American Behavioral Scientist 45(9): 1318-1339, May 2002

"Globalization and the Transformation of Environmental Governance: An Introduction"

David A. Sonnenfeld and Arthur P.J. Mol

© 2002 Sage Publications


In this introduction, the editors suggest a framework for the study of globalization and environmental governance; review important contemporary developments in supranational environmental governance; and introduce individual contributions to the special issue. Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, & Perraton's (1999) distinction between hyperglobalist, skeptical, and transformationalist perspectives on dynamics of globalization is useful in the study of the transformations in environmental governance around the world today. Three important innovations are examined: the development of supranational environmental institutions, increased use of market-based regulatory instruments, and the rise of global civil society involvement. Emergent transformations in global environmental governance are not inevitable, nor are they sufficient for sustainability. Rather, they are constantly threatened by the interests and actions of economic actors, and constrained as well by politics, geography, and global inequality. Persistent efforts by interested parties are required to retain salience, maintain momentum, and extend effectiveness of the new forms of environmental governance.

KEYWORDS: ecological modernization, environmental policy, market-based regulatory instruments, global civil society

Globalization and the Environment

"Globalization" became a fashionable catchword beginning in the late 1980s. Today, one can hardly imagine the term not being an integral part of the vocabulary of the many politicians stressing the need to eliminate regulations to make national industries more competitive, or favoring the protection of national cultures, environments and economies from global assault. It is equally difficult to imagine the representatives of large transnational corporations and multilateral economic institutions not referring to globalization when demanding liberalization, privatization and the lifting of protective measures. A decade ago, a wide variety of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), trade unions, Third World and Fair Trade groups, and others were able to come together under the loose umbrella of "sustainable development," however they were unable to identify a common target for their concerns. More recently, they joined forces in Seattle and other summits under the banner of anti-globalization. All of this suggests the rapid dissemination of both the idea of globalization and its antonyms.

What is new about globalization? Why are environmentalists hostile towards it? The old idea – of the nation-state as the rule, the organizing principle and unit for politics and economics; and everything outside it as the exception that proves and fortifies this "rule" – has been discarded by an increasing number of people. Now instead, global networks and flows are viewed as the "true architectures of the new global economy" (Castells, 2000a, p. 61). The idea of globalization has advanced forcefully on political, public and research agendas, acquiring a firm position from the early 1990s onward; it reflects a common-sense view of the interdependent transformations experienced by many people around the world. For many scholars, commentators, politicians, business representatives and non-governmental organizations, the concept now is preferred to earlier notions of internationalization and transnationalization.

These developments have important implications for reform and activism in advanced industrial democracies. For much of the last century – and even before – activists' principle strategy for combating social and environmental problems has been to extend and strengthen the nation-state's regulatory capacity. Now, globalization – along with its frequent concomitants, deregulation and privatization – is perceived to infringe upon that very capacity, provoking hostility.

Problems of and prospects for globalization are being debated not only in parliaments and on the streets, but also in academe. Held et al. (1999, pp. 2-10) convincingly argue that three scholarly perspectives on globalization have developed: its advocates ("hyperglobalists"), critics ("skeptics"), and a more neutral school of analysts focusing on the transformations, good and bad, brought about by the new global dynamics ("transformationalists"). It is the latter two perspectives which have focused more on the socially and environmentally disruptive impacts of globalization, especially in the form of global capitalism. According to both skeptics and transformationalists, it is global capitalism that may well be the cause of new rounds of social and environmental destruction, due to global civil society's limited success in developing effective corrective mechanisms, and due to the rather powerless regulatory institutions on a supra-national or global level. The two schools part, however, in their characterization of environmental changes taking place, and assessment of prospects for environmental improvement in what Castells (2000b) calls the new, "network mode of development" of contemporary capitalism.

Skeptics argue that effective environmental regulation is structurally difficult to attain within the framework of global capitalism. According to these analysts, economic globalization will lead to the same kind of disasters that befell industrial capitalism, but on a global scale. Over the course of the last century, most industrial democracies managed to reduce or neutralize the most severe consequences of the "free" capitalist market on a national level. Now, however, we are witnessing the acceleration of such problems on a global level, including outside the advanced industrial core. According to the skeptics of globalization, capitalism ultimately will destroy itself due to inherent internal contradictions. And these internal contradictions are both of an economic (the first contradiction) and of an environmental (second contradiction) nature (cf. O’Connor, 1998; Goldfrank, Goodman, & Szasz, 1999).

Transformationalists depart from such pessimistic, at times even apocalyptic, prognoses. While acknowledging negative consequences of globalization and especially global capitalism, transformationalists observe at the same time capitalism's ability to overcome internal contradictions and even produce positive change. Hoogvelt, for instance, argues that:

... capitalism, instead of destroying itself in consequence of internal contradictions which are its inherent and systemic properties, time and again proves itself able to overcome the self-inflicted crisis by complete transformation. Total renewal is what makes possible the reproduction of capitalism, involving not only production technology and the organization of economic life but also the complex of institutions and norms which ensure that individual agents and social groups behave according to the overarching principles of economic life. (Hoogvelt, 1996, p. 132)

For transformationalists, the quintessence is not so much the celebration of globalization or the condemnation of global capitalism but rather the transformational processes which come with globalization. Coincident with and accelerated by globalization, profound changes have taken place in societies around the world in social values, institutions, and practices (cf. Giddens, 1990, 2000; Held et al., 1999). Yet, in analyzing globalization-related transformations with respect to the "environmental sphere," most transformationalists still emphasize the destructive character of global capitalism, rather than acknowledging positive changes towards environmental reforms. This is not in line with developments in environmental discourse in western societies.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the damage done to environmental quality by the institutions of modernity held center stage. Since the mid-1980s, a more balanced position has moved to the forefront of environmental discourse, however: technological developments, economic markets and mechanisms, nation-states and political institutions and arrangements, increasingly have been recognized not only for harming the environment, but also for contributing to its protection. Though economic dynamics and interests continue to dominate institutional developments and transformations in western societies, environmental interests and considerations play an increasing role. Theories of ecological modernization, in particular (cf. Jänicke, Monch, Ranneberg, & Simonis, 1989; Spaargaren & Mol, 1992; Weale, 1992; Hajer, 1995; Mol, 1995), have tried to conceptualize and understand these environment-informed institutional transformations and dynamics.

The Transformation of Environmental Governance

How do these two sets of dynamics – globalization and environmental transformation – come together at the beginning of the 21st century? How does globalization affect, transform and limit national and supra-national environmental governance, but also open up new challenges, opportunities, and institutional mechanisms? Do national environmental governance and the sovereign "environmental state" wither away in an era marked by globalization, or can we witness new forms of national, sub- and supra-national environmental governance mediated, facilitated and challenged by that globalization? What experiences have countries had in addressing the impacts of globalization on their environments, and in developing regulatory mechanisms and practices to counteract those impacts? How do the old (command-and-control) and new (market- and civil-society based) mechanisms both complement and complicate each other? Such are the issues addressed in this special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist on "Globalization, Governance, and the Environment."

Written from both transformationalist and more skeptical perspectives, articles in this symposium examine emergent national and supranational practices of environmental governance in the context of globalization. Such topics are salient for analysis because, to date, too few observers have moved beyond the simple truism that modernization and globalization cause environmental deterioration. Global capitalism is alive, and on its own terms, relatively well (1), even while continuing to produce devastating social and environmental effects around the world. But are such effects inevitable? Can they end only with capitalism itself, as O’Connor concludes:

a systematic answer to the question, ‘Is an ecologically sustainable capitalism possible’ is, ‘Not unless and until capital changes its face in ways that would make it unrecognizable to bankers, money managers, venture capitalists, and CEOs looking at themselves in the mirror today.' (O'Connor, 1998, p. 235)

Or is it possible to move beyond the mere devastating effects of what Schnaiberg and others have called the "treadmill of production" (see Schnaiberg, 1980; Schnaiberg & Gould, 1994; Pellow, Weinberg, & Schnaiberg, 2000).

Globalization scholars are in the early phases of refining analyses of environmental transformations in global modernity (see Held et al., 1999, pp. 376-413; Goldfrank et al., 1999; Redclift & Benton, 1994). Political scientists and international relations scholars have analyzed the development and adoption of multilateral environmental accords. Some attention has been paid, too, to the rise of ENGOs and transnational environmental activism (see Keck & Sikkink, 1998; Fox & Brown, 1998; Fisher, 1998; Smith, Chatfield, & Pagnucco, 1997). Only very recently has scholarship focused on other aspects, mechanisms, and dynamics of supranational and other nontraditional forms of environmental governance (cf. Andersen & Sprenger, 2000; Rock, 2002; Young, 1999).

This symposium's focus on dynamics of actual environmental reform is rooted in the perspective that: (i) insufficient light has been shed on the reform side of the globalization coin in environmental discourse and debate (see Buttel, 2000); (ii) some of the most interesting and innovative contemporary social transformations are linked to the design and implementation of new forms of environmental governance; and (iii) contemporary social theory has much yet to explain about such new forms of environmental governance and institutional developments. At the same time, the various contributions to this volume support the perspective that emerging forms and dynamics of global and national environmental governance have structural limitations and do not dominant in today's global capitalist world order. Globalization skeptics, world-systems theorists (e.g. Goldfrank et al., 1999), and treadmill-of-production adherents must be credited for helping mitigate against naive optimism on the greening of global capitalism. The ambivalences of actual environmental reform, the dialectics of ecological modernization and ecological subversion, are evident in the various contributions.

Contributors to this symposium suggest that questions regarding the impact of globalization on environmental governance are far from resolved. On the one hand, they observe that new, reflexive, countervailing social forces – not limited to small, local reactions to the undermining of sustenance bases – are getting a grip on the contradictory developments of environmental and political reform. This could be interpreted as an emergent tendency of ecological modernization, now on a global level. On the other hand, contributors find that continued political reforms are key to ensuring the success of new forms of environmental governance: in areas of the world where this is not happening, regression, or as author Andersen (this issue) suggests, "ecological subversion," is taking place.

Among important innovations taking place in environmental governance around the world today are the development of supranational environmental institutions, the increased use of market-based environmental regulatory instruments, and the rise of global civil society engagements. To provide a general background for the symposium, each of these innovations is examined below. This is followed by an introduction to the individual contributions.

