Global environmental governance is undergoing significant change. There is growing recognition that the traditional state-centric intergovernmental model of addressing global environmental problems is insufficient in the face of increasingly complex and overlapping environmental issues. There are serious questions about the ability or willingness of states, individually and collectively, to respond to the most pressing environmental challenges. The erosion of confidence in and the dominance of a state-centric governance model has simultaneously resulted from and provoked significant innovation. While there is growing discussion of institutional reform at the international level, including reform to the United Nations Environment Programme and the creation of a new global organization to address these problems, there is also a fragmentation of governance processes to other jurisdictional levels and actors. Corporations, social and environmental organizations, public-private partnerships, substate governments, and even local communities have already begun to conceive and implement governance initiatives to address global environmental problems. This paper reflects upon these innovative institutional dynamics and assesses their prospects to produce effective, legitimate and equitable outcomes. It concludes with a series of questions to guide future analysis and to better understand the prospects for improving the practice of global environmental governance.

  • Matthew Hoffmann is an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. He is author of Ozone Depletion and Climate Change: Constructing a Global Response (2005) and co-editor (with Alice Ba) of Contending Perspectives on Global Governance: Coherence, Contestation and World Order (2005). 

  • Steven Bernstein is an associate professor of political science; associate director, Centre for International Studies; and director, MA in International Affairs, University of Toronto.