National policy reform is a prerequisite for improved stewardship of the global environment and figures prominently among the goals of international environmental diplomacy and transnational advocacy campaigns. Yet research on global environmental politics has proceeded absent models of policy change in developing countries, where most of the planet's people, land, and biological diversity are found. In this article I present a theoretical framework to explain the domestic responses of developing countries to global environmental concerns. Drawing on research in Costa Rica and Bolivia, I situate the impact of global environmentalism in the context of complex, decades-long domestic struggles to create effective institutions. When international outcomes depend on protracted reforms in nations that are sovereign yet poor, policy change is driven by actors who successfully pair international resources (technical, financial, and ideational) with the domestic political resources needed to see through major policy innovations.

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

The spheres of influence framework and associated historical analyses are described in detail in Steinberg 2001. I wish to thank the editors of Global Environmental Politics for allowing an exception to the usual word limit for a Current Debates manuscript, which facilitated a more thorough exposition of the book's central argument. This research was supported by grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.C. Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Switzer Environmental Foundation, and the Organization of American States.