Supranational Environmental Institutions

In the last couple of decades, political scientists and international relations specialists have paid increasing attention to the construction of multilateral environmental agreements, especially since WWII. More recently, focus has shifted to the experience of supranational economic and political institutions as vehicles of environmental reform in a globalizing world order. To date, most supranational environmental institutions have been modeled after ("upscaled" from) national environmental regulatory counterparts. Changing global political, economic, and environmental circumstances necessitate new approaches, however.

Especially since the early 1990s, international relations scholars have seen environmental issues as a new and interesting issue for multilateral actions, institutions and regimes. They have devoted a great deal of attention to the numerous multilateral environmental agreements, most of which focus on one or a limited number of environmental issues. Examples include agreements on protection of the ozone layer, waste export, transboundary air pollution, ocean protection, and climate change. Although each agreement is limited in its scope, taken as a whole the agreements provide important building blocks for universal international environmental law and policy, thus contributing to the emergence of an independent, environmental realm in national and global politics. In the framework of the United Nation’s International Human Dimensions Program, for instance, international relations scholars have more recently set up major networks for analyzing the effectiveness of the various multilateral environmental agreements, with the clear aim of enhancing the effectiveness of these agreements (cf. Underdahl & Young, 1996; Underdahl, Hisschemöller, & von Moltke, 1998; Young, 1999).

Multilateral environmental agreements have had a long and arguably successful track record. They have not led to development of strong supranational environmental institutions, however. At the beginning of the 21st century, supranational/ regional institutions such as the European Union (EU) (see Anderson, this issue) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (see Sanchez, this issue) thus are also of great relevance for global environmental governance. The institutionalization of the environment has proceeded beyond issue-specific environmental arrangements in such supranational formations. The design of overarching political and economic institutions and arrangements increasingly includes environmental provisions. Many scholars looking for promising developments in the taming of global capitalism are now turning their attention in this direction (cf. Group of Lisbon, 1995; Held, 1995; Martin & Schumann, 1997; and Beck, 1997).

The preference for the EU above NAFTA as a model for future global governance is due to its relatively strong functional institutions such as the European Commission, European Parliament and Court of Justice. NAFTA, though arguably the "greenest" trade agreement to date, lacks institutions of equivalent stature. In most other regions, regional institutions have remained focused primarily on trade liberalization and security issues. This includes the Asia-Pacific region, centered around economic powerhouses Japan and the USA, with organizations such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Free Trade Association (AFTA), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (2). To date, the EU, the first experiment in supranational democratic governance (see Held, 1995; Held et al., 1999), is unique in its power to counteract environmental side-effects of global capitalism.

Most new, supranational environmental institutions are the equivalent of the national arrangements which inspired them. The basic idea seems to be that since environmental problems have "spread" from local to national, and national to supranational levels, political institutions and arrangements to deal with them should be "upscaled" accordingly to be effective: "es handelt sich letzten Endes um die Strategie eines ‘Weiter-so’ auf gehobenem Niveau" (3) (Beck, 1997, p. 221).

This approach has three serious shortcomings. First, dynamics of environmental deterioration and reform are different now than in the 1970s and 1980s. Now they are related to processes of globalization, as well to local factors. Some factors causing supranational and global environmental institutions to deviate from the historical paths of national counterparts include the character of actors involved in triggering political innovations, the development of transnational legal institutions, the limited development of supranational sovereignty, the search for institutionalized forms of democratic participation in global society, and disenchantment with science. Merely upscaling national institutions and political arrangements for environmental reform to global or regional levels does not take such factors into account, and is likely to fall short of expectations.

Secondly, supranational political institutions are relevant in different ways to different countries. Countries vary profoundly in terms of economic development, political and economic integration in the global system, national political institutions and environmental reform capacity (cf. Weidner, this issue), as well as between regions with respect to supra- or transnational political institutions. Moreover, with respect to environmental decision-making and implementation, the global political system still depends to a large extent on nation-states. As a result of all these factors, countries will be involved unequally in and react differently to "upscaling" in different parts of the planet. Developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa are barely touched by emerging global political institutions and agreements aiming at environmental reform. Newly industrializing economies such as Taiwan and China (Rock, this issue) are showing more dynamics in taking up "universal" or global environmental norms and standards (see also Angel & Rock, 2000; Wehrmeyer & Mulugetta, 1999). The situation in the core advanced industrial countries looks even more promising, as global environmental harmonization and setting a level playing field seems increasingly the objective these countries want to move to.

Finally, global environmental politics, regardless of the level, now involve new actors in addition to traditional political agents and institutions. What Beck (1994) refers to as "subpolitical" developments – involving actors and mechanisms outside traditional political domains "occupied" by (the system of) nation-states, parliaments and political parties – are interpreted by some as a new response to environmental deterioration, following some of the features of globalization. ENGOs have been at the forefront of environmental reform in the advanced industrial democracies. Until recently, their role in environmental politics was basically restricted to pressuring the traditional political agents – national environmental authorities – into action. Conversely, the role of transnational enterprises has traditionally been one of either simply causing environmental deterioration or (hesitantly, reactively or even symbolically) complying with reform measures in response to pressures from, primarily, national governments (4). These non-state actors are increasingly involved in national and supra-national environmental politics and arrangements. Especially in those situations where nation-states are paralyzed, act to slowly or ignore non-scientific rationalities that press for environmental reform, new subpolitical arrangements emerge.

