UN environmental policy: Non-State Actors, trends, and the regulatory role of the state

Authors: , , , , , ,


This interdisciplinary article draws from the radical ideas of global political ecology (GPE), environmental politics, ecological economics and the sociological analysis of social movements. It seeks to help bridge the research gap regarding non-state actors' (NSAs) influence on the role of the nation-state and the United Nations in global political ecology and environmental policy, including emission reductions, such as antideforestation measures, and environmental justice. We consider NSAs as consisting of two heterogeneous global coalitions: a) civil society organizations (CSOs) and environmental non-governmental organizations, and b) peak corporate organizations with green economy objectives, here denominated green business organizations, representing transnational corporations (TNCs). After a review of prior studies, we present a version of an advocacy coalition framework; identify a timeline of changes in UN architecture and simplified NSA influence categories. We only begin to test very broad hypotheses on relative agency and to compare NSA narratives with UN documents. We show that the architecture of the UN has gradually shifted from favoring civil society to corporations. There is evidence that, in the late 1990s, in comparison with CSOs, TNCs increased their access to nation-states and UN agencies. The TNC narrative changed from a) denying climate change and ignoring the UN to b) recognizing change and guiding negotiations. These shifts in UN architecture, TNC agency and narrative appears to have influenced changes in UN documents towards a corporate global environmental framework, reducing their references to the regulatory and enforcement roles of the state and global binding agreements, shifting global debate towards a voluntary corporate orientation. This may have reduced prospects for reducing emissions and increasing environmental justice. Combining market mechanisms with strong regulatory frameworks is best practice for environmental policy. When nation-states have the will and capacity to command and control, they can reduce environmental degradation. Stronger national government competence and enforcement capacity and binding UN agreements are essential for the effectiveness of market incentives, which may be enhanced by business and civil society initiatives. If CSOs can reunite and regain their strength, maybe they could negotiate with TNCs on a more equal footing. Perhaps UN members could once again become comfortable with the idea of strong states and non-hegemonic global governance.

Keywords: Global political ecology, Nation-state, earth system governance, UN architecture, UN agency, green economy, non-state actors, UNCED, Rio+20, Climate convention

How to Cite: Weiss, J. S. , Dajian, Z. , Enríquez, M. A. , May, P. H. , Pinheiro do Nascimento, E. , Pengue, W. A. & Shmelev, S. (2017) “UN environmental policy: Non-State Actors, trends, and the regulatory role of the state”, Journal of Political Ecology. 24(1). doi: