international relations

& global environmental governance

This blog will look at the *relationship* between power and the environment on the international stage. 

The field of international relations is a relatively young one. While historians, sociologists, philosophers and many others have been describing its realities for centuries, it has only crystallised itself and grown as an independent topic of study in the context of the Cold War – a characteristic it shares with global environmental governance and diplomacy. This is not to say that the environment hasn’t been a subject in the interactions between nations before the second part of the 20th century. Many examples exist of such interactions. It can however confidently be said that environmental governance did not become an effective reality of international relations until the 1970’s – at which point it was only a niche. 

If there had to be a genesis of GEG, it would certainly be the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment of 1972. In Stockholm, nations agreed on a Declaration of 26 principles which would later lay the very basis of GEG as we know it today.

The formation of GEG has however never been foreign to power politics. It has been, from the very beginning, shaped by the structure of international relations. Geopolitical tensions have heavily marked the Stockholm Conference with countries boycotting and sabotaging the deliberations. In this regard, History certainly helps relativise the current context with the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza posing real threats to contemporary environmental diplomacy. 

GEG hasn’t emerged in vacuum. In fact, international relations are the fabric of environmental governance and diplomacy. It is therefore not surprising that, in many aspects, the very same tensions that haunted Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the Stockholm Conference, have developed into deep contemporary fault lines – the main one being the omnipresent divide between developed and developing countries.

But, not only does the structure of international relations shape global environmental governance, (I will also argue that) current global environmental challenges affect – and, more certainly, will affect – the structure of international relations. While this is also not an entirely new phenomenon, the current and future scale and severity of global challenges will play a fundamental role in setting and resetting the balance of power. This will most clearly translate in the field of energy but it will also have numerous correlative economic repercussions with nations competing for access to strategic commodities and in the development of advanced technologies.


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