Today, environmental politics and institutions are changing profoundly at national, subnational and supranational levels – and not only in advanced industrial countries. Such changes can be understood only in the context of globalization processes, weakening state sovereignty, new and different roles for nation-states, increasing power of economic interests and civil society actors, and institutionalization of the environment in economic and political domains.

Market-Based Environmental Reform

One of the major innovations – and most contested provisions – of ecological modernization theory and related perspectives has been the notion that economic actors and market dynamics have constructive roles to play on the stage of environmental reform (cf. Mol & Spaargaren, 2000; Andersen & Sprenger, 2000). Such reforms are coming about through the interplay of economic markets and actors on one hand, and organized citizen-consumers and political institutions on the other. Such interplay allows environmental considerations, requirements and interests to become increasingly institutionalized in the economic domain (5). To date, market-oriented environmental reforms have taken place primarily at the national-level in advanced industrial democracies (6). In this era of globalization, will they develop further? And how might they be different?

Numerous scholars, including some writing in the ecological modernization tradition, have identified market-based mechanisms which can be employed by various actors to direct global capitalist development towards environmental innovation and reform (cf. Wheeler, 2000). Diverse in character and broad in scope, such instruments may be conceptualized in four groups: (i) producer mechanisms, including environmental accounting, life-cycle analysis, best practice environmental management, industrial ecology; (ii) publicly, privately or independently managed administrative instruments and practices such as environmental auditing, eco-labeling, environmental certification, extended producer responsibility (7); (iii) government- and intergovernmentally-led financial tools such as eco-taxes and tax credits, environmentally-incented investment and lending practices, and funding of environmentally-oriented research and development; and (iv) consumer-oriented mechanisms, including environmentally-preferred purchasing policies, and green consumption (institutional and individual purchase of green goods, combined with boycotts of brown goods/ firms).

Market-oriented environmental mechanisms often do not originate in the economic domain. When they do, it may be in the form of preemptive efforts by private actors to self-regulate rather than be encumbered with "excessive" government regulation. Most economic actors have to be put under pressure before "voluntarily" contributing to environmental improvements (see O'Rourke, 1999; Sonnenfeld, 2002; Ashford, this issue). Political decisions, civil pressure, and citizen-consumer demand have been decisive. But environmental concerns and pressures may arise in one corner of the globe and rapidly be generalized around the world, through combined force of market, media/ cultural, regulatory, and political actions. This has been the case with concerns such as the "collateral" killing of dolphins and sea-turtles in the commercial fishing of tuna (8), eco-certification of tropical timber and timber products (9), elimination of elemental chlorine in the production of pulp and paper (10), and, with a more social focus, elimination of child-labor, "sweatshops," and hazardous working conditions in the production of running shoes and other sporting goods (11, 12).

The economic domain plays a strong role in articulating, communicating, strengthening, institutionalizing and extending environmental reforms by means of its market and monetary language, logic and rationality, and its own force. To give an additional example: in May 2000, under pressure from German, Austrian and British consumers, Unilever, a transnational food corporation, decided to ban all genetically modified ingredients from their products sold in Europe. As it buys bulk ingredients such as soybeans centrally in Europe, Unilever has one regional strategy towards product-related environmental issues. Its consumers in the Netherlands and Spain, for instance, "profit" from this regional approach. This is yet another manifestation of the "trading up" phenomenon in Europe and North America poignantly analyzed by Vogel (1995).

Transnational companies, global markets and trade, global information and communication networks and companies, and global economic institutions (13) are beginning to play a vital role in this dynamism. Through such means, the environment becomes institutionalized in the economic domain. Thus global economic institutions, rules and actors operate less and less according to economic principles only, and can no longer be understood in only economic logics and terms.

Two caveats are critical, however. First, market-based environmental reforms are neither universal, nor inevitable. To date, they have been successfully established only in some countries, and for some types of foreign investments and trade. They do not unfold automatically. Rather, they are part of a transformation in-the-making in the global economy, a process in status nascendi, accompanied by power struggles, stagnation and even regression. Rock (this issue), for example, indicates how economic dynamics in Chinese environmental politics differ from the North American or European context. Developments do point towards the integration of environmental considerations into economic processes and institutions; however, only the continued organization, communication, and activism of environmental, regulatory, and even private sector advocates keeps this process from being reversed.

Second, market-based environmental reforms alone are insufficient to achieve a sustainable global economy. Although they are significant first steps, economic mechanisms, institutions and dynamics will follow economic logics and rationalities if not constantly paralleled and propelled by development of political and administrative reform, in the form of environmental institutions and movements. On their own, economic instruments will fall short of articulating environmental interests and advancing environmental reforms, since economic institutions and actors are not likely to benevolently protect the environment entirely of their own accord, or in their own self-interest. The question of either greening the World Trade Organization (WTO) or developing a parallel World Environmental Organization with sufficient power and competence to balance the WTO should in that perspective be on the latter. Furthermore, since economic interests are distributed unequally, environmental reforms initiated by economic players also will tend to manifest social inequalities, making results ambivalent for other parties (14).

