to the economy and controlled largely by a few producers that were already developing substitutes (Barrett, 2007 , chap. 3; Sandler, 2004 , chap. 10). For his part, the lead negotiator for the U.S. delegation on ozone, Richard Benedick, suggested the degree of certainty in the ozone space has been overstated (Benedick, 2001 ).

Regime Structure

While the nature of the problem has an important role in shaping the prospects for cooperation, the structure of the regime, including its rules for membership, monitoring, and enforcement has significant influence on effectiveness. For scholars who have a spare, utilitarian notion of state interests, the emphasis is on getting the rules and the structure of the regime to be incentive compatible. Incentive compatibility implies that a mutually beneficial cooperative outcome of pollution abatement would be self-enforcing. Given the costs and benefits facing the various players, none could do better by deviating from the cooperative outcome.

Barrett applies these insights to evaluate various international environmental initiatives. He recounts how the early 20th century agreement to control Arctic seal hunting successfully aligned the incentives of states to participate by providing recalcitrant countries like Japan with side payments. In areas with larger numbers of players, Barrett notes that success is possible (as demonstrated by the ozone regime) but more challenging. In such instances, there is often a trade-off between breadth and depth, making it harder to sustain deeper cooperation the more players involved. Thus, the Framework Convention on climate change is almost universal in its membership but has no binding commitments (Barrett, 2003 , pp. 302–303).

Similarly, Oye and Maxwell note that this process of incentive compatibility is not just about aligning the incentives of states with broader collective purposes but also about those of important private actors. If politically powerful, private actors will bear most of the costs of environmental protection, there may be a need to provide them with selective benefits to buy off their opposition. A new regime has the potential to lock in benefits for existing firms by limiting competition and creating a cartel-like situation. Thus, in the ozone regime, the regulations phasing out CFCs provided companies like Dupont, which had already developed substitutes, a ready market for their new products (Oye & Maxwell, 1994 ). Similarly, we can see the decision under the emerging greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes to grandfather rather than auction permits to existing firms as another way to overcome private opposition for collective benefit.

A 2001 special issue of International Organization brought the principles of rational design into relief, focusing on how regimes resolve problems differently. The aim was more descriptive than policy-oriented or diagnostic. Among the dimensions focused on are distribution problems, enforcement, the number of actors and asymmetries between them, and a variety of kinds of uncertainty (about the world, about behavior, and about other actors) (Koremenos, Lipson, & Snidal, 2001 , p. 773).

Others have focused on these kinds of attributes in a more diagnostic sort of way, examining the problem-solving capacity of environmental regimes. In Underal’s view, this capacity is a function of the institutional setting (the rules of the game), the distribution of power, and some metric of political skill. Like Barrett’s focus on voting rules and Koremenos et al.’s special issue emphasis on membership, Underdal underscores, in particular, the problems wrought by consensus-based negotiations in being able to resolve collective action problems (Underdal, 2002 ). The difficulty of getting a meaningful international climate treaty with 190 participant nations using consensus-based rules is a case in point.

Other scholars have focused on different dimensions, such as the monitoring and enforcement capacity of different regimes. Ronald Mitchell’s study on oil tanker pollution explored the differential effectiveness of two approaches to reducing discharges of oil from ships. He found that the ease of monitoring whether ships had adopted certain technological standards (namely, double hulls and segregated ballast tanks) was more effective than discharge limits within the vicinity of shore. Because the latter was almost impossible or too expensive to monitor, such rules, while potentially cheaper, were much less effective in changing ship behavior. Because states could determine from the ship’s manifest whether or not they had the appropriate equipment, states could deny port entry for ships that lacked the required technology. The more general point was that international environmental regimes have to be closely tailored to fit the nature of the problem, both in terms of robust monitoring and enforcement (Mitchell, 1994 ). Determining the fit between the structure of the regime and the nature of the problem is a theme also explored by Young and co-authors (Young, 2008 ; Young, King, & Schroeder, 2008 ).

Treaty-based legal regimes have come in for their share of criticism as being potentially ineffective mechanisms. Victor and Coben critique the environmental and advocacy community for their preference for quantity-based targets as the appropriate solution for addressing air pollution problems. They suggest that the “herd mentality” underpinning support for this instrument leads to inadequate experimentation and inappropriate solutions for particular problems (Victor & Coben, 2005 ). The support for quantity targets combines with environmental activists’ preference for treaty-based approaches. Raustiala makes the case that nonbinding pledges may permit states to make deeper, more ambitious agreements and potentially achieve more than shallow legal commitments (Raustiala, 2005 , pp. 610–612).

The appropriate kind of legal commitment may be a function of its scale. While the presumption among advocates is that global solutions demand hard legal regimes, the political difficulty of inducing large numbers of players to take on deep, legally binding commitments is so onerous that experimentation may be necessary. What may be appropriate at the national level may not function internationally. Young has noted that the absence of a governing authority internationally has parallels to traditional societies where practice, custom, and stakeholder involvement rather than formal rules allowed for effective problem solving. At the same time, he cautions that the applicability of insights from communal decision making to the international arena can be stretched too far (Young, King, & Schroeder, 2008 ). For example, contra Ostrom’s observations, it is unclear what applicability the self-regulating capability of local communities (like the Chisasibi Cree and fishing rights in James Bay, Canada) has for the international arena in addressing problems of resource exploitation (Ostrom, 1990 , 2000 ).

Beyond the fit and scale of regime structure, scholars have noted that regimes are increasingly embedded, nested, or clustered, or they overlap, forming broader regime complexes, where problems are dealt with by a variety of institutions in interaction (Gehring & Oberthür, 2008 ). The interplay between different institutions can have a great influence on the outcome of policy. Raustiala and Victor’s research on plant genetic resources suggests that the regime and rules to which the issue is ultimately subject become sources of contestation (Raustiala & Victor, 2004 ).

The concept of regime complexes has been extended to other areas, including but not limited to the environment (see special issues of International Organization and Global Governance , with Alter & Meunier, 2009 ; Orsini, Morin, & Young, 2013 ). Keohane and Victor argue that, unlike the ozone regime, the climate regime lacks a central hierarchical institution. The loosely coupled patchwork of organizations that works on climate is a reflection of political divisions between states over what to do about this problem. They and others counsel that advocates of more robust climate action should embrace this diversity as necessary rather than fight a losing effort to impose a top-down legal regime (Busby, 2010a ; Keohane & Victor, 2011 ; Michonski & Levi, 2010 ). A number of scholars have evaluated proposals for minilateral cooperation in so-called climate clubs that provide selective benefits to their members (Eckersley, 2012 ; Falkner, 2016 ; Nordhaus, 2015 ). Matthew Hoffman, for his part, explores the experimentation that has emerged as the climate regime has fragmented, distinguishing between planning, networking, direct action, and oversight (Hoffmann, 2011 ; see also De Búrca, Keohane, & Sabel, 2014 ).

