Developing Countries and Global Environmental Governance: From Contestation to Participation to Engagement

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Abstract

Developing countries did not start off as demandeurs of global environmental governance. Although they are still rather skeptical about the global environmental enterprise, they have come a long way from being the vigorous contestants that they were three decades ago. This fascinating evolution has not only changed the views of developing countries but has also transformed the shape of the global environmental discourse, most significantly by turning what used to be global environmental politics into what is now the global politics of sustainable development. This paper charts this evolution by using the twin conceptual lenses of effectiveness and legitimacy and the heuristic markers of the three key global conferences on the global environment (Stockholm 1972; Rio de Janeiro 1992; Johannesburg 2002). The paper argues that the pre-Stockholm era was exemplified by a politics of contestation by the South; the Stockholm-to-Rio period was a period of reluctant participation as a new global compact emerged around the notion of sustainable development; and the post-Rio years have seen the emergence of more meaningful, but still hesitant, engagement by the developing countries in the global environmental project but very much around the promise and potential of actualizing sustainable development.

The author is grateful to an anonymous review, and to Steinar Andresen, Ellen Hey, and Jessica Green for valuable comments.