The potentially significant role of market-oriented dynamics in environmental reform, including its ambivalences, is illustrated in the example of the global adoption of the International Standards Organization's Environmental Management System standards, known as ISO 14000. Firms' needs to obtain ISO 14000 certification to access certain markets has triggered a drive for international environmental harmonization. In their analysis of the development and introduction of the ISO 14001 standard, Krut and Gleckman (1998) show that this economic push for harmonized standards can have some drawbacks. For one thing, developing nations were largely excluded from the process of developing the standards. Also, in the short-term, use of the ISO 14000 environmental management standards may sidetrack actors from moving beyond compliance with existing local environmental regulations towards more stringent environmental performance standards. Progressive developments can be hampered by some firms' reticence to work towards new performance standards, as well as by limits imposed by the WTO on governments wishing to move beyond the sanctioned ISO 14000 standards (Krut & Gleckman, 1998). In a similar way, the global regime of foreign direct investments has led to a "stuck in the mud" situation: it does little to give actors incentive to "race to the top" of environmental performance.

There is evidence to suggest that over time results may prove otherwise, however. In addition to compliance with local environmental regulations, ISO 14001 establishes a re-certification process, where firms are held accountable for meeting self-defined environmental performance standards. Company officials interviewed by one of the authors suggest that while relatively easy to certify for ISO 14001 initially, recertification becomes "increasingly difficult" (15). Also increasing attention is being paid within the environmental standards community to assuring the quality of organizations conducting environmental certification and audits.

Environmental reforms induced and articulated by economic dynamics, institutions and actors have been taking place and will become more important. In the terminology of ecological modernization theory, the environment is becoming institutionalized – rather rapidly, in historical terms – in the economic domain. This process will continue to be challenged and criticized by "trailing" economic interests (16) on the one hand, and those including skeptics of globalization who belittle environmental gains and emphasize the unequally distributed social drawbacks, on the other.

The political dimension of markets

Global economic actors and mechanisms are not footloose, in two senses. First, markets and economic actors are politically sanctioned: they are organized and regulated by political systems and cannot function in an absolutely free manner. In the end, global companies and markets are dependent on political legitimation of their products and production processes. Increasingly, environmental controversies are part of this legitimacy question, as well. This was so at a national level and is so now also at the global level, capital mobility notwithstanding. Environmental groups and their networks; international media; national, sub- and supra-national political institutions and officials all intervene in global markets, conditioning producers' actions.

Secondly, the global market economy and its representatives are constantly scrutinized for the legitimacy of their environmental performance exactly because of geographical constraints. Although the locational flexibility of capital has greatly increased, "even in a globalizing world, all economic activities are geographically localized" (Dicken, 1998, p. 10), i.e. markets and firms exist in particular locations. This is evident when it comes to material operations of the production, distribution and consumption of capital and consumer goods, but is no less true for the operations of monetary capital (cf. Sassen, 1994). And in these particular locations, economic interactions are organized, designed and shaped by extra-economic logics such as social, cultural, political and environmental conditions, even while in engagement with actors across the globe (see O'Connor, 1998).

Market-based mechanisms play an increasingly important role in global environmental reform. It must be remembered, however, that "das Projekt der Marktwirtschaft war immer auch ein politisches Projekt – eng verbunden mit der Demokratie" (17) (Beck, 1997, pp. 232-233). Political backing (in the broadest sense) and interventions are needed to get markets and economic actors moving in a desirable direction, before market and economic actors "take over," articulating and institutionalizing the environment in their domain. The political drive to utilize markets and economic relations for environmental reform comes primarily from the advanced industrial democracies. This is rooted in contemporary history, as those nations' post-WWII advanced industrialization was accompanied by both severe environmental problems and lively protest and they are now less occupied with basic social and economic needs than other countries. For these reasons and due to unequal power distributions, the environmental priorities and definitions of the advanced industrial democracies dominate global economic institutions (and often also multilateral environmental agreements), while developing countries often see their environmental priorities neglected.

Developing countries are at a disadvantage in efforts to incorporate environmental priorities into global economic institutions such as the WTO, and to participate powerfully in the formulation of multilateral environmental agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (see Sampson & Chambers, 1999; Gupta, 1997). The re-negotiation of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI ) and possible extension of the WTO to address labor and environmental standards are future cases where disparities between advanced industrial democracies and other countries may re-emerge (cf. Opschoor, 1999). Only strong political intervention by new political actors is likely to be able to force transnational economic institutions to support more globally equitable environmental reform.

The Role of Global Civil Society

Sometimes it seems that those who are first to emphasize the universality of environmental norms and principles, the growing power of the global environmental movement, and the intensity of pressures brought to bear on global capitalism by civil society are furthest removed from the actual practice of what has become known as "global civil society." This includes not only the captains of transnational corporations such as Royal Dutch/ Shell and General Electric, leaders of economic institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and neo-liberal economic scholars such as Kenichi Ohmae, and World Bank President James Wolfensohn (18), but also (former) political world leaders from the advanced industrial democracies such as the German president, Roman Herzog, and the former USA vice-president, Al Gore. All of them have stressed the major role of a globalizing civil society, tightly connected to revolutions in communication and information technology, in achieving environmental reforms.

