This post is the fourth in a seven part series on the state of introductory environmental politics literature. 

International Environmental Politics

Once the environment has been politicized states begin to stake claims, claiming resources and pushing responsibilities. Much of the current framing of environmental politics on the global stage is deeply rooted in our concept of state sovereignty. Sovereignty necessitates control over territory and natural resources, requirements entrenched in our conception of society and state. Proposed solutions to problems of the commons and resource use fit within this sovereignty mindset (Young 1998; Steinberg 1997; Sand 2001; Carothers 2011; Heininen 2010; Nadelmann 1990). Sand, in particular, illustrates the development and prevalence of this state-centered mindset over the past ten years (2011). The division of success between hard agreements—those that are formally binding—and soft agreements—those that suggest without enforcers—is significant. Many pollution policies, such as the Kyoto Protocol, result in widespread agreement, but not necessarily widespread compliance.

A prime example of state decision making being pigeonholed to the most developed states appears in Arctic environmental politics. Arctic resources are nestled outside state territories, with the exception of the Bering Sea divide. Additionally, the global implications of environmental segregation and melting of the Arctic ice affect the global community. Despite the global effects, responsibility—and thus, opportunity—has been sized by the ‘big five’ Arctic nations (Russia, United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark). This serves as an extension of the Politicization of the Environment subfield, where developed states have both higher expectations of global commitment and norm-compliant behavior, but also greater control in decision making (Nadelmann 1990; Downs, Rocke, and Barsoom 1998; Young 1998; Rabe 2000).

I also see connections to the Man-Nature Relationship norm through its assumptions that man holds stewardship over the environment. This norm has become incredibly pervasive in the Western world (Downs, Rocke, and Barsoom 1998; Rosenbaum 2000; Vogel 2000). Yet we must remember that with responsibility, action must be taken multilaterally. There is increasing recognition that while several powerful green states can shape environmental policy direction, one state alone cannot change environmental norms (Sand 2001). This appears to be built on a sense of what is a acceptable to global norms rather than being built on a sense of pragmatism. Ultimately, the reality is a strong liberal-Western lead in international environmental norm creation and policy implementation.

Currently there is an integration of indigenous peoples as both stakeholders and decision makers in global environmental politics. This is moving to address a gap wherein nonstate forces are overlooked as environmental stakeholders. Carothers and Heininen recognize that while indigenous groups have little domestic power, unless they cooperate with the state and ‘take what they can get’ they have little more than swaying or suggestive power (2010; Young 1998). As permanent observers of various institutions, indigenous groups’ capabilities and powers are not shown or discussed. A greater understanding of nonstate groups’ roles in decision making is needed to get a fuller picture of the Arctic. Simultaneously, indigenous group importance goes beyond the Arctic. Many developing states have significant challenges in indigenous rights and development that will need to address to create environmentally and politically sustainable policies (Holden 2016). The conception of environmental politics here is certainly portrayed less of a crisis of biosphere as a crisis of cooperation. Given the non-urgency of soft issues, the authors tend to portray the international community’s path as that of gradual change.

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