The climate regime will be a fertile ground for continued applications and study, particularly in light of the 2015 Paris Agreement (Busby, 2016 ). Paris gave rise to a new bottom-up regime of country-based climate commitments, so-called National Determined Contributions (NDCs). Alongside, there have been attempts in different forums to address pieces of the problem. The G20 has encouraged states to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon hosted a major climate summit in fall 2014 , out of which a variety of actors pledged to reduce deforestation in the supply chain of production, with palm oil of particular importance. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that contribute to climate change but only stay up in the atmosphere for a short time, have been taken up in the ozone regime. This is a promising area for future research, with the interactive effects of regimes and actors in its early days.

Recognizing that the internal dynamics of international organizations can help or hinder regime effectiveness, scholars have begun looking inside the black box of organizations, deriving insights from theories of bureaucratic politics, organizational culture, and principal-agent approaches, to examine why some particular organizations may be more effective than others. This section reviews the general findings of that literature as well as studies of the environmental performance of particular international organizations.

Organizational and Bureaucratic Politics

Even as scholars have sought to determine whether regimes and organizations are successful in delivering improved environmental outcomes, another literature has emerged to suggest why internal organizational practices, beyond regime design, may impede effectiveness. This literature has largely focused on bureaucratic pathologies and ways in which organizations depart from either their missions or the directives of their political masters (Barnett & Finnemore, 1999 , 2004 ; Hawkins et al., 2006 ). Barnett and Finnemore, for example, argue that bureaucracies tend to develop rules and standard operating procedures to regulate how problems are dealt with and to ensure more efficiency and impartiality of their responses. However, these rules can become straitjackets and lead to a number of problems. Such rules, for example, can become ends rather than means, leading organizations to fetishize rules or processes, whether or not they lead to good outcomes (the ossified climate negotiations of the 2000s are indicative of this kind of problem) (Depledge, 2006 ). In other cases, organizations apply rules and regulations uniformly to diverse settings, whether or not they are appropriate (such has been the critique of the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs). Bureaucracies, they argue, in part because of their technical expertise and corporate cultures, become insulated from outside influences (again, the international financial institutions, largely populated by economists, have been seen as embodying this vice). These are but some of the pathologies to which bureaucracies are susceptible (Barnett & Finnemore, 2004 ).

The next stage of research in this space is more comparative analysis of why some organizations are subject to these poor performance dynamics. As Biermann and Siebenhüner ( 2009 , p. 5) argue, studies that apply theories of bureaucratic politics, particularly principal-agent theory, tend to “assume variation in the type, number, or interest of the principals to an international bureaucracy.” Thus, the assumption is that where you have divided principals, this gives agents some slack to play principals off against each other, giving organizations room to pursue idiosyncratic agendas potentially at odds with public purposes. Biermann and Siebenhüner suggest that many environmental bureaucracies still vary in their influence despite having comparable resources and facing similar dynamics with their principals.

Moreover, they argue that we need to distinguish between international organizations and international bureaucracies. An international organization is more than its bureaucracy and staff. The World Bank, for example, has appointed executive directors from member states who are part of the Bank in terms of its overall organization but are not employees of the Bank bureaucracy. From this bureaucratic perspective, the degree of autonomy of different international environmental bureaucracies has been evaluated, with lower profile bureaucracies like the desertification secretariat exercising more independence to pursue a quasi-advocacy position while others, like the climate change secretariat, are much more constrained by states given the high stakes and political salience of the issue (Biermann & Siebenhüner, 2009 ).

Tana Johnson ( 2014 ) and Sikina Jinnah ( 2014 ) have pursued additional efforts to understand the role of international organizations. Johnson writes that international organizations often have a hand in the formation of new “progeny,” shaping the processes of accountability and monitoring to insulate these new entities from state control. She writes how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was an outgrowth of UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and how their efforts helped usher in a body with a degree of independence from states (Johnson, 2014 ). That said, states have, given the salience of climate change, been reluctant to cede sovereignty over policy.

For her part, Jinnah explores how actors resolve conflicts when international organizations have overlapping mandates. She sees secretariats of international organizations as seeking to manage these overlaps. For example, she writes about how the CITES secretariat sought to manage its relationship and defend its prerogatives with respect to the FAO, where both had authority and expertise on fisheries (Jinnah, 2014 ). This work likely has implications for how to think about regime complexes as structures and international secretariats as actors with agency.

While somewhat atheoretical, assessments of the effectiveness of individual international organizations like UNEP have emerged. Others have focused on international organizations like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO, organizations whose primary mission is not environmental protection. This next sub-section reviews the findings of a few prominent examples.

UNEP/World Environment Organization

From a normative perspective, UNEP has received ample attention and critique. Given impatience over UNEP’s apparent weakness in the face of continued environmental degradation, numerous scholars have evaluated proposals to replace UNEP with a World Environment Organization (WEO). While mostly atheoretical, such debates address the aspirations of the scholarly community to explain and be useful (Biermann & Bauer, 2005 ).

Scholars have assessed UNEP’s financial weakness as well as its relative isolation from donor power and interest by virtue of its location in Nairobi. Proponents see a proposed WEO, to be located in Geneva, New York, Washington, DC, or Paris, as providing a firmer financial base for environmental protection; more sustained interest from powerful states; more centralized information collection, authority, and clout over environmental issues internationally; and, perhaps, more efficient administration (Esty, 2007 ; Esty & Ivanova, 2002 ; Ivanova, 2007 ). Given that many of the most serious environmental problems are occurring in developing countries, critics fault proposals for the WEO as unlikely to be as effective as advocates hope. Najam argues that UNEP has not been as ineffective as critics charge. Given its location, UNEP has been able to engender more trust among developing countries, allowing environmental concerns to gain a foothold. If anything, the problem is not UNEP ineffectiveness but lack of capacity in developing countries and different priorities of developing countries for economic progress over environmental goals (Najam, 2003 ).

As Young concludes, “the virtues of expanding the role of UNEP—much less creating a UNEO or a WEO—as a means of improving coherence and efficiency—are hardly self-evident” (Young, 2008 , p. 17). A similar critique is offered by Oberthür and Gehring, who write that “a WEO providing an umbrella for existing regimes without modifying existing decision making would be largely irrelevant” (Oberthür & Gehring, 2005 , p. 208). While a WEO may be unlikely, some convergence towards more capabilities for UNEP may ultimately gain consensus among both supporters and critics of the WEO concept. As UNEP is currently only a program in the UN system, contingent upon UN general dues and voluntary contributions from members, it lacks the functions of even “specialized agencies,” which, as autonomous bodies, have more scope to raise funds independent of the UN Secretariat in New York (Biermann, 2007 , 2012 ; DeSombre, 2006 , pp. 9–21, 167–170).

