In the age of globalization, marketization, and decentralization of environmental governance, scholarship on private environmental regimes has proliferated over the past decades and greatly influenced the discourse in international environmental politics. This book aims to argue for the benefits of private governance on climate change. As expressed in the title of the book—Beyond Politics—the authors emphasize the emerging conceptual shift of global climate governance, from the traditionally dominant government policy to a new form of governance by the private sector, including corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals (both households and consumers). This work adds to the growing awareness of the role of private environmental governance by demonstrating numerous examples of private climate governance and developing a theory to explain the growing demand of this new type of regime.

This extraordinarily ambitious book starts with a comprehensive description of climate change science and social impacts, followed by the history of action and inaction due to various political, social, and psychological barriers. It presents an extensive number of scholarly perspectives on governance challenge, along with numerous cases of private voluntary activities by corporations, NGOs, and individuals. The authors’ work will be useful in advancing environmental governance studies both theoretically and practically. The book, therefore, should be read not only by scholars from various fields (such as political science, law, economics, and psychology) but also by businesspeople in various industrial sectors and, needless to say, environmental activists and students.

Throughout their discussion, Vandenbergh and Gilligan evaluate opportunities and benefits of private governance from the perspective of (1) how much emission reduction would be possible if all household and corporate behavior change were to occur (“technical potential”), (2) how much behavioral change can be expected (“behavioral plasticity”), and (3) to what extent private voluntary initiatives are accepted and implemented (“initiative feasibility”). They argue that voluntary initiatives based on corporations, NGOs, and individuals’ motivation, together with carefully designed private initiatives and continuously developed new technologies, make private climate governance “promising” for problem mitigation, even when it is missing the coercive power and resources of government. Whereas a public governance approach is often inflexible, bureaucratic, and slow in implementation, and frequently restricts business and consumer activities by command-and-control regulatory framework, private governance is economically and politically more feasible, promotes environmental innovation, and is fast and flexible in its creation. Moreover, private governance can leverage the international trade system to expand pressure for climate mitigation across borders where national governments are out of reach for regulating economic actors.

Indeed, hundreds of initiatives, standards, and codes of conduct are collectively pressuring global business activities and creating new social values, as the authors discuss. An additional research agenda would nevertheless help further inspire the climate policy engagement of readers. First, even though the data and cases about voluntary practices by the private sector provided in the book (between chapters 4 and 7) are numerous, they are somewhat anecdotal, and the entire picture of the proliferation of private regimes and their efficacy can be difficult to deduce. An expanded sector-based analysis could help clear potential selection bias in the theoretical generalization; the environmental impact of business activities tremendously varies based on industry—from IT, services, and manufacturing to infrastructure and extractive industries.

Second, more extensive analysis of the risk and limitation of private governance would make the roadmap presented more promising. Fixing market failures—such as negative externalities, information asymmetry, monopolistic competition, and moral hazard—by using the same market system that created them is challenging. Private actors, especially corporations and consumers, are at the same time both contributors and troublemakers with respect to creating a sustainable world. While they provide innovation and ideas for efficient resource use, they are the very cause of pollution and overconsumption. Similarly, increasingly freer global trade, which can be effective for promoting higher environmental standards in global product chains, is also the very system that proliferated race-to-the-bottom problems in every corner of global society and ecosystems.

Finally, analysis of the correlation between public and private governance, rather than disconnecting the two, may be more of an inspiration. A small government approach is not necessarily faster or more efficient, and a large government approach need not always restrict corporate and household activities. National governments fund environmental infrastructure and promote technological and economic innovation, such as upgrading energy grids to lower energy costs and incentivizing fuel-efficient automobile manufacturers and buyers by reducing taxes and regularizing priority traffic lanes. Intergovernmental organizations can also have a normative influence on corporate and consumers’ ecological decision-making. The value of private actors is inevitably embedded in the political and social system, and those two should not be disconnected from each other.