The Globalization of Environmental Protection: The Case of Environmental Impact Assessment (1).(Statistical Data Included)

By Hironaka, Ann | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Globalization of Environmental Protection: The Case of Environmental Impact Assessment (1).(Statistical Data Included)


Hironaka, Ann, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


Introduction

Concern for the environment is a major issue in the international arena. Hundreds of international organizations have sprung up to cope with the many pressing environmental issues. Dozens of environmental conferences are held each year to deal with various environmental problems, often resulting in the creation of international environmental treaties. Scientists continue to gather data on air, water, land pollution, and other indicators of environmental degradation in order to monitor the environment and to identify new problems.

International concern for the environment has existed for several decades, but became particularly intense after 1972, with the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme. Figure 1 gives an indication of the growth of this international environmental activity since 1900. It shows the cumulative number of international environmental nongovernmental organizations, international environmental intergovernmental organizations, and international treaties concerned with environmental issues in each year (details on data collection and coding may

This global concern about the environment has prompted international demand for solutions. One solution that has received approval from key international environmental organizations has been Environmental Impact Assessments. Environmental Impact Assessments were first developed in the United States in 1969, but have diffused rapidly to many other countries in the following decades. Figure 2 shows the cumulative count of nation-states that have adopted Environmental Impact Assessment legislation (see Data and Methods section for data sources).

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are reports of predicted environmental consequences that are typically a prerequisite to development projects such as roads or buildings (Gilpin 1995; Ahmad 1985). Ideally, an EIA fulfills three tasks. First, the EIA describes the proposed project and the predicted environmental effects of the project in the immediate and long-term future. Second, the EIA lays out the alternatives for the decision-maker and calculates the costs and benefits of each alternative. Third, the public and relevant interest groups are informed about the contents of the EJA and are allowed to negotiate over the details of the plan. The final decision on the development project is usually made by a government agency.

This paper argues that in most countries, EIA legislation has been adopted primarily in response to encouragement from the global environmental regime rather than due to the intrinsic procedural efficiencies of EIAs or due to pressure from domestic environmental groups. The international system has encouraged nation-state adoption of EIAs in three critical ways. First, international organizations have put environmental issues high on the agendas of nation-states. Although some of the industrialized Western states have also experienced domestic pressures for environmental protection, state environmental activity around the world has been substantially increased and influenced by the high priority which the international system has placed on environmental issues (Frank et al. 2000; Meyer et al. 1997).

Second, international organizations aid nation-state adoption by packaging EIA procedures so that nation-states can more easily adopt them (Strang and Meyer 1993). The OECD, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank have all published guidelines for instituting EIA legislation and provided training and advisors (Ruster, Simma, and Bock 1983; Training Workshop UNESCAP 1989; OECD 1979; Ahmad 1985). States adopt these neat, standardized packages more easily than taking the messy, expensive, and time-consuming alternative of tailoring an environmental protection program to the varied environmental problems and conditions of their particular ecosystems.

Third, international organizations have utilized their power in an advisory mode, rather than a coercive mode. …

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