This essay examines some of the reasons for the upsurge in interest in regional approaches to global environmental challenges. One reason is a growing sense of obstruction and drift at the global level. With the rate of formation of new global environmental agreements lagging, with many existing agreements seemingly stalled, and with the momentum of global summitry having faded, regions may seem a more pragmatic scale at which to promote the diffusion of ideas, the development of institutions, and social mobilization for change. Beyond political pragmatism, there are also conceptually interesting—if still debatable—arguments that regions hold promise for strengthening global environmental governance. The regional scale may offer superior conditions to the global for common-property resource management—although the historical track record seems mixed at best, and formidable barriers to collective action remain. Regions may be more conducive to promoting norm diffusion—although the causal direction appears to be more strongly global-to-regional than vice versa. However the conceptual promise of the regional scale plays out in practice, there is also a compelling ethical argument for a regional focus, as mitigation failures at the global level condemn particular locales to formidable challenges of adaptation.

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