An introduction to the law and economics of environmental policy: issues in institutional design

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Requisites for this module. Pre-requisites: none. Co-requisites: none. Prohibited modules: none. Key module requisite for : none. Module description This module offers a comprehensive introduction to the understanding of the domestic politics of environmental problems in a comparative cross-national as well as sub-national perspective.

The module begins by examining domestic views on the state of the environment and possible paths along which these views might change.

We then move on to consider environmental politics at various different levels of political behaviour and organisation, starting with individual-level values, before moving up the organized politics of the environmental movement, interest groups, political parties, governmental institutions and courts.

At each level we consider what drives approaches to the environment and what the consequences of those approaches are for political organisation and action. Module aims To provide students with the necessary analytical foundations to conduct theoretical and empirical comparative research on the environment. To engage with a wide range of applied material relating to comparative environmental politics. To generate ideas and design a study that engages with contemporary environmental issues in a theoretically sound and empirically aware perspective.

Module information No additional information available. Learning and teaching methods 2 hour lecture. Some topics will be covered using class presentations by students. At other times we will initiate round-table discussions based on members of the class all reading and thinking about a particular topic.

We will often distribute lecture notes. These are intended to introduce significant concepts and arguments but are not a substitute for you doing the set reading.


Ward, Hugh. Bernauer, Thomas; Koubi, Vally. Carter, Neil.

Ringquist, Evan J. Stavins, R. Abbott, Kenneth W. Bechtel, Michael M. List; Daniel M. Buhaug, Halvard. Betsill; Harriet Bulkeley. Walley, NoahWhitehead, Bradley. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. While there is an overwhelming amount of research examining specific nexuses through case studies and compilation of aggregated data, the institutionalisation of the nexus among the Sustainable Development Goals still requires substantially more attention. So far, this debate has seen promising first results at the local level, for example in proposals for a bottom-up institutionalisation of the nexus approach in sustainable development.

Weitz et al. However, local-level institutionalisation alone does not account for trade-offs, co-benefits, interlinkages between development and environment problems across local or national jurisdictions. For instance, water is not merely a local or national commodity. It crosses political boundaries and is thus a concern of transnational governance as well Conca In turn, transnational problems of water affect other areas of sustainable development, such as the viability of agricultural practices in different locations, health and energy, but also the resilience of water-scarce or flood-prone cities and infrastructures.

A nexus perspective should therefore not just focus on local-level implications and solutions, but also on the transnational and global levels so as to avoid cross-border trade-offs and to stimulate cross-border synergies. Our discussion hence concentrates on this global transnational dimension of the nexus approach in sustainable development.

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We examine three areas of institutionalisation of the nexus approach in global sustainability governance. First, we analyse institutional arrangements under the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that may help to ensure cross-sectoral linkages among the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Second, we look at ways to address the nexus among the Sustainable Development Goals in scientific research and assessments, in order to maximise specific information and advice for all actors, from local institutions up to UN agencies and the High-level Political Forum in the UN system, in order to help address remaining challenges and policy priorities.

Finally, we look at the potential role of transnational partnerships that may help to better manage the nexus among the Sustainable Development Goals. The forum has replaced the UN Commission on Sustainable Development that was created in with a similar mandate to help integrate sustainable development policies. Yet this commission had low standing in the UN system, was given too little importance by governments and had insignificant power to influence economic or social decision-making Biermann It is crucial, therefore, that the new High-level Political Forum is more successful than its predecessor.

The High-level Political Forum has been given the mandate to guide, recommend and review UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform b , but it does not have the mandate to issue binding regulations or to directly steer UN agencies or other international organisations Abbott and Bernstein Such an orchestrating role of the High-level Political Forum can help to facilitate a nexus approach to sustainable development. It can bring different regional organisations, states and UN organisations together to create synergies between separate terrains of work.

Research output

For example, the High-level Political Forum can recommend that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation should collaborate more proactively with UN Water, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation for better synergies between the Sustainable Development Goals in the domains of water, food and health through better education.

For such recommendations to be of influence, the High-level Political Forum needs to offer proper guidance on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals through a nexus approach. To a certain extent, offering such guidance could be as simple as promoting the nexus message, so that cross-sectoral policy-making becomes a more normalised way of thinking about sustainable development among UN agencies and state governments.

Guidance can, however, become more concrete and influential through active exchange and collaboration between the High-level Political Forum and the UN Global Sustainable Development Reporting mechanism. As discussed below, the UN Global Sustainable Development Report can offer regular thematic assessments on the nexus between selected issues addressed under the Sustainable Development Goals. This selection can rotate per review; for example, one thematic assessment can focus on the nexus between food and health; another on problems of inequality in the nexus between resilient infrastructures and resilient cities; another on the nexus between sustainable cities and sustainable consumption and production also in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals on food, water and energy; and many more nexuses in sustainable development can become a focus of these thematic assessment reports.

