In line with a critical theoretical perspective, which sees global environmental governance as embedded in the wider neoliberal global political economy, this article argues that accounts of global environmental governance grounded in orthodox International Relations lack an analysis of agency and power relations. This is particularly visible in the problematic assertion that global civil society—where social movements are said to be located—presents a democratizing force for global environmental governance. Through a critical conceptualization of agency the article analyzes social movements (including NGOs) and the challenges to global environmental governance, with an illustration of movements campaigning against toxic waste. It suggests that the potentiality of radical social movement agency is best understood through a neo-Gramscian approach, which identifies global civil society as simultaneously a site for the maintenance of, as well as challenges to, hegemony. It explores the extent to which global social movements constitute a counter-hegemonic challenge.

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