The best books on global environmental governance

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my professional life exploring the roles social institutions play in guiding interactions between humans and the natural environment in a variety of settings. Along the way, I pioneered research on what is now known as global environmental governance, devoting particular attention to issues relating to the atmosphere, the oceans, and the polar regions. Although I come from the world of scholarship, I have played an active role in promoting productive interactions between science and policy regarding matters relating to the Arctic and global environmental change.


I wrote...

Governing Complex Systems: Social Capital for the Anthropocene

By Oran R. Young,

Book cover of Governing Complex Systems: Social Capital for the Anthropocene

What is my book about?

Major issues generating needs for governance in the Anthropocene (e.g. climate change, the loss of biological diversity) involve complex systems featuring nonlinear dynamics, extensive telecoupling, critical transitions, and emergent properties. Governing such systems effectively requires intensive monitoring, an ability to introduce institutional changes without compromising the capacity to govern effectively, and agility in the sense of a capacity to respond quickly to changing socioecological conditions. This poses problems for rules-based arrangements based on awkward compromises that are difficult to amend.

It is timely to explore the uses of alternative mechanisms to guide the behavior of key actors, including goals, principles, pledges, and performance standards. As the case of climate change suggests, hybrid arrangements involving combinations of these mechanisms are likely to become increasingly relevant in a world of complex systems.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Governance without Government: Order and Change in World Politics

Oran R. Young Why did I love this book?

Governance is a social function centered on steering societies toward collectively desirable outcomes.

By contrast, a government is an organization (or collection of organizations) authorized to deal with issues of governance in a particular society.

While governments are responsible for addressing needs for governance in many settings, this distinction allows us to explore situations featuring efforts to respond to needs for governance in the absence of a government.

This is a critical observation at the global level where there are many needs for governance but no world government.

It has freed the community to analyze a range of governance systems (often called regimes) dealing with matters of security, economics, and the environment, while setting aside unproductive debates about the pros and cons of efforts to create a world government.

By James N. Rosenau (editor), Ernst-Otto Czempiel (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Governance without Government as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A world government capable of controlling nation-states has never evolved. Nonetheless, considerable governance underlies the current order among states, facilitates absorption of the rapid changes at work in the world, and that direction to the challenges posed by interstate conflicts, environmental pollution, currency crises, and the many other problems to which an ever expanding global interdependence gives rise. In this study, nine leading international relations specialists examine the central features of this governance without government. They explore its ideological bases, behavioural patterns, and institutional arrangements as well as the pervasive changes presently at work within and among states. Within this…


Book cover of Environmental Regime Effectiveness: Confronting Theory with Evidence

Oran R. Young Why did I love this book?

In recent times, international regimes have arisen to address a wide range of specific needs for governance.

With regard to environmental concerns, specific regimes deal with marine issues like fishing and shipping, atmospheric issues like transboundary air pollution and ozone depletion, and global concerns like the loss of biological diversity and climate change.

Some regimes are effective (e.g. the regime to protect the stratospheric ozone layer). But others are much less effective (e.g. the regime to protect biological diversity). This makes it critical to focus on regime effectiveness.

What is the proper way to think about effectiveness? What are the determinants of effectiveness? Adopting a problem-solving perspective, this book initiates a process of addressing this subject systematically.

Some problems are more difficult to solve than others. Some regimes have a greater capacity to solve problems than others. Some issue-specific regimes are located within broader political settings that are more conducive to addressing needs for governance than others.

By Edward L. Miles, Steinar Andresen, Elaine M. Carlin , Jon Birger Skjaerseth , Arild Underdal , Jorgen Wettestad

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Environmental Regime Effectiveness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book examines why some international environmental regimes succeed while others fail. Confronting theory with evidence, and combining qualitative and quantitative analysis, it compares fourteen case studies of international regimes. It considers what effectiveness in a regime would look like, what factors might contribute to effectiveness, and how to measure the variables. It determines that environmental regimes actually do better than the collective model of the book predicts. The effective regimes examined involve the End of Dumping in the North Sea, Sea Dumping of Low-Level Radioactive Waste, Management of Tuna Fisheries in the Pacific, and the Vienna Convention and Montreal…


Book cover of Managing Institutional Complexity: Regime Interplay and Global Environmental Change

Oran R. Young Why did I love this book?

