Jul 30 2013


Reviewed by David Wirth, Boston College

Weston and Bollier propose a new structure for environmental policy and law based on a broader interpretation of green governance as it relates to human rights, economics and international relations.

Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Law of the Commons by Burns H. Weston and David Bollier, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 384 pp.

An individual human right to environment has been problematic, in part because the content of that right would be very difficult to define and its application to particular cases would be a formidable task. The authors, recognizing both the utility of the concept and the challenges it presents, recast the question in structural, decentralized, collective terms rather than in an individual, hierarchical, and legal framework.

Finding a useful analogy in the Internet, the authors advocate confidence in self-organized governance and collaboration in complex adaptive systems. Certainly such developments as private certification schemes developed by NGOs to identify sustainably harvested timber tend to suggest optimism about such a model. Whether such an approach will be sufficient to provide a path to address a problem of the staggering proportions of climate heating is another question altogether.

The authors, recognizing this challenge, then take on the question of global governance. The existing multilateral system is an ineffective patchwork of institutions, organizations, and practices, which generally boil down to a least-common-denominator compromise to which most states can acquiesce.

Instead, the authors of this work propose an approach based on commons management. Arguing for an orientation that is “more practical and improvisational than theoretical and directive” (180), the authors then set out ten catalytic strategies for achieving green governance. These include expanding and strengthening the public trust doctrine and an eclectic analysis that touches on Locke, Social Darwinism, the Magna Carta, and ancient Rome, to name a few.

It is beyond dispute that the world lacks anything approaching a coherent, effective approach to managing the stratospheric ozone layer and the global climate, whose existence as common-pool resources (the authors’ preferred term) has become apparent only in recent decades. As with the debate over the right to environment, this volume offers a variety of much-needed provocative alternative approaches to global commons management.

Jul 30 2013


Reviewed by Alexis Schulman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this book, Judith A. Layzer analyzes seven prominent Ecosystem-based management (EBM) initiatives to determine if EBM delivers the benefits its supporters promise.

2 - Natural Experiments Judith Layzer

Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment by Judith A. Layzer, MIT Press, 2008, 384 pp.

Although the sweeping environmental statutes passed in the 1960s and 1970s produced substantial improvements in US environmental quality, over the years these laws have also been assailed as too top-down, homogenous, and inflexible. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has found favor among industry critics, as well as scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists, as a panacea to the failings of the conventional, “command and control” approach to regulation. EBM rests on three core principles: the domain of management ought to be defined by ecological, not political, boundaries; stakeholders, those impacted by management decisions, need to be included in decision-making processes; and management rules should adapt over time to changing local conditions. EBM cheerleaders argue that this approach will yield improved environmental health, while protecting other social interests, reducing conflicts, and producing lasting decisions.

But does it?

In Natural Experiments, Judith A. Layzer examines the efficacy of EBM in practice by analyzing seven of the most prominent EBM initiatives in the US, including the Everglades Restoration Plan and the California Bay-Delta Program (CALFED). Lazyer is primarily interested in testing the proposition that EBM improves environmental outcomes, above and beyond what would be expected under the status quo. Methodologically, such an evaluation presents enormous challenges, including the demands of extensive counterfactual analysis across cases that vary greatly. It is not, therefore, surprising that her work is one of very few to address this critical question with any analytical rigor. Applying a multi-pronged qualitative analysis, replete with exceedingly detailed case studies and process tracing, Layzer’s most significant result lends support to EBM skeptics. She finds the collaborative dictum, in particular, “perpetuates, rather than mitigates, the existing power imbalance,” resulting in less protective management plans and poorer environmental outcomes. Instead political leadership—specifically a willingness to prioritize environmental protection over other interests—exerted within the “conventional political framework,” resulted in the greatest environmental gains.

Advocates of collaborative management may rightly argue that process design is critical, and these cases stray far from the ideal set out in the literature. Nonetheless, the question remains: given the failures of the collaborative efforts Layzer assesses, is collaborative environmental management practical for the scale and complexity of the environmental challenges we face? Or is EBM better off without it?

Jul 30 2013


Reviewed by Lesley Pories, World Bank

Chellaney makes the case that water will likely become one of Asia’s greatest concerns in the future, bringing to the reader’s attention the increasing political and security issues that surround Asia’s limited water supplies.

Water: Asia’s New Battleground by Brahma Chellaney, Georgetown University Press, 2011,
309 pp.

Throughout the history of mankind, water (and a lack thereof) has been at the root of the rise and decline of numerous civilizations. Today, the risk of history repeating itself is clear: Brahma Chellaney’s overview of the geopolitical dynamics regarding control of increasingly scarce water resources in Asia gives a comprehensive, if incomplete and occasionally biased, examination of how the need for and manipulation of this all-important resource influences Asian politics and will continue to do so.

“Water scarcity is set to become Asia’s defining crisis by midcentury,” he opens. Throughout, water serves as a common thread connecting economic growth and development, societal pressure and geopolitical posturing. Chellaney does an admirable job of weaving these components together, providing valuable insights for international relations (IR) aficionados and laypeople alike.

In my view, Chellaney tries to cover too much territory. Taking the broadest possible definition of Asia, his treatment of the Israel-Palestine-Jordan water dispute is elementary, his review of Chinese disagreements with Russia and Kazakhstan contains some errors, and his depiction of water conflicts on the Korean peninsula is cursory. As might be expected given his position within a premiere Indian think-tank, his knowledge is most extensive when he is addressing issues of immediate concern to India. He glorifies India’s behavior towards Pakistan and vilifies China. There is no mistaking Chellaney for an objective observer. On the other hand, faced with these foreboding challenges, who can be objective?

Jul 30 2013


Review by Janet Martinez, Stanford University

This book reviews the development and influence of the WTO dispute resolution system (DSU), while also assessing the WTO’s environmental competency and the judicial issues that impede progress

The WTO and the Environment: Development of Competence Beyond Trade by James K. R. Watson, Routledge, 2013, 236 pp.

Since it was created in 1995 to manage international trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has wrestled with issues of environmental protection. Watson’s volume provides a thoughtful overview of the WTO’s legal and administrative efforts to deal with trade disputes in general, and trade-and-environmental matters in particular. The author finds a growing competence within the WTO, but still procedural and substantive barriers impede progress. The reforms he proposes address both concerns.

The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) spells out a way of handling disputes through a process that has become increasingly judicial, but is widely viewed as strong, reliable, and effective.  Its trade-expert panelists, along with an Appellate Body review, render decisions that function as “informal precedents.” Watson calls on the WTO to supplement its panelists with lawyer and scientific experts skilled in environmental matters; empower its Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) to participate in DSU cases in an advisory role; and offer access to “third parties” (i.e., other interested stakeholders) in environmental cases, in the same way that the NAFTA Commission on Environmental Cooperation does.

Watson traces the ways in which environmental concerns have been incorporated into WTO agreements, and sees momentum in favor of making explicit what has been implicit regarding the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements, like the Basel Convention on Transboundary Waste, CITES, and the Montréal Protocol. That is, trade agreements affect environmental quality and environmental treaties can have an impact on international trade.

Given his focus on dispute system design, Watson points out the need to intervene in the WTO’s policy making efforts—writing the rule book at the Doha negotiations—as well as in the way DSU’s legal enforcement is handled. I doubt that WTO members will be willing to address environmental concerns apart from parallel demands to accommodate labor and human rights concerns as well. Nevertheless, Watson notes that if the WTO were to enact some kind of trade and environment ground rules, the CTE could transition from a political body to a much stronger implementing committee.