The World Bank

Dating back to the 1980s, the long-standing critique of the IMF and the World Bank has been that their structural adjustment programs have imposed on countries an orientation to export-led growth, which has come at a cost to health, education, and environmental protection. With respect to the environment in particular, the critique from Bruce Rich and others was that the Bank financed large infrastructure projects like dams (such as Sardar Sarovar, in India), mines (such as those in Carajas, Brazil), resettlement (Polonoroeste, Brazil), and coal-burning power stations that had a large environmental footprint (Rich, 1994 ). The Bank and other international organizations have sought to address such critics by ramping up their environmental portfolios (and diminishing their ecological footprint), with mixed success (Fox & Brown, 1998 ). The Global Environment Facility, which originated as a pilot project of the Bank in 1991 , before becoming independent, has struggled to gain legitimacy from developing countries and has become a locus of North-South disagreements over spending priorities, the level of resources destined for poor countries, and control of those funds (Fairman, 1996 ). In evaluating the extent to which the Bank has incorporated environmental priorities as part of its broader spending, Hicks, Parks, Roberts, & Tierney ( 2008 ) note that aid for environmental projects by the Bank nearly doubled between the 1980s and 1990s, and that the ratio of “dirty” aid to environmental aid dropped significantly during the time period, as the Bank sought to diminish the environmental footprint of its projects. Nielson and Tierney explain the Bank’s turn to environmental protection, albeit incomplete, as a consequence of a convergence of political imperatives by the Bank’s principals (Nielson & Tierney, 2003 ).

Others, like Tamar Gutner, take issue with this interpretation and suggest that the changes have been more uneven, particularly when one looks at implementation rather than loan volumes (Gutner, 2005b ; for their reply, see Nielson & Tierney, 2005 ). Gutner argues that tension between poverty reduction and environmental protection goals has made it harder for the Bank to implement more robust strategies to green its portfolio (Gutner, 2005a ). Thus, despite implementing an Extractive Industries Review in the early 2000s, the Bank has not supported environmentalists’ aim (or even the final recommendations of the report) of curtailing all support for oil, gas, and mining sectors. The Bank, worried about the loss of influence in middle-income countries, initially retained a lending portfolio supporting coal-burning power plants, for example. In 2013 , however, the Bank changed its policies to limit lending for coal to “rare circumstances.” Still, the Bank under President Jim Kim has struggled to find a new role in addressing transnational threats and global public goods problems such as climate change (Birdsall & MacDonald, 2013 ). While the Bank has supported readiness schemes to support the agenda for forest conservation through Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (so called REDD+), the Green Climate Fund, a new climate finance instrument, established in 2010 , was created as an independent entity.

World Trade Organization

Other organizations, like the WTO, have also been subject to critique by activists and analysis by scholars. The critique of the WTO (and its predecessor regime the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade [GATT]) was vividly embodied by the 1999 Seattle protests. Activists, a number of them dressed as turtles, decried that the vigorous extension of orthodox free trade rules was being perpetuated at a cost to the environment. More specifically, critics cited several key cases as evidence: (a) the 1991 ruling under the GATT that the U.S. ban of tuna exports from Mexico, because of inadequate protection of dolphins, was illegal; (b) a 1996 WTO ruling that the application of the Clean Air Act by the United States unfairly protected U.S. markets against fuel imports from Brazil and Venezuela’s refineries; and (c) the 1998 WTO ruling which overturned the U.S. ban on shrimp imports from countries that did not use turtle excluder devices (Williams, 2001 ).

In response, scholars have evaluated whether the WTO has in fact unambiguously pushed rules that undermined environmental protection. As DeSombre and Barkin note, WTO rulings have actually provided more scope for environmental protection than critics give them credit for. For example, in the shrimp/turtle case, the appellate body to the WTO arbitration panel ruled in 2001 that the United States could impose trade rules protecting turtles so long as the standards imposed were equitable to both U.S. and Mexican producers (DeSombre & Barkin, 2002 ). (The WTO ruling suggested that the so-called regulations governing process and production methods [PPMs] do not violate WTO rules if the country had made a good-faith effort to reach a multilateral agreement, had not imposed the restrictions in an unfair, arbitrary, or discriminatory manner. In the shrimp-turtle case, the United States had not met those requirements [Neumayer, 2004 , p. 2].) Despite this recognition that the WTO is not unequivocally opposed to environmental protection, scholars view the WTO as biased toward keeping its focus narrow, to avoid dealing with environmental issues where possible, despite the inevitable crossover between trade and environmental concerns (Neumayer, 2004 ; Thomas, 2004 ).

The Rise and Role of Non-State Actors

Globalization and growing interdependence have challenged the state-centric approach to global environmental protection. The mutual vulnerability of states to environmental degradation diminishes the capacity of states to resolve environmental problems on their own. While this has given rise to a variety of efforts to institutionalize environmental regimes to deal with these problems, non-state actors have increasingly sought to exercise influence by injecting their concerns into the policy agenda (Biermann & Dingwerth, 2004 ).

The end of the Cold War led to some tantalizing portents of transformative change in the international system, a move from concerns about interstate war and nuclear annihilation to other issues, including environmental protection. The 1992 Earth Summit embodied these aspirations. At the same time, observers began to tout the rise of new actors, namely advocacy groups like Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and others that seemingly had the power to shift and shape the priorities of governments. Policy writings expressed such optimistic hopes, notably Jessica Mathews 1997 piece, “Power Shift.” In her piece, Mathews wrote that information technologies were disrupting hierarchies, “lowering the costs of communication, consultation, and coordination,” such that decentralized networks were favored, giving non-state actors and NGO groups the ability to exercise more influence, even if their power would not eclipse those of states (Mathews, 1997 ).

In the academic community, Mathews’ piece was echoed by Paul Wapner. Like Mathews, Wapner foresaw a transformative role for environmental groups in expanding the political sphere beyond the state: “activist organizations are not simply transnational pressure groups, but rather are political actors in their own right” (Wapner, 1996 , p. 312). By disseminating an “ecological sensibility,” environmental groups “sway people” and act as a sort of governance by defining the “boundaries of good conduct” that in turn affects the behavior of individuals, voluntary associations, businesses, and governments (Wapner, 1995 , 1996 , p. 336).

Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s 1998 book Activists Beyond Borders picked up these themes. Though the Internet was only nascent, transnational groups were already taking advantage of the lower costs of transport and communications to foster transnational networks of uncommon influence in a variety of policy arenas. Keck and Sikkink focused mostly on human rights and the environment, which included a comparative analysis of campaigns against tropical deforestation in Brazil and Malaysia. Keck and Sikkink’s work focused primarily on advocacy movements in developing countries and how, when faced with local state intransigence to their demands for protection of human rights or environmental enforcement, these campaigns might enlist the support of global partners to pressure their home governments. These outside-in processes were aptly titled the boomerang model and the spiral model (Keck & Sikkink, 1998 ; Risse, Ropp, & Sikkink, 1999 ). Seizing on a variety of mechanisms (information, symbols, leverage, and accountability), NGOs sought to exert influence on state behavior (Keck & Sikkink, 1998 ). This subsection examines several mechanisms of influence of NGOs and other non-state actors, focusing on information and framing with a final discussion assessing coercion and the relative influence of non-state actors and advocacy campaigns in particular.


The informational focus has been illuminated by a number of authors. Peter Haas, in his 1989 work on environmental protection in the Mediterranean, emphasized the role of so-called epistemic communities , technical experts whose specific subject knowledge gives them influence in shaping the agenda (Haas, 1989 , 1992 ). Edward Parson’s research on the ozone hole plays with this formulation. In this case, it was not the increase in scientific knowledge that allowed scientists to influence policy. Rather, he argues that scientific evidence provided a focal point only when it was presented in an authoritative manner in landmark studies. This, in turn, narrowed the bargaining space of acceptable outcomes and facilitated the education of participants as to the possibilities for alternatives to then-current technologies (Parson, 1993 , 2003 ). Karen Litfin, among others, expanded this line of research by focusing more on the symbolic politics and the dynamics of discourse and argumentation that allowed scientific information on the threat of the ozone hole to be translated by policy makers, activists, and scientists into political power. She argued that scientific knowledge is not cleanly transformed into political power but entails contested discursive claims over meaning. The success of the ozone regime was as much, if not more, a product of the victory of a particular discourse over others, namely that of a precautionary approach to environmental harm (Litfin, 1994 , 1995 ). (The precautionary principle is the idea that the world should take action before environmental consequences become too severe).

As Litfin noted, the effort to frame ozone depletion in precautionary terms was meant to have broader applicability to other problems, namely climate change. Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has not been able to exercise a comparable degree of success in the political arena, at least in the United States. This observation raises broader questions about the scope and generalizability of epistemic arguments, both those by Haas and Parson and more sweeping arguments like Litfin’s. Under what conditions can scientists exercise influence on environmental problems? Why did the precautionary approach to climate change fail to resonate in countries like the United States? Is the differential success of scientists in the ozone arena compared to climate change a function of differences in the degree of scientific certainty or the nature of the problem themselves? Mitchell, Clark, and Cash emphasize the relations between the scientific information and the audience and suggest that scientific influence is contingent upon the information being salient, credible, and legitimate (Mitchell, Clark, & Cash, 2006 ). However, this discussion begs the question of how scientific findings can be regarded as credible or authoritative by some audiences and not others (the IPCC reports enjoy broad global legitimacy, but are vigorously contested by some audiences, namely Republicans in the United States) (for a discussion of similar issues, see Lidskog & Sundqvist, 2014 ).

Academic interest in the rhetorical and discursive dimensions of advocacy or framing has expanded dramatically. Much of this work has been written about human rights issues, but some has focused on environmental issues. For example, Michelle Betsill tracked the rhetorical changes in argumentation by campaigners in the climate arena, suggesting that climate campaigners shifted tactics over time to stress solutions-oriented efficiency arguments as their initial climate crisis frame seemed to run out of steam (Betsill, 2000 ). (Another account of non-state actor influence on the climate arena is provided by Newell, 2000 .) Joshua Busby examined similar terrain suggesting that the climate crisis frame has retained more dominance among environmental campaigners and was tied to solutions that were politically unpalatable to influential interest groups that were able to exercise effective veto power in countries like the United States (Busby, 2004 , 2008a ; Busby & Ochs, 2004 ).

Jennifer Hadden provides updated analysis of NGO advocacy in the climate arena in the 2000s and 2010s, focusing on network structure. As the climate movement has matured, the landscape of NGO organizations has become more complex, with the entry of new actors from other spheres such as international development, and many with a more radical critique of climate policy based on concerns about global justice. As a consequence, the movement in the lead up to the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations became more divided with few brokers between rival networks, one moderate and technocratic, and the other more radical, focused on climate justice (Hadden, 2015 ).

Coercion and Influence

Authors have explored the limits and nature of NGO influence. Keck and Sikkink suggested that NGO influence is greatest at the beginning of the policy process, at the agenda-setting stage, with their influence the weakest when it comes to implementation and enforcement (Keck & Sikkink, 1998 ). Nevertheless, as Betsill and Corell wrote, the field has failed to specify carefully what constitutes NGO influence and what kinds of evidence would demonstrate that NGOs affected outcomes. As they note, there are ample signs of NGO activity, but documenting and demonstrating that their actions changed what would have happened in the absence of their activity is a taller order. Focused narrowly on international environmental negotiations, Betsill and Corell, like the epistemic community discussion, focus on information transmission as the primary area of influence of NGOs (Corell & Betsill, 2001 ). While this work has advanced a methodology for tracing NGO influence, it begs the larger question that has bedeviled the literature on epistemic communities and advocacy movements: Under what conditions is advocacy successful? As Richard Price notes, the next generation of this kind of research needs to answer: “why do some campaigns succeed in some places but fail in others?” (Price, 2003 , p. 586).

Some work has explored this question by looking at other mechanisms of influence beyond information and framing, namely shaming, direct enforcement, and efforts to transform markets. Shaming involves attempts to hold actors accountable for failing to live up to their commitments. Murdie and Urpelainen suggest that environmental NGOs in their shaming attempts target countries that lack robust possibilities for domestic advocacy or national enforcement (Murdie & Urpelainen, 2014 ). While there is a literature on shaming effectiveness in the human rights arena, whether shaming works to address bad environmental behavior is understudied, though there have been attempts to examine whether social movement actions affect stock price returns (King & Soule, 2007 ).

Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Bondaroff discuss a different strategy of protest, where non-state actors like the Sea Shepherd Society have begun to take enforcement into their own hands by disrupting the whaling and fishing practices of environmental malefactors. They suggest this strategic market-based civil disobedience is more likely to be successful when activists target clear law-breaking behavior rather than environmental action that is merely normatively undesirable.

Finally, some scholars have explored the conditions under which social movements are able to transform markets, through a mix of strategies including protest and direct involvement in organizing the market. Kapstein and Busby make a structural argument for when such attempts are likely to be successful. Comparing the AIDS and climate arenas, they argue that climate activists face higher barriers namely because the fragmented markets pose more barriers to collective action (Kapstein & Busby, 2016 ). This emphasis on markets has been picked up in other studies that focus on so-called private governance.