There is a tendency to focus on regimes as self-contained governance systems.

But in reality, there are typically more or less complex interactions between or among environmental regimes. Some regimes (e.g. the ozone regime and the climate regime) interact with one another in significant ways.

In other cases, a number of distinct regimes play influential roles in dealing with the same problem (e.g. climate change). This leads to the emergence of regime complexes regarded as sets of institutional elements that are not arranged in a hierarchical order but that all play roles in dealing with major issues like climate change.

The research challenge then is to identify conditions leading to mutually beneficial or synergistic interactions in contrast to conditions giving rise to interactions that are harmful or that produce interference in the operations of distinct regimes.

By Sebastian Oberthur (editor), Olav Schram Stokke (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Managing Institutional Complexity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Experts investigate how states and other actors can improve inter-institutional synergy and examine the complexity of overlapping environmental governance structures.

Institutional interaction and complexity are crucial to environmental governance and are quickly becoming dominant themes in the international relations and environmental politics literatures. This book examines international institutional interplay and its consequences, focusing on two important issues: how states and other actors can manage institutional interaction to improve synergy and avoid disruption; and what forces drive the emergence and evolution of institutional complexes, sets of institutions that cogovern particular issue areas.

The book, a product of the Institutional Dimensions of…


Book cover of Governing through Goals: Sustainable Development Goals as Governance Innovation

Oran R. Young Why did I love this book?

In Western thinking based on the ideal of the rule of law, there is a distinct preference for regimes or governance systems that are articulated in legally binding instruments negotiated by states (e.g. treaties or conventions) and that emphasize the central role of rules in the form of mandatory requirements and prohibitions.

But the key to effective governance treated as a matter of social steering is to find ways to guide or channel the behavior of those states and nonstate actors whose actions are relevant to any given need for governance. 

One alternative to rule-based governance is goal-based governance or, in other words, a strategy that emphasizes setting collective goals (e.g. keeping temperature increases at the Earth’s surface to less than 1.5° C) and then launching a vigorous and coordinated effort to meet these goals within a specified period of time.

Goal-based governance is familiar at the domestic level in societies (e.g. the Peoples Republic of China) that operate planned economies on the basis of five-year plans.

With regard to environmental issues at the international level, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the period 2015-2030 provide a prominent example of an effort to address needs for governance by articulating well-defined goals rather than negotiating the terms of a treaty.

By Norichika Kanie (editor), Frank Biermann (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Governing through Goals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A detailed examination of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the shift in governance strategy they represent.

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals built on and broadened the earlier Millennium Development Goals, but they also signaled a larger shift in governance strategies. The seventeen goals add detailed content to the concept of sustainable development, identify specific targets for each goal, and help frame a broader, more coherent, and transformative 2030 agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals aim to build a universal,…


Book cover of Earth System Governance: World Politics in the Anthropocene

Oran R. Young Why did I love this book?

The dramatic growth in human populations and the extraordinary increase in human capacities to affect the environment has led to a transformation of the setting in which issues of environmental governance arise.

The result is the onset of a new era commonly described as the Anthropocene and the rise of the idea of Earth system governance. The biophysical conditions that control the Earth’s climate system or the diversity of life on the planet play critical roles as determinants of human well-being.

But human actions also are now critical forces in determining the character of the climate system and the future of biological diversity on the planet. There is still a need for regimes dealing with specific environmental concerns, such as transboundary air pollution, persistent organic pollutants, or the spread of plastic debris.

At the same time, there is a critical need to focus on arrangements designed to sustain key planetary systems (e.g. the Earth’s climate system) and to situate regimes dealing with more specific needs for governance within an Earth system context.

By Frank Biermann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earth System Governance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new model for effective global environmental governance in an era of human-caused planetary transformation and disruption.

Humans are no longer spectators who need to adapt to their natural environment. Our impact on the earth has caused changes that are outside the range of natural variability and are equivalent to such major geological disruptions as ice ages. Some scientists argue that we have entered a new epoch in planetary history: the Anthropocene. In such an era of planet-wide transformation, we need a new model for planet-wide environmental politics. In this book, Frank Biermann proposes “earth system” governance as just such…


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Book cover of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

Larry R. Frank Sr. Author Of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

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