Meanwhile, environmentalists – and the social scientists and political commentators closely linked to environmental movements – are much more cautious, ambivalent or even pessimistic about the achievements of global civil society in taming global capitalism. In most messages, they continue to underline the dominant pattern of global capitalist development as if it had not been touched by the relentless efforts and pressures of environmental movements, "green" politicians, global environmental organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and diffuse and intangible global environmental consciousness. How can such contrasting evaluations of the role of global civil society in environmental reform be explained?

In fact, there are several explanations. One of them is the political game, in which the environmental movement projects itself as being in an underdog position in order to be able to gain the support it needs to beat the Goliath of global capitalism. By the same token, representatives of global capital overstate the strength of this movement, in order to suggest that sufficient countervailing power exists to balance global capital or even stress the dangers of these powerful groups and ideas and legitimize an environmental backlash or "greenwash" (cf. Rowell, 1996; Switzer, 1997; see also Dowie, 1995).

To some extent these apparently contradictory evaluations may also be caused by the view that the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." From the perspective of transnational companies, Greenpeace may look like a powerful, well-organized and influential organization that articulates environmental anxieties and consciousness into well-coordinated campaigns attracting widespread media attention and forcing global economic players to retreat (and reform). The Brent Spar campaign is an illustration. From inside the movement, however, the perception is much more of the difficulties of co-ordination between and within groups, campaign failures, limited environmental results and ambivalent media relations, or tensions between ENGO professionals, supporters and grassroots environmentalists.

Finally, it makes a difference whether the advanced industrial democracies are taken as a point of reference, or the newly industrializing economies, or the developing countries of, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa. The newly industrializing countries, too, have seen an upsurge of environmental consciousness and activism under the recent conditions of globalization. The Latin American environmental movement, for example, has become much stronger during the last decade of the second millennium, as have those in a number of newly industrializing economies in Asia (e.g. Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines) (19). On the other hand, most African states (and the statist countries of Vietnam and China), however, have spawned not more than a rather scattered environmental movement, strong in some localities on specific issues (more than incidentally with support from overseas development assistance), but rather powerless on a national level and poorly integrated in global networks (20). Nevertheless, even if civil society initiatives are still weak in African countries, the changing global power relations on environmental issues can have profound repercussions on transnational companies investing in the continent, as Royal Dutch/ Shell experienced in Nigeria and a consortium of multinational oil companies and the World Bank are experiencing in developing a major oil pipeline through Chad and Cameroon.

Global civil society does not have a network of ENGOs covering every locality of the world. Nor does it have a common frame of reference in every corner of our planet. That will take some time, if not forever, to be accomplished. One obstacle is that any "shared" environmental frame of reference falls apart in different parts of the world. People’s environmental priorities are different in different parts of the world (climate change versus clean water; nature conservation versus the "brown agenda") and definitions of environmental problems diversify as they are mediated by local backgrounds, history, and traditions. Environmental universalism is prevented by local factors articulating in heterogeneous cultural frameworks, as is widely acknowledged (cf. Tomlinson, 1999; Peet & Watts, 1996; Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, & Wangari, 1996). But the most important cause behind the absence of a global frame of reference is the fact that the capacities and resources to articulate an environmental discourse in civil society are unequally distributed, especially – but not only – along the economic divides.

The main reasons we still can speak of global environmentalism are: (i) the ethics and principles of environmental behavior regarding investment, production and trade of transnational companies and financial institutions are increasingly applied in a similar way to practices around the globe; (ii) the potential to monitor environmental (mis)behavior of transnational corporations and institutions has moved far beyond the major centers of the global environmental movement in the advanced industrial democracies; (iii) environmental misbehavior and information are communicated around the globe; and (iv) sanctions can transcend the boundaries of one state and are no longer limited to the localities of misbehavior. However, even though environmentalism has become global, enterprises less strongly connected to the advanced industrial democracies have less to "fear" from a global civil society. In Vietnam, for instance, American multinationals such as Nike Inc., are more vulnerable to protests from global civil society than regional investors from South Korea, Taiwan or Indonesia (21).

The emergence of a global civil society and its growing power to challenge the environmental destructiveness of global capitalism has made some major global economic players more aware of the need to move beyond mere compliance with formal political requirements laid down in laws and agreements. We can witness new forms of global environmental (sub)politics, arising especially in situations where: (i) nation-states are losing control on national and global developments, (ii) scientific "proof" is no longer taken for granted, but increasingly seen as both an instrument of social interests and an object of social conflict, and (iii) information and communication systems heighten the transparency of the worldwide actions of global economic actors. The controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms are of course a typical example where formal political requirements are overtaken by civil society politics.

The representatives of global capitalism are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore civil society environmental protests and sensibilities, while formal environmental policies (both nationally and internationally) are lagging behind. Transnational firms have learned that they cannot set environmental management and performance standards based on local political requirements. Increasingly, highly visible, publicly listed transnational corporations based in the advanced industrial democracies, need to justify their actions not only towards national regulatory agencies, multilateral environmental agreements and conventional political actors, but also towards representatives of civil society, resulting in new forms of (global) environmental politics (22). Major European food companies, for example, are developing strategies to contact organized consumers and citizens to become aware of their ideas and "sensibilities" in early stages of product development. All told, today's emergent processes and dynamics have not yet necessarily resulted in profound environmental improvements; however, they do suggest important stepping stones on the way to strengthened global environmental governance.