From Government to Governance: Private and Hybrid Models

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, environmentalists periodically demonstrated their capability to use consumer boycotts to damage corporate reputations and shame them in to changing their behavior. Exxon was affected by a loss of sales in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 . In the 1990s, Home Depot found itself the target of forest conservation campaigns. In 1995 , Shell was twice the intended target of such campaigns, first when it sought to dispose of an offshore oil rig in the North Sea by dismantling it in situ, and a second time when it was implicated in Nigeria’s efforts to repress dissident environmental activists in the Niger Delta. These and other consumer efforts led Wapner to suggest that emergent environmental sensibilities among civil society had the capacity to inspire transformational change (Wapner, 1996 , p. 312).

Since those early efforts by advocates to use market pressure to shame corporations (and subsequent scholarly efforts to describe such tactics), these processes have evolved from a pure adversarial boycott model of civil society-corporate interaction. Non-governmental actors, in concert with corporations, governments, and international organizations have established new standard-setting bodies to guide and regulate behavior. Scholars have begun to document the rise of these new forms of private governance and hybridized public-private governance as a means of promoting environmental protection (These mechanisms have parallels with Ostrom’s examples of common pool resource management regimes, where private actors contract with a third party enforcer to monitor and enforce agreements [Ostrom, 1990 ].) Examples include ISO regulations, the World Commission on Dams, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Chicago Climate Exchange.

Transnational environmental governance extends beyond NGO-private sector collaboration and public-private efforts. Provinces and sub-national units of government have begun to coordinate across borders on global environmental problems. For example, a number of eastern states of the United States have collaborated on a regional initiative to address climate change. In other cases, cities in different countries have begun working together on energy efficiency, climate change, and other problems of common concern (Betsill & Bulkeley, 2004 , 2006 ). Furthermore, sub-national units of government (like the state of California) have engaged national actors of other governments (like the United Kingdom). Andonova, Betsill, and Bulkeley created a typology of these diverse approaches, differentiating them by function (information-sharing, capacity-building and implementation, and rule setting) and by type of actor (public, hybrid, and private) (Andonova, Betsill, & Bulkeley, 2009 ; for a similar typology based on sources of authority [public, hybrid, private] and mode of authority [hierarchical, market, networks], see Pattberg & Stipple, 2008 ).

While much academic work on this topic is taxonomic and descriptive, increasingly scholars are seeking to explain what makes such regulatory models both attractive and potentially influential. This subsection discusses three issues: the emergence and function of these approaches, their legitimacy, and their effects.

Emergence and Function

Bartley analyzes the emergence of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a forest certification scheme designed to ensure that corporations source wood products from sustainably managed timber sources. While partly a functional adaptation to market conditions, he describes it as a “political construction of market institutions.” This emergent organizational form, he suggests, is also a consequence of political contestation between advocates and corporations, a negotiated or compromised settlement to otherwise bruising political battles (Bartley, 2007a , p. 299). Such certification schemes may also be popular as a means of overcoming ineffective intergovernmental processes of treaty negotiation, like the 1992 Earth Summit, where a forest compact was inconclusive. Similarly, we can view the attempts by cities and regions to collaborate transnationally on climate change as a consequence of failed inter-state negotiations (Betsill & Bulkeley, 2004 , 2006 ).

Dingwerth and Pattberg suggest that the emerging organizational form of transnational rule making appears to have specific norms, like stakeholder participation, that have led to a certain isomorphism among institutions. Actors have modeled new efforts on the way other issues have been dealt with. For example, the Marine Stewardship Council, modeled on the FSC, seeks to enlist private firms like Unilever and Walmart in enhancing the sustainability of their purchase of frozen fish (Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2009 ).

Elsewhere, Bartley writes of the important role played by foundations in helping create the organizational field of forest certification (Bartley, 2007b ). This particular regime has been the source of much scholarship, as research has sought to understand the limits of private governance both in terms of effectively addressing environmental problems and effectively representing the views of diverse stakeholders. Pattberg suggests that the FSC has served three primary functions: (a) help facilitate a solution to a complex problem, (b) broker knowledge and norms across a variety of stakeholders, and (c) provide a continuous learning network both within the organization as well as among other stakeholders (Pattberg, 2005 ).

Jessica Green writes about the conditions under which private governance emerges. She distinguishes between delegated and entrepreneurial models of private governance. In areas of delegated private governance, governmental actors deliberately entrust responsibilities to a private actor, such as the wildlife regime where the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC work hand in hand with the CITES secretariat. In areas where states have failed to set policy, private actors may fill a gap, as they have in forest certification with the FSC (Green, 2013 ).

Whether or not these new regimes are legitimate is another area of emphasis. While many of the emergent institutions have adopted a discourse of participation and structures to facilitate representation of diverse stakeholders, in practice a number of inequalities may undermine the long-run perception of these institutions. For example, Dingwerth focuses on the underrepresentation of certain continents in FSC decision making despite efforts to include more developing countries (Dingwerth, 2008 ). The World Commission on Dams (WCD) is also an interesting case. The WCD, initiated in 1998 , sought to overcome the polarized debates between activists and dam-builders by bringing them together with governments to talk about the informal rules for future dam construction. As Dingwerth notes, the rules for stakeholder participation only partially brought in the concerns of affected populations, with some groups, like women, consistently under-represented (Dingwerth, 2005 ).

Cashore, for his part, writes about how “non-state market-driven” governance systems like the FSC potentially gain legitimacy in different ways. He suggests that the FSC potentially delivers pragmatic legitimacy by helping firms achieve their self-interest, moral legitimacy to the extent that environmental audiences believe the FSC and programs like it are doing the right thing, and a culturally informed cognitive legitimacy that these organizations accrue as they become taken for granted (Cashore, 2002 ).

The applicability of private environmental rule making in the developing world has been another critique of such new models of private governance. Clapp, in reviewing ISO 14000 standards, suggests that they may do little to draw in firms from developing countries to enact more rigorous environmental standards. (ISO 14000 standards, which emerged out of the 1992 Earth Summit, are environmental management standards that firms adopt to improve the ecological impact of their operations. As a voluntary code of conduct of corporate responsibility, such standards may ward off stiffer and less flexible governmental regulation, and firms seeking certification under ISO standards may obtain reputational benefits of being perceived as green.) In Clapp’s view, the specific worry for developing countries is that the standards were largely a product of advanced, industrialized countries and firms. Moreover, if clean technology is the main barrier in developing country implementation of enhanced environmental standards, it is unclear whether ISO 14000 will facilitate technology transfer (Clapp, 1998 ).

Until inter-governmental initiatives become easier to enact, or models of private governance prove wanting, such hybrid models are likely to proliferate. Because so many of these private initiatives are new, it is too soon to evaluate their ultimate environmental impact. Cashore, Auld, and Newsom explore early variation in support for FSC certification in different national contexts based on the structural characteristics of countries in the global economy, its forestry sector, and the history of forest policy in the country (Cashore, Auld, & Newsom, 2004 ). Potoski and Prakash, in their assessment of ISO standards implemented by U.S. firms, conclude that the reputational benefits have induced firms to make costly commitments to clean up their operations (Potoski & Prakash, 2005 ).

