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Justin Alger and Peter Dauvergne

Following the rapid growth in scholarship in global environmental politics since the 1990s, it is time for a reinvigorated research agenda in the field. This chapter outlines the current state of global environmental politics research through the lenses of global political economy, international institutions and nonstate governance, ecological crisis, climate politics, and scholar activism and engaged research. By identifying gaps and emerging issues, it distills a research agenda for current and future scholars of global environmental politics. There is, in particular, a growing need for research that: (a) more closely connects social phenomena to global environmental impacts and change; and (b) asks more innovative and expansive questions rather than filling niches on issues with already extensive scholarship. As it is a relatively new field that seeks to address an escalating global environmental crisis, there is still plenty of room for emerging scholars of global environmental politics to ask big questions.

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J. Samuel Barkin

Questions about the relationship between the environment and international trade have been asked in a variety of different ways, and have yielded a range of answers. This chapter looks at three ways in which the relationship has been studied, and at how each way has developed its own constellation of questions, methods, and epistemologies. It labels the three constellations as the critical, institutionalist, and positivist approaches. The critical approach looks at ways in which globalization, in part through the growth of international trade, can threaten the environment. The institutionalist approach examines the institutions of trade and environmental cooperation with a focus on their legal structures, procedures, and precedents. The positivist approach looks for correlations between the environmental performance of countries and their trade patterns and membership in international trade agreements. The chapter concludes by arguing that scholars can usefully communicate across these approaches more effectively than is often the case.

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Susan Park

What is the relationship between money and the environment? Money is used as a means to buy, sell, produce, distribute, and invest. Money can grease the wheels of the international political economy, which generates environmental harms. Can we tackle environmental problems with money? States, as well as non-state actors like corporations, make international financial commitments to address a myriad of environmental issues. This chapter examines private sector efforts to mitigate environmental damage as well as state financing for (sustainable) development through the multilateral development banks and the Global Environment Facility. It also analyzes the more recent green funds for their role in supporting the multilateral environmental agreements, including the various mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The chapter highlights the research findings and theoretical insights on green financing, the gaps and emerging issues, and recommendations for future research.

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Erika Weinthal

The creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and subsequent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has reinvigorated research on sustainable development. Through exploring the MDGs and SDGs through a sustainability lens, this chapter seeks to explicate the ways in which the SDGs are shaping global environmental governance across different scales. By engaging with debates over the design of the SDGs, this chapter claims that global environmental politics (GEP) scholars can offer a critical perspective regarding what constitutes sustainable development in the Anthropocene and more broadly about participation and rights in the design of policies for both planetary and human well-being. The SDGs, thus, highlight the need for GEP scholars to devise a clear research agenda that can connect the crosscutting global challenges associated with the SDGs to the needs of communities and peoples at the local level through a framework that takes into account human rights and justice.

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Lars H. Gulbrandsen

This chapter examines research on nonstate governance institutions in the shape of diverse sustainability certification programs. It reviews research findings and insights related to two main analytic themes: the emergence and evolution of sustainability certification programs; and the effectiveness of these programs in resolving or ameliorating the problems that motivated their establishment. While we know a great deal about the emergence and evolution of sustainability certification, more research is needed to better understand its achievements and challenges, as well as the institutional and longer-term consequences of certification programs. There is a need for cumulative research beyond single-case studies in order to understand patterns of institutional evolution and change, the direct effects and broader consequences of certification, program interactions, and certification’s intersection with governmental, intergovernmental, and civil society initiatives to address environmental and social problems arising from the practices of global production, distribution, and consumption.

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Timothy Adivilah Balag’kutu, Jason J. McSparren and Stacy D. VanDeveer

This chapter explores the potential for global environmental politics scholarship to contribute to extractives governance and practice. The extractives sector causes substantial environmental and social impacts, especially in the developing world, and these in turn often drive activism and mobilization. Civil society responses to the socio-environmental externalities of the extractive sector have led to the emergence of various transnational governance mechanisms. The sector and its impacts are growing, in terms both of large corporate-operated mines and of large areas of artisanal mining, often worsening deplorable environmental conditions. GEP scholarship to date has neglected the environmental consequences of extractives as an area of study. This chapter calls for increased GEP research on the extractive sector, proposing that many common themes in GEP research can be applied to aspects of the sector’s impacts, transnational governance arrangements, artisanal mining challenges, and civil society roles and influence.

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Kate O’Neill

This chapter addresses the global political economy of waste in the twenty-first century. It identifies new topics and trends in this critical field, including the international scrap trade, food waste, electronic waste, and the rise of new transnational activist movements. Wastes have become a commodity traded from North to South, from South to North, and among Southern countries. The chapter outlines challenges to conventional wisdom about international production and transfer of wastes. Global environmental politics (GEP) scholarship has yet to fully engage with this new waste landscape and its political implications, although other fields are engaging, notably geography, and a new, multidisciplinary field, discard studies. By the same token, these fields can gain from the insights GEP and other fields of global politics can provide. This chapter draws on diverse bodies of literature, data, and journalism to show the complexities, linkages, and cross-scalar dynamics that characterize the “new” global political economy of waste.

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Jennifer Clapp and Phoebe Stephens

This chapter focuses on the global political dynamics at the interface of food systems and environmental systems, especially at the international level. Scholars across a range of disciplines have drawn attention to the ecological impact of food production methods, the environmental consequences of an increasingly globalized food distribution system, and the sustainability implications of dietary choices. The complexity of food supply chains at the global level has at times obscured these issues from the public’s view, but a growing amount of research on these themes has made them more visible in recent years, contributing to greater societal pressure and political debate over how best to ensure that food systems are more sustainable. We conclude by pointing to what we consider to be the most promising theoretical and methodological frameworks for research in this area, including interdisciplinary approaches and methods that draw on a range of data sources.

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Elizabeth R. DeSombre

Global governance for the oceans is both necessary and difficult. Scholarship on the topic has focused on international institutions and international law, detailing the negotiation and effectiveness of the international legal architecture created to address collective problems of the oceans. The large number of individual agreements addressing a variety of environmental problems of the oceans has also led to a productive (yet unresolved) exploration of the relative merits of global versus regional governance, and of comprehensive versus functionally separated governance. More recently, scholarship has moved to also consider some of the important nonstate actors and governance mechanisms involved in addressing problems of the oceans, focusing especially on information-provision and market-based strategies. Opportunities for analysis remain, including empirical attention to specific governance arrangements by issue area or location, and comparative studies, as well as more critical approaches.

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Sonja Klinsky

This chapter argues that we ought not to treat climate change as a case study of some broader phenomena but need to engage with its core characteristics in order to focus on it as a problem in its own right. It suggests that five characteristics of climate change have direct ramifications for our ability to conduct research that meaningfully engages with the issue. Specifically, climate change: (a) does not have natural boundaries; (b) is politically contentious; (c) is multi-scalar and multi-sited; (d) inevitably raises questions about justice and inequalities; and (e) is a cultural phenomenon. The chapter then briefly discusses each of these characteristics and reflects on some of the broader implications for research directions and approaches.