Current Research

Innovations in International Environmental Policy

This project is funded for three years by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (Grant: ES/K009761/1).

In short, this project involves an analysis of processes of institutional learning in the design of new environmental policies in international organisations. I am particularly interested in developing a better understanding of the challenges to including civil society and diverse perspectives in policy design.

Despite more than two decades of sustainable development policy, many indicators of environmental quality continue to decline. Against this background, some governments and international organisations have recently adopted new concepts and strategies to reconcile economic development and environmental sustainability. ‘Green economy’ and ‘green growth’ are becoming increasingly salient ideas, but there are numerous competing understandings of the environment-economy nexus captured in such terms as inclusive wealth, de-growth, steady-state economy, and buen vivir. International organisations frequently take a leadership role in advancing new sustainability concepts and strategies; therefore, these organisations are the focus of this study.

I have three aims in this project.

1. Identify and map the different contemporary discourses about the environment-economy nexus within civil society and the policy community. In other words, I want to identify different perspectives on what a sustainable economy would look like. Discerning these discourses allows us to move beyond the rhetorical labels used by different actors and instead identify points of agreement and disagreement.

  • See the findings of this stage of the study here

2. Determine how international organisations deal with a diversity of perspectives in the process of developing new sustainability strategies. It is evident from three decades of environmental multilateralism that a variety of positions and interpretations can complicate negotiations and make it difficult to devise mutual strategies and agreements. Nevertheless, there are important reasons for ensuring heterogeneity in discussion and decision-making. Evidence suggests that institutional enclaves and decision-making among like-minded individuals impedes rationality and produces weakly-reasoned decisions. Unless opposing positions are vocally represented, there is a danger that individuals will reinforce their commitment to existing convictions rather than consider the merits and weaknesses of those convictions in relation to others. It is important, then, that discussion and decision-making are exposed to competing perspectives. By analysing the prevalence of homogeneity and heterogeneity in international organisations’ efforts to develop new sustainability strategies, I will be able to make assessments of the quality of these processes, and recommendations for improved processes.

3. Determine whether international organisations’ efforts to advance new sustainability concepts and strategies reflect institutional learning, institutional adaptation, and/or rhetorical innovation. Learning entails behavioural change brought about by redefined goals and means; adaptation entails behavioural change brought about by redefined means to achieve existing goals; and rhetorical innovation signifies the use of new language to refer to existing or new goals and means.



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