The global politics of addressing environmental challenges is a running theme throughout issue 19-1, with nearly all articles addressing some dimension of actor interactions, or effects of policies and activities, on groups and locations across the North and South.
Jen Allan’s provocative forum article on the “dangerous incrementalism” of the Paris Agreement on climate change leads off the issue. She notes that despite its lofty aspirations, the agreement locks countries into a design that builds only incrementally on previous climate agreements, in effect legitimating – and perhaps locking in—patterns of action and commitments roundly viewed as inadequate in earlier negotiations. Developing countries, she argues, many of which are the most vulnerable to dangerous climate change and largely motivated to avoid another failure, accepted an agreement that did not serve their interests.
Shifting the focus to the micropolitics of negotiations on climate change, Ella Belfer and colleagues’ analysis of the opportunities and constraints of Indigenous participation provides additional insight into power dynamics that limit revolutionary change. The authors show that the designation of Indigenous peoples as non-state observers ironically has created structural barriers to meaningful recognition and participation. However, informal networking, resource-sharing, and personal network building with state delegates, among other activities by Indigenous participants, have created some opportunities to move beyond those constraints, which suggests possible avenues for interaction of those techniques with the newly established formal Platform of Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples under the Paris Agreement.
The remaining four articles in this issue highlight the growing role that actors in the Global South are playing in global environmental politics, especially the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Their substantive concerns range from energy to deforestation, hydropower, and carbon offsetting, and collectively they provide a window on the significant and increasing attention to and importance of the Global South in a more truly global environmental politics.
First, Kristen Hopewell, in her article on export credit and the environment, turns our attention to the ways in which rising powers are affecting global governance, especially through the use of state-backed export credit agencies. Specifically, she highlights the potential environmental impact of increasing export credits from India and China to finance large infrastructure and energy projects in developing countries. She argues that governance mechanisms based on the OECD arrangements for environmental and social due diligences are ill-equipped to cope with the rise in export credits provided by emerging powers. Many of these new providers are not bound by the conventional regulations governing the world’s largest credit providers. Hopewell underscores the importance of addressing these gaps through the case of India’s financing for a coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh.
A second article continues the exploration of political economy themes and the interaction of the Global North and South. Clint Peinhardt, Viveca Pavon-Harr, and Alisha Kim combine fourteen years of satellite imagery data with statistical analysis to investigate the role that the 2009 US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement has played in deforestation dynamics in the Peruvian Amazon. They find that even though the agreement itself included measures to reduce illegal logging and improve forest governance, it has not had the intended effect and deforestation has actually increased since its signing. These results are a significant addition to the ongoing conversation (and one that has been occurring in the pages of Global Environmental Politics) about the relationship between trade, environmental degradation, and environmental protection. The implication is that we should be wary about the effectiveness of environmental provisions in trade agreements, even when they appear to be well designed.
Also concentrating on dynamics affecting the Peruvian Amazon, Paula Franco Moreira and co-authors explore the important interactions of non-state actors and international organizations in the Global South. Their article provides an important update to our conventional understanding of transnational advocacy networks (TANs). Through an examination of the environmental campaign against Brazilian hydropower projects proposed in the Peruvian Amazon, they find that new forms of TANs are emerging in the Global South and that the strategies they employ are distinct from TANs that rely upon actors in the Global North to influence policy decisions. Specifically, they find that a South-South transnational advocacy network (SSTAN) has played a new and pronounced role in targeting transnational companies, a national development bank, and two resource dependent states in the Global South. All told, this article is a welcome addition to the growing literature on environmental advocacy in the Global South, especially among the BRICS.
In the last article of this issue, Liliana Andonova and Yixian Sun address a major lacuna in the study of transnational climate politics—understanding and investigating the uneven (and heavily North-centric) geography of transnational initiatives. They specifically theorize about the opportunities and constraints for participating in transnational initiatives faced by actors in the Global South. This welcome conceptual work is accompanied by a rigorous analysis of when and why states in the Global South participate in transnational voluntary carbon market programs. They find that uptake of these ostensibly private governance mechanisms in the Global South is driven not by market dynamics, but instead by experience with international institutions (like the Clean Development Mechanism), foreign aid relationships, and the ways in which these offset programs interact with domestic priorities. These findings are critical, not only for the scholarly goal of better understanding transnational climate governance, but also for governance dynamics under the Paris Agreement that seek to link state/non-state and private/public governance activities in important ways.