Dingwerth and Pattberg provide a typology of the kinds of effects that different voluntary private regimes aim to have, including discursive, normative, regulatory, and material effects. They suggest that these effects generally fall into two classes— incentive-based and norms-based . For example, the FSC has sought primarily to alter the material incentives of wood-products firms, while the WCD impetus was primarily to develop acceptable standards for the dam arena and is thus sustained more by a logic of appropriateness. A third effort, the Global Reporting Initiative, designed to enhance the sustainability of corporations, sought to shape both what corporations should do and what they feel compelled to do to compete in the global economy.

Their preliminary analysis suggests that the material consequences of these various regimes have been modest, but that the discursive and normative effects on how actors talk about the problems and what is considered appropriate behavior have changed (Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2007 ). For example, Sasser and colleagues emphasize the limited impact of the FSC on American wood-products firms, which have sought to create a rival organization, due to their distrust and hostility towards environmental organizations (Sasser, Prakash, Cashore, & Auld, 2006 ). With respect to the WCD, with large-scale dam building largely out of favor anyway, it was initially hard to judge the independent impact of the WCD. Dam projects have subsequently come back into vogue in a number of developing countries, suggesting a limited lasting effect. Similarly, Betsill and Bulkeley find that the effort to facilitate transnational municipal cooperation on climate change has had uneven and limited effects on cities, taking root more in cities that already had high interest in the problem (Betsill & Bulkeley, 2004 , 2006 ).

Viewed skeptically, one could see all these efforts as likely ineffectual (or insufficiently scalable) in the absence of more rigorous enforcement of standards by governments. That said, if robust international inter-governmental regimes are themselves unlikely, it is perhaps unfair to compare regimes of private and hybrid models of transnational environmental governance that exist with an imaginary world that is unlikely to come into being.

Going forward, both the research and policy agenda for critical environmental issues is likely to revolve around whether key states responsible for problems are willing and able to address their actions. The comparative turn in global environmental policy, particularly in climate policy, has begun to receive some attention. That necessarily leads to an examination of state capacity, bureaucratic politics, domestic interest groups, and the ideational traditions in different countries (Harrison & Sundstrom, 2007 ; see the special issue of Global Environmental Politics , with contributions by Purdon, 2015 , among others).

The literature on global environmental governance is vast. A variety of taxonomies describe the emergent field of regimes, institutions, secretariats, public-private partnerships, certification bodies, funds, non-state actors, and the like. Whether these disparate efforts have improved environmental outcomes remains a subject of serious contestation.

Environmental standards on air quality and forest cover have improved in the past half-century in much of the advanced industrialized world. On the global level, the ozone regime has managed to phase down the production of damaging chemicals with such speed that recovery of the ozone layer is possible by 2050 . However, other efforts have thus far failed. Scientific reports of fisheries continue to forecast dire scenarios for sharks, tuna, and many other marine species. A deadly fungus, linked to climate change, appears to be killing off frog populations around the planet. Coral reefs and polar bears appear headed for extinction.

At the same time, rising living standards, particularly in rapidly growing countries in Asia, have dramatically increased demand for fuel, wood products, wildlife products, meat, and water, putting a tremendous demand on local resources and ecosystems as well as contributing to global public bads, including but not limited to greenhouse gases. At the same time, persistent poverty and governance problems in tropical countries, particularly in Africa, have put at risk some of the most biodiverse places on the planet. While communism proved deeply damaging to the environment in the 20th century , the patterns of consumption fostered by modern capitalism in the 21st may ultimately prove antithetical to environmental protection in a world with 9 billion people. Scholars recognize that richer countries are ultimately better able and willing to protect their environments, but many of the world’s natural areas will be irrevocably altered unless economic growth can be further delinked from resource consumption in the coming decades.

Attention and concern about environmental issues has always has been episodic (Downs, 1972 ). Whether many of these problems are successfully dealt with (or their worst effects minimized) likely depends on mass mobilization of concerned citizens. The imprint of human activity on the planet is such that some scientists believe that we have entered a new geologic age, the Anthropocene, an age, with its plastics, that will be observable in the archeological records years from now. The Anthropocene, as Paul Wapner has written, raises fundamental questions about the separation between humanity and nature, and whether classic notions of leaving nature to be wild and untouched are realistic or tenable (Wapner, 2014 ). The awareness of the global reach of human influence on the natural world has led to a renewed impetus for more ambitious global environmental governance for the Anthropocene (Biermann, 2014a , 2014b ).

Scholars of environmental governance have always had a strong normative bent. In a world with potentially even more intense environmental pressures, the next generation of scholarship will be challenged not only to describe the emergent responses but also to develop more complete explanations that account for why some efforts succeed and some fail. If we are lucky, some scholars may even contribute to better policy design, so that the life-sustaining functions of the planet are maintained.

Links to Digital Materials

International organizations.

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • Global Environment Facility (GEF).
  • Green Climate Fund (GCF).
  • International Energy Agency (IEA).
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Ozone Secretariat (UNEP).
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • World Bank , environment links.
  • World Trade Organization , trade and environment links.

Scientific Information

  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment .
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Advocacy Organizations and Think Tanks

  • Climate Action Network .
  • Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).
  • Council on Foreign Relations , energy and environment.
  • Environmental Defense Fund .
  • Friends of the Earth .
  • Greenpeace .
  • Nature Conservancy .
  • Natural Resources Defense Council .
  • Resources for the Future .
  • World Resources Institute .
  • World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Public–Private Governance

  • Forest Stewardship Council .
  • International Organizations for Standardization , IS0 14000 environmental standards.
  • Marine Stewardship Council .
  • New York Declaration on Forests .
  • United Nations Global Compact .
  • World Commission on Dams , International Rivers.

Academic Links

  • Science, Technology and Environmental Politics Section , American Political Science Association (APSA).
  • Center for International Earth Science Information Network , (CIESIN), Columbia University.
  • Earth Negotiations Bulletin .
  • Earth System Governance project.
  • Environmental Performance Index .
  • Environmental Studies Section , International Studies Association (ISA)
  • International Environmental Agreements Database .
  • Global Environmental Governance Project , Center for Governance and Sustainability.
  • Global Environmental Politics journal.
  • Global Governance journal.
  • MIT Press, Environmental Politics and Policy .
  • Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center , Columbia University.

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When non-materiality is material: impact of esg emphasis on firm value.

In recent years, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have emerged as a controversial topic among various firm stakeholders. Increasingly, top executives face a dilemma: How can they address investor demand for emphasizing ESG when studies often show no incremental returns to ESG investing? Wharton professor Serguei Netessine and co-authors Sonam Singh, Ashwin V. Malshe, and Yakov Bart propose a conceptual framework to examine the impacts of emphasizing nonmaterial and material ESG factors on firm value.

