In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Governance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Network Governance
  • Participatory Governance
  • Governing Complex Systems
  • Climate Governance

Political Science Environmental Governance
Julie MacArthur
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0120


Environmental governance is a complex and multifaceted area of study, one that has emerged as a major focus of scholarly research and policy activity since the 1980s. Environmental challenges are both pressing and often representative of persistent “wicked” problems. This field is broad, spanning the various ways that actors and institutional structures both drive and respond to changes in the natural world. Environmental governance research focuses on how environmental ideas and impacts are produced, but also on how these systems are sustained, regulated, and transformed at multiple geographic levels. The literature in this bibliography emphasizes the role of state and nonstate actors as well as the complex processes used to exercise power and authority in the early 21st century. This approach contrasts with narrower ideas of environmental management with its focus on command-and-control regulation by states, represented by elite bureaucrats. Governance as a concept gained traction in the 1990s as part of a general recognition that governments were increasingly ceding authority “up” to transnational bodies, “down” to sub-national ones, and “out” to private and nonstate groups. This governance turn highlighted the importance of systemic thinking, transboundary connections, and new actors. The environmental governance literature is also deeply influenced by environmental scholars in the 1970s who stressed the vital role that natural systems play in our physical, spiritual, and economic lives, emphasizing the urgency of effective environmental stewardship. New research has proliferated in recent years as scholars have endeavored both to explain the genesis of collective action challenges surrounding issues like climate change and to illustrate how they may be overcome. For example, the widely cited shift away from command-and-control to more voluntaristic and network-based modes of governing is generally understood to open the possibility for novel, potentially more democratic and effective actors and processes. However, these new forms of governance may also be accompanied by less clarity, centrality, and enforcement capacity from the state at a time when crucial environmental tipping points and capacities are at hand. This bibliography provides an overview of central approaches to the study of environmental governance in order to provide a starting point for readers on this topic. It focuses on exploring governing actors (states, the private sector, civil society), levels (global, multilevel, and local), and modes (network, participatory). The final section focuses on the particular field of global climate governance.

General Overviews

Governance as an area of study is exceptionally broad, covering multiple scales, actors, fields (or issue areas), and processes. A number of excellent overview resources exist and should be used as a starting point for research. Three edited collections—Dryzek and Schlosberg 2005; Dauvergne 2012; and Durant, et al. 2004—provide comprehensive overviews of the major perspectives and issues in environmental governance, including seminal pieces on the tragedy of the commons and limits to growth. They also provide readers with a broad collection of economic and social perspectives within green political thought, including socialist, indigenous, and deep ecology perspectives. The Dauvergne volume is more directly organized around the challenges and debates in environmental governance, with an emphasis on the global level and political economy research, while Evans 2012 provides a textbook suitable for researchers new to the field and those teaching courses in this area. Ostrom 1990 contributes a Nobel Prize-winning perspective on common pool resource governance. This is essential reading for scholars seeking to understand the importance of institutional norms, rules and resource-appropriate policy interventions. The shift from looking beyond “government” and to “governance” is also usefully covered by Lemos and Agrawal 2006, which posits that market-led and state-led systems are more often hybrid and variable structures. Weiss 2000 is an excellent resource for graduate reading lists and an articulation of both normative and practical dimensions of governance research.

  • Dauvergne, Peter, ed. Handbook of Global Environmental Politics. 2d ed. Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2012.

    DOI: 10.4337/9781849809412

    Collection of forty chapters focused on national- and global-level environmental governance. The text provides a survey of research on regimes, global policymaking, as well as political economy–informed research on trade and nonstate actors.

  • Dryzek, John, and David Schlosberg, eds. Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader. 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Comprehensive collection of forty-four chapters from leading classic and contemporary environmental thinkers. Includes useful section headings that prove an overview of the general approach as well as a list of further representative readings on the subject.

  • Durant, Robert, Daniel Fiorino, and Rosemary O’Leary. Environmental Governance Reconsidered. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

    Edited volume with contributions from distinguished scholars in politics, public administration, law, and environmental economics. Focuses on a critical assessment of the shift from earlier “command-and-control” adversarial government toward more effective participatory, democratic, and networked processes.

  • Evans, James. Environmental Governance. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2012.

    A comprehensive and nicely structured introductory textbook in environmental governance which looks at both the politics and processes of various type of governance: market, state network, and participatory. Features case studies in climate change issues.

  • Lemos, Maria Carmen, and Arun Agrawal. “Environmental Governance.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31 (2006): 297–325.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Clearly written review article of scholarship on environmental governance. The authors focus on four main areas: globalization, decentralization, market governance, and multiscale governance, ultimately calling for hybrid rather than “pure” forms. This piece would make a valuable addition to reading lists at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

  • Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511807763

    Perhaps the most influential piece of writing on institutional environmental governance, essential reading for graduate and undergraduate students. In it, Ostrom presents a rebuttal of the classic state vs. market dichotomy debate over common pool resource governance, and illustrates empirically creative and effective mechanisms for local and collective management.

  • Weiss, Thomas. “Governance, Good Governance and Global Governance: Conceptual and Actual Challenges.” Third World Quarterly 21.5 (2000): 795–814.

    DOI: 10.1080/713701075

    Provides an important overview of the development of governance as a framework for understanding state society processes. While the piece does not address environmental challenges specifically, it does usefully introduce and discuss the normative concept of “good governance,” particularly with reference to developing processes of localization and democratization. Useful text for graduate courses on governance and global governance.

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