Gabriele Spilker, Vally Koubi, and Thomas Bernauer
How does liberalization of trade and investment (i.e., economic globalization) as well as membership in international organizations (i.e., political globalization) affect the natural environment? Does economic and/or political globalization lead to ecological improvement or deterioration? This article reviews the existing literature on international political economy (IPE) and the environment in view of these and related questions.
While globalization has various dimensions—economic, social, and political—IPE focuses mainly on the economic dimension when analyzing the effect of globalization on the environment. In particular, IPE puts most emphasis on the environmental implications of trade in goods and services as well as foreign direct investment (FDI). Even though both trade and investment are thought to have a substantial impact on the natural environment, the existing literature demonstrates that the effects of economic globalization on the environment are neither theoretically nor empirically one-dimensional. This means that existing research does not allow for a clear-cut overall assessment in terms of whether globalization leads to an improvement or deterioration of the environment. This is the case because the impact of economic globalization on the environment materializes via different mechanisms, some of which are supposedly good for the environment, and some of which are bad.
On the one hand, economic globalization may improve environmental quality via its positive effect on economic growth, since trade and FDI facilitate specialization among countries according to their comparative advantage and the transfer of resources across countries. On the other hand, relevant economic theory gives little reason to believe that free trade and FDI will influence all countries in the same way. Instead, when considering the relationship between economic globalization and the environment, it is important to consider the interactions between scale, composition, and technique effects created by different national characteristics and trade and investment opportunities. In particular, the scale effect of openness to trade and capital mobility increases environmental degradation through more intensive production. The technique effect predicts a positive effect of trade and FDI on the environment through the use of cleaner techniques of production. And the change in the sectoral composition of a country as a consequence of trade and FDI, the composition effect, could positively or negatively affect the environment of a country (e.g., a change from agriculture to industry may lead to higher energy consumption and air pollution while a change from industry or agriculture to service is expected to decrease environmental degradation). Consequently, the overall effect of trade and FDI on environmental quality can be positive, negative, or nonexistent strongly depending on the specific situation of the country under investigation.
Furthermore, both theory and empirical research highlight the potential for government policy and environmental regulations to affect the relationship between trade/FDI and the environment. On the one hand, increased competition between economic actors (usually companies) due to increased market openness (globalization) might cause a race to the bottom or at least regulatory chill in formal and informal environmental standards as well as pollution havens attracting foreign direct investment. The reason is that countries might weaken (or at least not increase) their environmental policies in order to protect industries from international competition or attract foreign firms and FDI motivated by the expectation of lower costs of environmental protection. Hence the (theoretical) expectation here is that developed countries will refrain from adopting more stringent environmental regulations and might even reduce existing standards due to competition with countries that have laxer environmental regulation. And less-developed countries will adopt lax environmental standards to attract FDI flowing into pollution-intensive sectors and export the respective goods to jurisdictions with higher environmental standards.
In contrast, the Porter hypothesis states that a tightening of environmental regulations may stimulate technological innovation and thus help improve economic competitiveness. In addition, trade openness may induce an international ratcheting up of environmental standards (trading up) as higher environmental standards of richer and greener countries spread—via trade and investment relationships—to countries starting out with lower environmental standards. Furthermore, multinational corporations engaging in FDI and applying universal environmental standards throughout their operations tend to transfer greener technology and management practices to host countries, thus promoting the upgrade of local environmental standards and improving the environmental quality in those countries (the so-called pollution halo effect).
Echoing the many theoretical pathways through which globalization can affect the natural environment, empirical studies estimating the impact of trade and FDI on environmental standards and environmental quality deliver quite heterogeneous results. In particular, the literature points to various factors mediating the effect of trade and FDI on the environment, such as differences in technology between industrial and developing countries, stringency of environmental regulations, property rights and political institutions, corruption levels as well as the pollution intensity of multinationals.
More recently, IPE scholars have started to study the political dimensions of globalization and how they are related to environmental protection efforts. Memberships in international organizations are at the center of this research and recent studies analyze, for example, how they may affect the quality of the environment. Other studies focus more on specific organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, and, for instance, evaluate whether in trade disputes over environmental standards economic or environmental concerns prevail. Finally, a new strand of the IPE and environment literature deals with the micro level and studies how citizens evaluate economic openness in light of potential environmental concerns.
“A Marriage of Convenience” became the best metaphor, coined in 1990 by distinguished American economist Sidney Weintraub to summarize the fundamentals under which NAFTA was built and understood, at least in mainstream analysis: the economic complementarities existing among the three countries of North America could work to the benefit of everyone involved if economic integration is well managed and geared toward the improvement of regional competitiveness. Thus, NAFTA became the privileged tool under which managed integration became implemented and assessed, at least in three major domains: as a foreign policy tool to advance the interests of each nation, as an economic device to reap the benefits of integration, and as the backbone under which a regional political and social bloc could eventually be constructed.
