Regional economic regimes and the environment: stronger institutional design is weakening environmental policy capacity of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

  • Pradip Kumar Sarker
  • Md Saifur Rahman
  • Lukas GiessenEmail author
Original Paper


International environmental governance by global and, especially, regional regimes is gaining attention in both political practice and academia. We study the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) regime for economic integration. Based on qualitative data for 1985–2017 from key regime and policy documents and interviews, we propose the following. Besides issue-related institutional design and the resulting regime structures, the policies and policy capacities developed within a particular regime make the regime an environmental one. We analyze the environmental policy SAARC developed within the formal institutional framework between 1985 and 2017. The results show that institutional design, particularly membership and control issues, is a highly political affair, given China’s ambition to join the agreement as well as the struggle between Pakistan and India for hegemony. In 2010, the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment formally extended the regime’s scope. The preceding environmental policy and its related capacities were fragmented and strongly built on decentralized, issue-specific environmental SAARC centers in different member states. The 2010 Convention on Cooperation on Environment streamlined this environmental policy but reduced the issue-specific policy capacities of the regime. We conclude that the formalization of environmental regimes into stronger institutional designs does not necessarily lead to stronger environmental regime policies and capacities. The proposed conceptual distinction between regime structure and regime policy will enable future regime studies to combine international relations, policy analysis, and comparative government methodologies when examining the policies of regimes and their dynamics.


Regional regimes International regime policy Formalization Weakening sectoral regime policies 



Funding was provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG), Germany (Grant No. DFG PAK 813).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pradip Kumar Sarker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Md Saifur Rahman
    • 3
  • Lukas Giessen
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Chair Group of Forest and Nature Conservation PolicyGeorg-August UniversityGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.European Forest InstituteBonnGermany
  3. 3.Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate ChangeGovernment of the People’s Republic of BangladeshDhakaBangladesh

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