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Meeting common environmental challenges: the co-evolution of policies and practices

Abstract

This article proposes an analytical framework for exploring policy responses to common challenges of environmental governance. Observing that governance involves multiple processes, I begin by identifying a conceptual platform for studying unilateral learning and adaptation as well as international cooperation as integral and interacting components of a complex governance system. I propose the concept of co-evolution as the cornerstone of this platform and distinguish between two modes of co-evolution: diffusion and cooperation. The article draws findings and propositions from recent literature to identify the mechanisms at work and the conditions under which they foster mutually beneficial solutions. Indicating how important governance challenges differ with respect to these conditions, I build the case for a diagnostic and differential approach that matches capacity-building and policy strategies with the challenge in focus.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The empirical study of diffusion does, though, focus primarily on convergence (see e.g. Holzinger et al. 2008).

  2. This is not the whole story, though; compliance with norms may be subject to utilitarian and strategic considerations as well (see e.g. Finnemore and Sikkink 1998).

  3. In fact, constructivists would see the distinction itself as outmoded, arguing that material factors shape behaviour through ideas (see e.g. Wendt 1999, 135).

  4. In this context, coercion involves manipulation of incentives (sticks and carrots), not brute force.

  5. Stokke (2012, 2013) has convincingly demonstrated that important insights can be obtained by focusing the analysis on specific functions rather than on aggregate notions of effectiveness.

  6. For a critique of this formula, see Young (2001, 2003).

  7. Note that these are not distinctly different pathways; the authors run different causal models, and most point to identical or partly overlapping pathways.

  8. See his own selection of “enduring insights” in this issue (Young 2013).

Abbreviations

IMO:

International maritime organisation

NGO:

Non-governmental organisation

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Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this paper was written for the Geopolitics in the High North project (www.geopoliticsnorth.org). The project at large is funded by the Research Council of Norway; work on this paper has been funded by the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo. I am grateful to Olav Schram Stokke, Ronald B. Mitchell and two anonymous reviewers for very useful comments to earlier drafts and to Frank Azevedo for excellent editorial advice.

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Underdal, A. Meeting common environmental challenges: the co-evolution of policies and practices. Int Environ Agreements 13, 15–30 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-012-9203-0

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Keywords

  • Environmental governance
  • International cooperation
  • Policy diffusion
  • Co-evolution
  • Arctic