Do Consumers Care About ESG? Evidence from Barcode-Level Sales Data

Using granular barcode-level sales data from retail stores, Wharton professor Jean-Marie Meier and co-authors Henri Servaes, Jiaying Wei, and Steven Chong Xiao show that environmental and social (E&S) ratings are positively related to local sales, especially in counties with more Democratic-leaning and higher-income households. The study provides direct evidence that E&S activities affect consumer demand–the cash flow channel of ESG.

A New Way of Seeing Value: Introducing the Engine No. 1 Total Value Framework

Investors shouldn’t have to choose between a portfolio’s long-term financial return and its positive global impact. Enter: The Engine No. 1 Total Value Framework, which directly ties environmental, social, and governance impacts to financial value creation. Co-authored by Witold J. Henisz, Vice Dean and Faculty Director of the ESG Initiative, this white paper takes a data-driven approach that integrates non-traditional but financially material ESG data, methods, and systems into traditional analysis.

Determinants of Portfolio ESG Performance: An Attribution Framework

A new study, published in the J ournal of Portfolio Management, shows how a portfolio’s ESG performance can be attributed to both underlying firms’ ESG performance and the portfolio weighting strategy of the portfolio manager. When applied to the portfolios of U.S. public pensions, James J . Li, the author and Wharton doctoral student, shows that pensions’ positive average ESG performance over the last decade is mainly due to their underlying holdings improving their ESG scores over this period and not from portfolio weight changes.

How Municipal ESG Performance Can Signal Lower Credit Costs

A July 2023 working paper sponsored by Calvert and conducted by Witold J. Henisz and Christopher C. Bruno at the Wharton ESG Initiative, titled “Environmental, Social, and Governance Factors and Municipal Bond Yields,” finds that better ESG performance by municipalities can be associated with reduced credit risk. Additionally, the research suggests that good ESG policies linked to community ESG performance outcomes can provide long-term benefits to business growth, migration, and the tax base, while possibly reducing racial inequities.

Retail Investors and ESG News

A new study co-authored by Christina Zhu, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Wharton School, shows that retail investors care about firms’ ESG-related activities, but only to the extent they are financially material for company performance. They focus on news-relevant events, showing that ESG news appears to be an important component of retail investors’ portfolio allocation decisions. 

Walking the Talk: Valuing a Multi-Stakeholder Strategy

A new study, published by FCLTGlobal and ESG-I, analyzes the annual reports of over 3,000 global companies to look for stakeholder-oriented language, and compares the presence of that language with financial, environmental, social, and governance outcomes. The data shows that if all the companies in the study performed like the top tercile, they would have generated a collective $2.9 trillion in additional firm value between 2010-2020.

Where Do Brown Companies Borrow From?

Using a structural model of credit risk, Wharton doctoral students Sergey Sarkisyan and Irina Luneva show that for low-ESG-rated firms, it is less expensive to borrow from banks than from public market compared to high-ESG-rated firms. They conclude that both loan and bond markets offer higher costs of debt to brown firms, but the bond market’s “punishment” is higher than the loan market’s.

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Major banks in the United States and globally have begun to assert an active role in the transition to a low-carbon economy and the reduction of climate risk through private environmental and climate governance. This Essay by Sarah E. Light, Associate Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics and her coauthor, Christina P. Skinner, situates these actions within historical and economic contexts: It explains how the legal foundations of banks’ sense of social purpose intersect with their economic incentives to finance major structural transitions in society. In doing so, this Essay sheds light on the reasons why we can expect banks to be at the center of this contemporary transition.

Formative Experiences and the Price of Gasoline

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Inclusive Insurance for Climate-Related Disasters

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Does Employing Skilled Immigrants Enhance Competitive Performance? Evidence from European Football Clubs

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Emerging Trends in Institutional Social Responsibility

This report reveals widespread adoption of CSR and ESG practices among a diverse range of large U.S. for-profit and nonprofit organizations, though with critical gaps remaining in areas such as environmental responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion. The report demonstrates that the path ahead is filled with complex obstacles but also immense potential for corporate innovation and positive impact.

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Socially Responsible Investing in Good and Bad Times

Co-authored by Amir Yaron of The Wharton School, this article investigates the time variability of abnormal returns from socially responsible investing (SRI) and finds that highly rated SRI stocks outperform lowly rated SRI stocks during good economic times, but underperform during bad times, such as recessions.

The People Factor: How Investing in Employees Pays Off

New research from FCLTGlobal, CPP Investments Insights Institute, and the ESG Initiative at the Wharton School shows there can be a payoff for employers that back up employee-centric talk with investments in their workforce, but it requires a thoughtful approach that includes effective communication to investors and multiple investment levers.

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Cpa-guide to corporate political spending.

Prepared by The Center for Political Accountability in collaboration with senior executives at companies that are CPA-Zicklin Index Trendsetters, the purpose of the Guide is to help safeguard companies as they make political spending decisions in today’s charged environment. It lays out the risks and challenges that management and boards face in establishing political spending policies, making spending decisions, conducting due diligence, and meeting the expectations of stakeholders.

CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability

The CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability depicts a strong and growing trend among S&P 500 companies that are placing restrictions on political spending, devising clear policies to govern such spending, and enhancing board oversight of public company engagement in the political process.

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Wharton Professors Mary-Hunter “Mae” McDonnell and Samir Nurmohamed review sociological and macro-organizational work that suggests punitive severity can vary with three key attributes of the organization: status, reputation, and embedded ties.

Zicklin Bright Index

The Zicklin Bright Index (ZBI) is a ranking established in 2023 that seeks to classify companies demonstrating notable human rights awareness into tiers. Researchers evaluate corporations in a specific region based on their publicly available information, self-disclosure, and gross revenue. Importantly, the ZBI does not measure direct human rights performance but rather emphasizes transparency and disclosure practices as fundamental social goods.

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research on environmental governance

Almost 30% of Americans Say College Not Worth It in Pew Poll

By Daniel Neligh

Close to 30% of Americans said a college degree isn’t worth it in a survey from Pew Research Center that highlights the drag soaring costs have had on views about higher education in recent decades in the country.

Almost half of US adults in the report think college is worth the cost — but only as long as they don’t need to take out a loan. Only 22% of respondents said a college degree is worth it even with student debt.

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Four in 10 Americans said having a four-year degree is not too or not at all important to ...

