Global Environmental Agenda: The Neoliberal Institutional Perspective

Date01 June 2015
Published date01 June 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Assistant Professor in Political Science, Panjab University Regional Centre, Ludhiana,
Punjab, India.
Corresponding author:
Rajnish Saryal, Panjab University Regional Centre, Ludhiana, Punjab, India.
Global Environmental
Agenda: The Neoliberal
Institutional Perspective
Rajnish Saryal1
Environmentalism as a global agenda has gained currency particularly
in the aftermath of 1970s when some international events on environ-
mental issues took place around the world. The diverse theoretical
perspectives have been advanced to understand the rise of environ-
mental agenda at global level and its consequential impact on sovereign
states. It has increasingly been claimed by the scholars of neoliberal
institutional theory that the environmental problems are such issues
that can attract the attention of the whole world and generate coope-
ration among nation-states for its solution. But how far this assertion
is true is the test of time. This article is a benign step in the direction
of conducting this test. The neoliberal institutional theory, which is fully
supportive of this claim, has been systematically analyzed in this article
and its basic assumptions have been juxtaposed with the real-world
situation arising out of environmental crisis to point out how state’s
behavior/sovereignty gets modified to accommodate burden resulted
from global environmental crisis. It has been observed in this article
that in order to fully appraise the global environmental agenda, the basic
assumptions of neoliberal institutional theory, which have by and large
remained successful in explaining the global environmental agenda, need
to be refined and strengthened further.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
19(1) 1–21
2015 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598415599882
2 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 19(1)
Environmental issues, international environmental institutions, neoliberal
institutionalism, state, regime
The international environmental politics emerged as a new field of study
in international relations in the 1970s. The developed countries in the
post-industrialized phase felt the burns of environmental degradation
caused by their unbridled economic growth through energy-intensive
industrialization. Severe environmental problems of global reach, such
as, ozone depletion, global warming, and biodiversity loss, have changed
the old parameters of national security which correspond with national
jurisdiction. With the rise of these new problems, the existence of life
on earth came into question. This resulted in creating a kind of phobia in
the world which led the peoples across borders to recognize these as
common problems. This recognition is authenticated by the conclave of
world’s two biggest environmental summits, namely the United Nations
Conference on Human Environment (UNCHE) and the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).
To understand such convergence of interests of different states on envi-
ronmental issues, many scholars of international relations have advocated
neoliberal institutionalist theory that advocates that inter national coopera-
tion on global environmental issues through institutions is far more feasible
as states generally shift loyalty and resources to these institutions when they
find them helpful in securing their international interests. The intent of this
article is to analyze the neoliberal institutionalist theory in the context of
environmental issues and to understand how far a high level of cooperation
among states is feasible as they all too frequently have asserted their prero-
gatives of sovereignty on environmental matters. For this purpose, the
article has been divided into four sections with appropriate headings fol-
lowed by conclusion. It first discusses the basic assumptions of neoliberal
institutional theory and clearly establishes that besides states institutions do
have their independent reality and play an important role in the discourse of
inter national politics. The article further explains how institutions modify
state’s behavior and facilitate cooperation among them to find out solution
for common environmental problems. Although, institutions building and
regime formation are simultaneous processes, we have delineated them and
discussed both of them separately by arguing that institutions’ building is
the first step in the process of regime formation. Therefore, the later part of
the article discusses the role of institutions in the process of regime formation
that sets parameters for the state’s behavior/action in an issue area.

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