Theorizing Environmental Governance of the World System: Global Political Economy Theory and Some Applications to Stratospheric Ozone Politics

Brian J. Gareau


This paper incorporates world-systems perspectives into an analysis of global environmental politics, thus adjoining a political economic analysis of scale with studies of global environmental policy. It is the ability of some social groups and institutions to jump scale that determines how global environmental policies are shaped. The United States carbon-intensive economy is seen to face larger short-term costs from global environmental agreements than many other countries in the core of the world-system, but what remains unexplored in the environmental politics literature is the question of why the United States sees its long-term economic condition hindered by these agreements. This analysis points to the ways industry actors intervene at multiple scales of global environmental negotiations to affect national policy positions as well as larger discourses about science and risk. The article reviews the methyl bromide controversy in the Montreal Protocol to explain why this agreement has recently failed to live up to expectations in removing ozone-depleting substances. The United States is particularly responsible for this impediment: rather than innovate in response to new information and changing international contexts, industry actors have drawn upon US hegemony to enforce their dominant market positions. As the parties to the Montreal Protocol remain polarized over questions of methyl bromide use, this analysis calls for attention to the ways capital, states, and other social institutions are embedded in international environmental agreements and how they use such arrangements to obstruct successful multilateral agreements. I conclude by suggesting that environmental and other social movements might strategize in two ways: 1) by helping support an emergent green hegemony (most apparent in Chinese policy) as a counterhegemonic alternative, and 2) by developing strategies that account for the ways industry interests overlap with declining US hegemony in a shifting world-system.

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