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− ESG–Agency scholarship highlights the multiscalar and multilevel dynamics of earth system governance, with particular focus on the institutional and geographic scales.− Agents in earth system governance deploy diverse strategies and mechanisms, such as networks, bridging organisations, and orchestration, to navigate across global to local levels and ecological, social, economic, and political scales.− Whether multilevel and multiscalar dynamics enable or constrain agency in earth system governance depends on power dynamics and the resource capacities of agents.− Future research should examine the role of agents in political struggles related to the social construction of levels and scales in earth system governance.
The modern era is facing unprecedented governance challenges in striving to achieve long-term sustainability goals and to limit human impacts on the Earth system. This volume synthesizes a decade of multidisciplinary research into how diverse actors exercise authority in environmental decision making, and their capacity to deliver effective, legitimate and equitable Earth system governance. Actors from the global to the local level are considered, including governments, international organizations and corporations. Chapters cover how state and non-state actors engage with decision-making processes, the relationship between agency and structure, and the variations in governance and agency across different spheres and tiers of society. Providing an overview of the major questions, issues and debates, as well as the theories and methods used in studies of agency in earth system governance, this book provides a valuable resource for graduate students and researchers, as well as practitioners and policy makers working in environmental governance.This is one of a series of publications associated with the Earth System Governance Project. For more publications, see www.cambridge.org/earth-system-governance.
− Agency is one of five core analytical problems in the Earth System Governance (ESG) Project’s research framework, which offers a unique approach to the study of environmental governance. − Agency in Earth System Governance draws lessons from ESG–Agency research through a systematic review of 322 peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2008 and 2016 and contained in the ESG–Agency Harvesting Database.− ESG–Agency research draws on diverse disciplinary perspectives with distinct clusters of scholars rooted in the fields of global environmental politics, policy studies, and socio-ecological systems. − Collectively, the chapters in Agency in Earth System Governance provide an accessible synthesis of some of the field’s major questions and debates and a state-of-the-art understanding of how diverse actors engage with and exercise authority in environmental governance.
− ESG–Agency scholars have identified 20 environmental governance functions performed by agents in earth system governance, with most scholarly attention focused on rule-making and regulation; convening and facilitating participation; and knowledge generation, provision, and sharing. − Forms of governance and multilevel/multiscalar dynamics serve as structural factors that that enable or constrain the performance of agency in earth system governance. − ESG–Agency scholarship over the past decade confirms that the state remains a key agent of earth system governance, despite expectations that the state’s role would diminish with the rise of nonstate actors and the reconfiguration of authority in world politics.
− The role of the state as an agent of earth system governance has become more complex, contingent, and interdependent. − Although participatory and collaborative processes have contributed to more effective, equitable, and legitimate environmental governance outcomes in some instances, analyses of these processes should be situated within a broader governance perspective, which recasts questions of policy change around questions of power and justice. −The complexity and normative aspects of agency in earth system governance requires new forms of policy evaluation that account for social impacts and the ability of governance systems to adapt. − Many of the core analytical concepts in ESG–Agency scholarship, such as agency, power, authority, and accountability, remain under-theorized. In addition, some types of actors, including women, labor, non-human agents, those who work against earth system governance, and many voices from the Global South, remain largely hidden. − ESG–Agency scholars need to develop research projects and collaborations in understudied regions while also recruiting and supporting scholars in those regions to engage with this research agenda.
Whose responsibility is it to tackle climate change? ‘Everyone’s and no one’s’, we might glibly reply. Responsibility is diffused across scales, social groups, sectors, countries and generations. The causes of climate change are implicated in everyday acts of production and consumption and relate to the ways in which societies organise their transportation, housing, energy, water and food systems. Recognising the complex and diffuse agencies and authorities that address climate change, the world of climate politics is no longer limited to the activities of national governments, international organisations and interstate bargaining between states. Increasingly, subnational governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses and individuals are taking responsibility into their own hands, experimenting with bold new approaches to the governance of climate change (Betsill & Bulkeley 2004; Andonova, Betsill & Bulkeley 2009; Selin & VanDeveer 2009b; Bulkeley & Newell 2010; Hoffmann 2011; Bulkeley et al. 2013). The governance of climate change now takes a seemingly bewildering array of forms: carbon markets, certification standards, voluntary workplace schemes, emissions registries, carbon labelling, urban planning codes and so on. Critical to this transformation of the politics of climate change has been the emergence of new forms of transnational governance that cut across traditional state-based jurisdictions, operate across public-private divides and seek to develop new approaches and techniques through which responses are developed. What sets these initiatives apart from other forms of transnational relations is how they not only influence others, but also how they directly intervene in the governing of global affairs in ways that defy conventional understandings of international relations.
This chapter examines the political dynamics underpinning the emergence of TCCG. In the first section of the chapter, we undertake a temporal analysis of the growth of TCCG, focusing on its parallel evolution with the international climate change regime and the broader political-economic shifts outlined in the previous chapter. In the second section of the chapter, our analysis turns to consider the patterns and drivers of private, hybrid and public transnational initiatives over time and to consider the governance functions that are being pursued in these different forms of TCCG. Through this analysis, we seek to capture the process through which climate politics has pluralised by describing and offering explanations for the growth of institutional diversity over time.
In doing so, the three theoretical lenses discussed in Chapter 3 serve as guides for our analysis. The agency-centred perspective is particularly helpful for highlighting the interests of the actors that populate climate politics, their sources of influence and factors underpinning the demand and supply of new forms of transnational governance. The social and system dynamics perspective helps to explain the diffusion of common practices and governance techniques through communities of environmental practitioners and policymakers. Finally, the critical political theory perspective sheds light on the marketisation of a substantial cluster of TCCG initiatives, the ideological underpinnings of these initiatives and the particular constellations of public and private forces that animate them. We use the TCCG database and illustrative case-studies to interrogate these issues illuminating the relationship between the agency of different actors, market logics, functional imperatives and normative contexts.
Our knowledge of transnational governance has been fundamentally shaped by the theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches that have been used to study it (O’Neill et al. 2013, 444). Primarily using a case-study approach revolving around a few high-profile examples, research on transnational governance has focused on the ways in which actors have sought to engage with different forms of transnational governance, the various functions that such arrangements seek to perform and their potential consequences in terms of legitimacy and effectiveness. Such approaches have yielded significant insights into these aspects of transnational governance but cannot, by their very nature, achieve a more comprehensive or systematic view. As O’Neill et al. (2013) suggest, such approaches may be ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of ‘complexity and uncertainty, vertical linkages across multiple scales, horizontal linkages across issue areas, and (often rapidly) evolving problem sets and institutional initiatives’ that beset global environmental governance research, such that new methodological approaches are required. If we regard transnational governance initiatives as having something in common – in terms of what they are seeking to accomplish, or in terms of the ways in which they are organised and constituted – we suggest that methodological innovations capable of creating a more comprehensive account of the overall phenomenon are required.
In order to develop such a broader understanding of the extent and nature of transnational governance in the climate change domain, our approach extends beyond small n case-studies or surveys of one particular type of transnational arrangement through the construction and analysis of a database of sixty transnational climate governance initiatives. This approach enables an analysis of the contours of transnational climate governance in a way that has not been possible within existing methodological approaches, allowing for a more thorough description of who and what are involved, where it is taking place, and how and why it is being pursued.