The three important innovations in global environmental governance outlined above – the development of supranational environmental institutions, increasing use of market-based environmental instruments, and growing role of global civil society in environmental governance – are reflected in the individual contributions to this symposium. Articles by Sanchez, Andersen, and Weidner most clearly address the role of supranational institutions; all articles address aspects of market-based instruments and the role of (global) civil society in environmental reform.

Contributions to this Symposium

Articles in this symposium examine dynamics of globalization and environmental governance from a variety of geographical and theoretical perspectives. They analyze, respectively, experiences of environmental capacity-building in 30 advanced, transitional and developing countries around the world; environmental provisions, processes, and politics related to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the influence of European integration efforts on environmental governance in central and eastern Europe; the role of government in environmental innovation in North America and Europe; and innovations in environmental governance in China and Taiwan. The symposium concludes with an epilogue by the editors. Together, the contributions give an assessment of the transformations in national and supra-national environmental governance in an era marked by globalization.

In his article, "Capacity-Building for Ecological Modernization," Helmut Weidner presents results from an ambitious, 30-country, cross-national study of environmental capacity-building in advanced, transitional, and developing countries. With Martin Jänicke and others at the Free University of Berlin, Weidner conducted two closely related, qualitative surveys, combining "actor and system oriented approaches," and examining institutional capacity for environmental policy and management in countries ranging from Germany to Nigeria, Brazil to Taiwan. Weidner and his colleagues found "a remarkable institutionalization of environmental competencies took place worldwide" in two waves: the late 1960s and 1970s, and the 1990s, respectively; and notes interesting changes between those decades, including which countries were leading environmental reform: from the United States, Japan, and Germany in earlier years, to Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden in later years. Although globalization has received a great amount of negative publicity, Weidner finds that in the countries studied, "positive forms of globalization predominated with respect to environmental policy." Positive dynamics included strengthened environmental regulation, increased advocacy, and more participative institutional forms. At the same time, he suggests, "persisting structural limits to environmental policy and management [exist] in even the environmentally most advanced countries." Ultimately, Weidner finds the existence of "democratic structures and procedures in all areas of society [is key to] effective environmental policy."

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has received wide attention both for its pioneering status as a pact facilitating regional economic integration, and for continuing controversies over its impact on environment and labor/human rights. With its environmental "side agreement," NAFTA has been hailed in some quarters as a model for integrating environmental and trade concerns. Roberto Sanchez's study, "Governance, Trade, and the Environment in the Context of NAFTA," details the historical origins, structure, and dynamics of the agreement's environmental provisions. Writing from the unique viewpoint of both scholarly perspective and personal experience as Project Officer of NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Sanchez finds that under NAFTA, "Environmental issues have been addressed in technical exercises oriented towards avoiding barriers to trade ..." and that "So far, NAFTA is a missed opportunity for the successful integration of trade into broader contexts and concerns of development." A surprising factor in this, according to Sanchez, is that after winning "the possibility of an unprecedented role ... in North American environmental governance," ENGOs failed to follow through by actively participating in the agreement's implementation, abandoning it to economic interests. Sanchez stresses the importance of continuing to learn from the NAFTA experience, given unabated calls for new and extended "free trade" agreements, including the "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA).

In "Ecological Modernization or Subversion? The Impact of Europeanization on Eastern Europe," Mikael Skou Andersen assesses the impact of European integration on environmental reform in central and Eastern Europe. According to ecological modernization theory, integration into a broader economic and political community including the world's environmental pioneers should over time show evidence of positive environmental gains for all involved, as environmental policies, procedures, technologies, and politics are generalized through the region. Andersen finds, however, that while there were environmental improvements in the 1990s, notably in Poland and the Czech Republic, to date there is insufficient evidence of environmental advancement in central and eastern Europe to validate such predictions. Further, Andersen reaches the startling conclusion that in some countries a process of what he terms, "ecological subversion," has taken place, with the elimination or reduction of previously existing environmental institutions and capacities. His findings strengthen the more contingent argument within ecological modernization theory that environmental transformation is not inevitable, but must be continually worked for by both governmental and non-governmental actors.

"Command-and-control" environmental regulation has received much negative attention in the transformation of environmental policy in the era of globalization. Nicholas Ashford, in his essay, "Government and Environmental Innovation in Europe and North America," turns the tables and critically examines the viability of the new, collaboratively-oriented approaches to environmental governance. Drawing on policy studies from Europe and North America, he finds that while well-intended, these new approaches have been stronger in rhetoric than practical effect, and "are likely insufficient to transform the industrial system into a sustainable one." Ashford suggests that large firms have too much invested in old, inefficient, and resource-intensive technologies to make more than minor changes to those technologies. He concludes that only government is capable of forcing the radical innovations in product, process and/or technology necessary for sustainable development. This, he asserts, calls for renewed leadership, not retreat, by governmental environmental agencies.