Scholars, intellectuals, and public officials engaged in the discussions around NAFTA in each of those fields shared ideas, built some consensus, and split on dissents following competing approaches and/or national cleavages. The current literature in those three major fields of discussion is rich, voluminous, and highly inspiring, sometimes making references to other integrative experiences. This article reviews these debates and highlights either the consensus or dissention witnessed in each of the three domains under which NAFTA has been discussed the most. Since NAFTA cannot be separated from the political and social contexts that the debates and discussions took place in, a reference to those political contexts can be made when explaining and summarizing the debates.
At a time when the mainstream consensus around NAFTA is being challenged by U.S. President Trump’s assumption that NAFTA is not about complementary economies but about economies competing against each other under a zero-sum game rationale, politics comes back to the forefront of North American affairs. The renegotiation of NAFTA will doubtless redefine the partnership among the three North American countries and the role that economic cooperation and integration entails for each.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.
Melanie Richter-Montpetit and Cynthia Weber
Queer International Relations (IR) is not a new field. For more than 20 years, Queer IR scholarship has focused on how normativities and/or non-normativities associated with categories of sex, gender, and sexuality sustain and contest international formations of power in relation to institutions like heteronormativity, homonormativity, and cisnormativity as well as through queer logics of statecraft. Recently, Queer IR has gained unprecedented traction in IR, as IR scholars have come to recognize how Queer IR theory, methods, and research further IR’s core agenda of analyzing and informing the policies and politics around state and nation formation, war and peace, and international political economy. Specific Queer IR research contributions include work on sovereignty, intervention, security and securitization, torture, terrorism and counter-insurgency, militaries and militarism, human rights and LGBT activism, immigration, regional and international integration, global health, transphobia, homophobia, development and International Financial Institutions, financial crises, homocolonialism, settler colonialism and anti-Blackness, homocapitalism, political/cultural formations, norms diffusion, political protest, and time and temporalities
China’s economic rise has been accompanied by the maturation and increasing professionalization of academic disciplines in China, including the discipline of international relations. The emergence of an indigenous international relations discipline in China has led to an intense debate about the development of a distinctive “Chinese School” that draws on China’s intellectual traditions and historical record to inspire the development of new international relations theories. While the debate continues, the outlines of a Chinese School are becoming clear. The Chinese School of international relations theory draws on Confucian concepts of relationality and hierarchy to theorize the character of the relations between countries rather than focus on the attributes of countries themselves. It also highlights the historical existence of interstate systems organized in a hub-and-spoke pattern around a single, central state.
The premodern East Asian world-system in which China was embedded and classical Chinese scholars developed their ideas was a central state system. Premodern China was always by far the dominant state in East Asia, with the result that international relations in the East Asian world-system exhibited a hub-and-spoke pattern centered on China, as in the tributary system of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Moreover the Confucian worldview that ultimately came to be China’s state ideology served in effect as the governing moral code of the system as a whole. The combination of a central state structure with a universal moral code created what in Chinese is called a tianxia (“all under heaven”), a world-embracing system of governance centered on a particular state, in this case China.
In a tianxia system international relations tend to be hierarchical because of the clear power differentials between the central state and other states. They can be either expressive (showing social solidarity) or purely instrumental, depending on the stance taken by the central state. Chinese School international relations theorists tend to assume that the “best” (most stable, most peaceful, most prosperous, etc.) world-system configuration would be a tianxia system dominated by expressive rationality and centered on China, but this is no more self-evident than the widely held Western preference for a liberal, rules-based order. What Chinese School international relations theory really offers the discipline is a new set of concepts that can be applied to the theorization and empirical analysis of today’s millennial world-system. This postmodern interstate system appears to be a central state system with a universal moral code, an American tianxia based on individualism. The historical Confucian Chinese tianxia may be the best precedent for modeling this system.
Which risks are social and which are private? How much of their GDP do states spend on social welfare? Who exactly is entitled to which benefits? Is it still possible to finance an encompassing welfare state in times of deindustrialization, technological and demographic change, and globalization? And why do the answers to these questions differ so much across countries? These and similar questions—all central to social cohesion in capitalist democracies—ensure that the analysis of welfare politics is one of the theoretically as well as methodologically most dynamic and richest research areas within comparative political economy and political science more generally. Besides outlining the comparative development and the difficulty of measuring social policy, the focus of this contribution lies in a critical review of the most important past and current theoretical debates in the field of welfare state research, as a subfield of comparative political economy. These debates include party- and power-resource-centered approaches and their critiques, institutional explanations of welfare state retrenchment and restructuring, and the importance of multidimensional distributional effects for the analysis of social policy. The article concludes with a review of three more recent debates: the importance of public opinion and individual preferences for the development of the welfare state, the interaction of social policy and the changes of party systems, and the increasing relevance of social investment policies. The political and scientific need for innovative political science research will continue for the foreseeable future: Theory building and methodological possibilities are developing quickly, and the welfare states as research subject are constantly being challenged.