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  6. (PDF) Environmental Governance

    research on environmental governance


  1. Environmental Governance #creative picture tutorial #photography Grand Prize #edit #foryou #ytshorts

  2. Environmental, Social and Governance ESG Overview and Framework

  3. A Brief Overview on Challenges of Environmental Governance and Solutions

  4. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG): A 2-Minute Introduction

  5. Navigating the ESG Reporting Frameworks and Global Trends

  6. The Future of Global Environmental Governance (Int'l Env'l Politics Course: Lecture 19)


  1. Perspectives in global environmental governance

    With the increasing complexities in environmental governance studies, there is a call for emphasis on interdisciplinary research that scholars investigate scientific, behavioral, social, and political factors believed to shape governance models and regimes (Rodela & Gerger Swartling, 2019).Articles published in this special issue discuss the global environmental governance from various ...

  2. Full article: Rethinking strategy in environmental governance

    His research explores the potentials and limitations of environmental policy and planning in the perspective of adaptive governance and sustainability. It focuses on innovation and evolution in governance, paying attention to the dynamics of policy implementation and integration, multi-level governance, stakeholder involvement, and the ...

  3. (PDF) Environmental Governance

    E NVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE. Maria Carmen Lemos and Arun Agrawal. School of Natural Resources and En vironment, University of Mic higan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109; email: [email protected], arunagra ...

  4. Environmental Policy and Governance

    Environmental Policy and Governance is an environmental politics journal publishing interdisciplinary environmental research to support novel solutions in environmental governance and policy issues. We welcome studies in diverse developmental and environmental contexts conducted at local to global scales.

  5. Environmental governance: A practical framework to guide design

    3.2 Application of the framework for design, evaluation, or analysis. In sum, the novelty of this framework is in the merging of the diversity of governance frameworks and recommended fea-tures into a more comprehensive offering to guide: (1) design, (2) evaluation, and (3) analysis of environmental governance.

  6. From environmental governance to governance for sustainability

    Environmental governance is the "set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes" (Lemos and Agrawal, 2006).It emerged as a response to the growing environmental challenges of depletion of natural resources, loss of commons, declining biodiversity and wildlife, increasing pollution, falling water tables ...

  7. The Society for Conservation Biology

    Abstract. Governance is one of the most important factors for ensuring effective environmental management and conservation actions. Yet, there is still a relative paucity of comprehensive and practicable guidance that can be used to frame the evaluation, design, and analysis of systems of environmental governance.

  8. Linking governance with environmental quality: a global perspective

    Abstract. Sustainable environmental quality is a global concern, and a concrete remedy to overcome this challenge is a policy priority. Therefore, this study delves into the subject and examines ...

  9. PDF Environmental governance

    Environmental Governance comprises the rules, practices, policies and institutions that shape how humans interact with the environment. Good environmental governance takes into account the role of all actors that impact the environment. From governments to NGOs, the private sector and civil society, cooperation is critical to achieving ...

  10. Transparency in global sustainability governance: to what effect?

    Notes on contributors. Aarti Gupta is Professor of Global Environmental Governance at the Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Her research focuses on global environmental and climate politics, with a focus on transparency, accountability and the role of knowledge in governance.

  11. Does stakeholder participation improve environmental governance

    In a scientific field as fragmented and heterogeneous as environmental governance research, the systematic cumulation of (existing) knowledge is essential but also particularly challenging (Newig and Rose, 2020). In order to derive robust generalizations, we must examine how participatory processes play out across contexts in comparison to less ...

  12. The Corporate Governance of Environmental Sustainability: A Review and

    The Corporate Governance of Environmental Sustainability: A Review and ...

  13. The development of research on environmental, social, and governance

    ESG is prominently tied to social and governance, and less to the environment. There seems to be a relative deficit of interest in the environmental pillar of ESG research compared to social and governance issues. This is a surprising result, given the public's ever-increasing interest in environment-related issues.

  14. International Organization and Environmental Governance

    As global environmental governance has evolved, the lexicon in academia has changed from talking about transnationalism and interdependence to writing about regimes and, more recently, institutional design and effectiveness. ... Influential research by political scientists that has been more descriptive and/or normative than consciously ...

  15. The Corporate Governance of Environmental Sustainability: A Review and

    The Corporate Governance of Environmental Sustainability: A Review and Proposal for More Integrated Research. ... International corporate governance: A review and future research directions. Journal of International Business Studies, 50: 457-498. Crossref. Google Scholar. Aguilera R. V., Rupp D. E., Williams C. A., Ganapathi J. 2007. Putting ...

  16. Setting a pluralist agenda for water governance: Why power and scale

    Western Water Assessment I Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences I Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA ... Both scale and power have long been themes in water governance research. Yet the relationship between scale mismatches and ...

  17. (PDF) Research on Environmental Governance, Local Government

    Environmental governance has a significant positive direct effect and a positive spatial spillover effect. From the perspective of coefficient, its direct effect is significantly greater than the ...

  18. Research

    A new study, published by FCLTGlobal and ESG-I, analyzes the annual reports of over 3,000 global companies to look for stakeholder-oriented language, and compares the presence of that language with financial, environmental, social, and governance outcomes. The data shows that if all the companies in the study performed like the top tercile ...

  19. Unpacking the complexity of environmental regulatory governance in a

    In environmental governance research, contemporary discussions have moved from the necessity of government intervention to how this intervention can be designed to achieve optimal effectiveness (Veugelers, Citation 2012). The literature has extensively studied the motivations, effectiveness, and respective strengths and weaknesses of each ...

  20. Communication and Deliberation for Environmental Governance

    Environmental governance occurs through and is shaped by communication. We propose a typology of public communication, classifying it by directionality (one-way or two-way) and objective (informational or operational). We then review how communication types influence individuals' cognitive frames, values, and environmental behaviors. Though one-way communication is common, its impact is ...

  21. ENT 5516: Measuring Environmental, Social, and Governance Impact

    Additional full-text, non-journal content includes financial data, books, monographs, major reference works, book digests, conference proceedings, case studies, investment research reports, industry reports, market research reports, country reports, company profiles, SWOT analyses and more.

  22. CJAR

    Stakeholder responses to mandating environmental, social and governance reporting in Hong Kong. Ricky Chung, Lyndie Bayne, Jacqueline Birt. Article 100353 View PDF. ... Research article Open access Audit-firm serving experience heterogeneity and audit knowledge integration: Evidence from the disclosure of key audit matters ...

  23. Full article: New development: Climate consulting and the

    Consultancies in climate governance. Consultancies have long been active players in the climate domain. Large multinational firms, including KPMG, PwC and McKinsey, first established environment advisory arms in the 1990s at a time when global climate initiatives were emerging as a result of growing public concern about climate change (Newell & Paterson, Citation 1998).

  24. Almost 30% of Americans Say College Not Worth It in Pew Poll

    Close to 30% of Americans said a college degree isn't worth it in a survey from Pew Research Center that highlights the drag soaring costs have had on views about higher education in recent decades in the country. Almost half of US adults in the report think college is worth the cost — but only as long as they don't need to take out a ...