Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Second Edition
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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Second Edition

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The second edition of this Handbook contains more than 30 new and original articles as well as six essential updates by leading scholars of global environmental politics. This landmark book maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this energetic and growing field. Captured here are the pioneering and lively debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 11: Legitimacy Problems and Responses in Global Environmental Governance

Steven Bernstein


Steven Bernstein1 There is some irony in the predicament faced by many institutions set-up to “govern” global environmental problems. In contrast to their economic counterparts – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO) or even private economic standard setters – few question their purposes or see the pursuit of environmental goals primarily as an attempt to impose an unjust or exploitative world order. In other words, they do not generally face the “legitimacy crises” some believe beset economic institutions because they (allegedly) exert power and control without the requisite bases of social support of their rightness and appropriateness.2 Yet, many scholars have focused their attention on major legitimacy challenges in global environmental governance for the opposite reason: too little power, not too much. Put more generally, international legitimacy crises stem from a perception that institutions possess too much power or authority in their realm of activity without the requisite links to or foundation in relevant social constituencies. In contrast, environmental governance is said to lack the authority necessary to address global environmental problems.3 While environmental institutions are not immune to charges of “eco-colonialism” or “neoliberal hegemony,” compared to their economic and security counterparts, they generally fare well in terms of openness and transparency, accountability, responsiveness and access to decision-making, not only by states but even by civil society broadly conceived. That is not to suggest criticisms of environmental institutions on these counts are invalid, but that from the perspective of wider legitimacy problems in global governance,...

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