East Asia has been one of the most rapidly developing regions of the world in the era of globalization. With equal rapidity, it has also become one of the most polluted, following the trickle-down approach of "get dirty, get rich, get cleaner" pioneered by the world's first industrializing countries. In this context, Michael Rock's study, "Integrating Environmental and Economic Policy-Making in China and Taiwan," is a fascinating account of innovation in environmental policymaking. Drawing on fieldwork and available data, Rock finds that globalization has affected China's and Taiwan's environmental strategies differently, with China influenced more by internal concerns and pressures, Taiwan by external ones. Faced with serious health costs and growing public pressure, officials in China "use a city level environmental rating, ranking, and public disclosure program ... to get mayors to invest in environmental improvement." Taiwan's environmental agency, influenced by criticism from wealthy overseas Chinese as well as local activists, successfully influenced industrial policy on the island, resulting not only in environmental improvements, but also in designation of environmental technology as a strategic sector for research, development, and export. Rock concludes that much remains to be accomplished in both China and Taiwan in "breaking the link between economic activity and pollution."

The symposium concludes with the editors' epilogue, briefly summarizing some lessons from these studies and outlining directions for future research on ecological modernization, governance, and globalization.


* The editors would like to express their appreciation to Professor Michael Watts, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and participants in the April 14-15, 2000, workshop at the University of California, Berkeley, on "Ecological Modernization, Governance, and Globalization," where these articles had their beginnings. Berkeley Professors Vinod Aggarwal, David Vogel, and Kate O'Neill were particularly generous in their contributions to the workshop; as were Ted Smith, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition; Rodolpho Ramina, Paraná Institute of Technology (Brazil); Beverly Thorpe, Greenpeace; and Lyuba Zarsky, Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development. Thanks also to our colleagues around the world who gave freely of their time in the peer review process undertaken in the preparation of this volume; and to Laura Lawrie, managing editor of the American Behavioral Scientist, for her steady support. Last but not least, the editors would like to acknowledge the efforts of the authors who in good humor persisted in developing their articles through numerous rounds of comments, reviews, and editing. We feel fortunate to have been able to work together across the continents on these important issues and dynamics, and now to be able to share them with a broad scholarly audience.

(1) The latest ups and downs in global business cycles notwithstanding.

(2) There have, however, been some efforts of regional environmental cooperation. In ASEAN, for example, countries have gotten together to address joint problems of transboundary air pollution/ forest burning and marine/ coastal conservation (cf. Cotton, 1999; ASEAN, 1995; Fortes, 1991). The Mekong River Commission, consisting of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, also has taken up environmental issues on an ongoing basis, including in dialog with China and Myanmar/ Burma (see Hori, 2000).

(3) "In the end, it is a strategy of "more of the same thing" on an elevated level" (our translation).

(4) An illustrative example might be the breakdown of the Global Climate Coalition, a group of large energy-intensive multinationals which claims that there is insufficient scientific evidence on climate change to justify political measures such as those negotiated in Kyoto. After British Petroleum (BP), Royal Dutch/ Shell and Dow Chemicals, Ford Motors also left the coalition in December 1999, emphasizing the need for pro-active measures and research and development.

(5) The boundaries between these three principal domains – economic, political and socio-cultural – are of course also a matter of theoretical perspectives and analysis. Consumer demand, for example, can be regarded as merely a market factor triggering reforms in various parts of the globe. But one can also say that growing environmental consciousness within civil society is at the origin of changing life-styles, consumption patterns and thus consumer demand.

(6) They are being experimented with elsewhere as well. With support from Germany's development assistance organization, GTZ, Thailand's Department of Industrial Works, and Pollution Control Department, for example, are in the process of implementing a "polluter pays principle" in environmental policy, with monetary charges being levied against all (private firms, government agencies, and individual households) for pollution production, wastewater treatment, and solid waste collection. The principle is mandated in Thailand's Seventh National Plan (Parasnis, 1999, p. 183).

(7) Cf. Lindhqvist (2000).

(8) See Bonanno & Constance (1996).

(9) See McNichol (2000); and Keck & Sikkink (1998).

(10) See Sonnenfeld (1996a, 1996b, 1998a, 1998b).

(11) Cf. O'Rourke (1999); and Bonacich & Appelbaum (2000).

(12) See also Mol, Lauber, & Liefferink (2000).

(13) Such as the European Union, multilateral trade treaties such as NAFTA, multilateral investment banks like the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and international financial institutions.

(14) This point has been made well by the "treadmill of production" analysts, Schnaiberg et al., op cit.; as well as by those working in the environmental justice/ environmental inequality frame (cf. Pellow, 2000; Szasz & Meuser, 1997).

(15) D. A. Sonnenfeld, interviews with electronics manufacturing firms, Thailand, May 1998, May/June 2000.

(16) Thomas P. Hughes' (1983) notion of "reverse salient" is useful here.

(17) "The project of the market economy has always been a political project as well – closely connected to democracy" (our translation).

(18) De Volkskrant, 19 May 2000, p. 13.

(19) See Lee & So (1999); Hirsch & Warren (1998).

(20) See O'Rourke (1999); Frijns, Phung, & Mol (2000).

(21) See O'Rourke, op cit.

(22) But, of course also resulting in major efforts by transnational corporations to legitimize controversial products in different ways. For example, in the year 2000, genetic engineering technology giants, Aventis, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta, launched the Council for Biotechnology Information, with an annual budget of US $50 million for five years to win public acceptance of genetically engineered foods, under the motto, "Good Ideas are Growing" (see: <>).


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