Institutional Design

These reports can offer the High-level Political Forum a solid basis for requests and recommendations to states, regional organisation or UN agencies to better collaborate and therefore help implement a nexus approach to sustainable development. This depends on the status that governments are willing to give to the body. This does not have to pose a barrier, however, to adopting a nexus approach when reviewing and guiding action on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In support of Halle and Wolfe , we argue that these cross-cutting thematic reviews should also provide the theme for the Economic and Social Council to ensure alignment between the two bodies.

Law and economics

If the Economic and Social Council adopts the suggested theme focussed on cross-cutting issues—such as on the nexus between food security, health and equality—it will simultaneously help to endorse a nexus approach to sustainable development in the High-level Political Forum. From a nexus perspective, it will be important that the High-level Political Forum evolves over time into an integrative steering body for all economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, in a way in which all dimensions are equally voiced and evaluated.

That ultimate objective will depend on the effective mandate that governments will be willing to grant to this new body. With a strong mandate, the new High-level Political Forum will be able to serve as an authoritative platform for different national ministries, regional organisations and UN agencies to come together in order to improve policy coordination on specific issues and thus to implement a nexus approach to sustainable development.

These reports can allow for regular and up-to-date accounts and thematic assessments of nexus problems related to sustainable development, with a particular focus on global-level and transnational synergies and trade-offs.

Module description

A focus on the nexus between Sustainable Development Goals has already been actively embraced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs that manages the Global Sustainable Development Report, also in light of a full chapter in the report on the climate, land, energy and water nexus, and a full chapter on the nexus between oceans, seas, marine resources and human well-being in the report UN a ; UNDESA a. Officially adopting a nexus approach in these thematic assessment reports would provide an institutionalised procedure through which governments and other UN agencies can obtain regular advice to successfully implement a nexus approach in sustainable development.

An important question remains how this could be done in a systematic manner with a secretariat of only a few officers in charge of this report. Enhancement of the function and the capacity of the secretariat are indispensable if the nexus approach is to be taken seriously. An important facet of this review and assessment process concerns the level of democratic legitimacy. Several observers have argued that it would be important that the voice of civil society—including ordinary citizens—is better heard and taken into account Kindornay and Twigg ; Gellers, this issue. This is also essential for better nexus thinking in the implementation phase of the Sustainable Development Goals, as a wide range of knowledge sources, ideas and experiences can benefit learning and understanding in the still relatively new terrains of the nexus.

For example, many countries still treat climate change as an environmental issue, thus ignoring its intersections with other problems of sustainable development, such as poverty, health or even security e. Boas , p. Broader participatory engagement and knowledge exchange on the topic of climate change could help to illuminate its wider intersections with sustainable development.

Growing attention to trans-disciplinarity, that is, co-development of new knowledge between stakeholders and researchers from multiple disciplines, may enhance such research-based action to achieve a nexus approach to sustainable development. An additional way to approach such a more grounded monitoring process, also to identify and review nexuses between the Sustainable Development Goals, would be to create a virtual citizen network on sustainable development, using Internet tools.

These tools help the World Health Organisation to respond to situations not reported by state or scientific actors Fidler and Gostin , p. Through such virtual networks, the views of local communities, city dwellers and local practitioners can be more actively included in the identification and review of nexuses between the Sustainable Development Goals. Some of these ideas are presented in the Agenda for Sustainable Development in relation to the proposed Technology Facilitation Mechanism. This Mechanism includes a multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals and an online platform.

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  4. Similar kinds of settings, or creating a linkage between the Global Sustainable Development Report, will benefit a grounded approach to identifying and reviewing nexuses in sustainable development. Another avenue through which the UN Global Sustainable Development Report can facilitate cross-sectoral linkages among the Sustainable Development Goals is to help ensure interaction between global-level and local governance.

    Local and national governments have a leading role in implementing the Goals and in managing nexuses between policy domains. It should be prevented, however, that local actions and commitments produce transnational trade-offs across different domains of sustainable development. From a national perspective, these investments seem to benefit Sustainable Development Goal 7 on reliable and sustainable energy.

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    But these projects may negatively affect water levels within India but also in neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh, and thus negatively impact on Sustainable Development Goal 6 on sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Vidal There needs to be a level of harmony between locally tailored Goals and actions and the global Sustainable Development Goals. One way to achieve this is that the Global Sustainable Development Report develops a synthesis of national reports on sustainable development and on that basis highlights transnational synergies and trade-offs between achievements on the Sustainable Development Goals.

    An even more effective way forward might be to draw on regional review mechanisms Halle and Wolfe ; Kindornay and Twigg Regional forums, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism or the Asia—Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, could be asked to identify cross-border or regional problems and synergies that result from implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and to identify key nexuses in sustainable development that require more regional attention.