Kyoto, January 24-25, 2013

Background and Rationale

In June 2010, scientists and policy makers met in Geneva at the workshop “Regional Environmental Governance: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Theoretical Approaches, Comparative Designs” (REGov) to explore common ground on regional environmental governance (REG). The meeting generated a respectable set of outcomes: a volume of proceedings published by Elsevier (Balsiger & Debarbieux 2011), a special issue in a scientific journal ranked in the top ten both in political science and environmental studies (Balsiger & VanDeveer 2012), a permanent online multimedia archive (, and several new research projects.

Despite these achievements, one of the workshop objectives continues to receive insufficient attention: the comparative dimension. A key rationale for better understanding the development, dynamics, and impact of addressing environmental challenges at the regional level stems from the opportunities it affords for learning from each other. For this reason, comparing REG is an important objective.

While the regional dimension has been neglected in research on international environmental cooperation, recent developments in global environmental negotiations illustrate the growing gap between knowledge and practice. As a growing number of so-called global treaties (climate change, chemicals, biodiversity) are decentralized to benefit from advantages demonstrated in regional agreements (on mountains, river basins, air pollution, etc.), knowing what works and what does not is of interest to scientists and policy makers. Comparing Europe and East Asia (Japan, China, Korea) offers a fruitful entry point: while the former has a long history of environmental regionalization, the latter is the world’s most dynamic economic region but lacks a well developed transboundary institutional infrastructure to address environmental problems.

Although most domestic and international research continues to focus on the global, national, and subnational levels, an emerging body of work has focused on REG. More generally, an enormous body of on European environmental policy exists (see overview in Balsiger & VanDeveer 2010; Carminn & VanDeveer 2004; Jordan & Adelle 2012; Knill & Liefferink 2007), both in relation to the European Union and in relation to non-EU treaties such as the conventions administered by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. By comparison, research on regional environmental cooperation East Asia is much more sparse, even though some regional and subregional schemes for addressing transboundary environmental problems have been established since the early 1990s, including the Northeast Asian Conference on Environmental Cooperation (1992); the North-East Asia Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (1993); and the Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting (1999) (Komori 2010).

Workshop Goals

The scientific goals of the EE-REG Workshop are the following:

  1. to produce a state-of-the-art assessment of recent developments in regional environmental governance in East Asia and Europe;
  2. to explore similarities and differences in the nature and dynamics of REG in the two regions, especially with a view to refining an analytical framework for future comparative research;
  3. to create a foundation for future collaborative research between scientists from Switzerland and East Asia, including through joint products emerging from the EE-REG workshop; and
  4. to help raise awareness of the importance of interdisciplinary research of regional environmental governance, particularly among East Asian research communities.

In order to contribute to the achievement of these goals, the workshop will evolve around the three key themes outlined below. These themes provide the focus that allows comparison between Europe and East Asia, hence each theme will be represented in each of the topical panels of the workshop – Rivers/Seas; Mountains; Extreme Climate Events/Transboundary Risk Management; Air Pollution/Haze. Additionally, the three themes will be addressed in each of the case studies prepared in advance of the workshop.

Theme 1: Framing the Region

Although much regional environmental governance emanates from established regional organizations, including regional economic integration organizations (REIOs) such as the EU, the study of regional environmental governance must typically begin by addressing the question “what is a region?” Even where REG originates from REIOs, they can be in flux (e.g. EU expansion). Where regions are defined on the basis of dense but non-institutionalized regional cooperation such as is the case of East Asia, the question what constitutes East Asia is important for environmental or other issues, since complementary, partially overlapping regional orders exist (e.g. Northeast Asia, Greater Asia, Panasia), or because some East Asian members are sometimes also considered part of other subregions (e.g. China as part of South Asia). Both regional flux through expansion and regional ambiguity through multiple affiliations can be observed in Europe and Asia. Differences in how they manifest become an important dimension in the comparison of European and East Asian REG.

A second reason why the question “What is a region?” is of particular significance in the analysis of regional environmental governance is that ecoregions such as river basins or mountain ranges are frequently assumed to be externally (scientifically) given, there to be discovered. Current work emphasizes instead that regions, including environmental ones, are socially constructed and that the processes of constructing them must be built into the analysis (Debarbieux 2012). Whereas civil society and international institutions play an important role in this regard in Europe, the same is often seen as lacking in East Asia (Lee 2002). Furthermore, while ecoregions typically transcend (sub)national boundaries, the structure of regional political order in Europe and East Asia varies. Considering how these differences impact the ways in which regions for environmental governance come to be defined by various actors can reveal key similarities and differences between European and East Asian REG. In particular, it provides important insights into the role of science in regional environmental cooperation, which is one of the main reasons to include natural scientists among the EE-REG participants.

Finally, comparing the framing of regions for environmental governance in Europe and Asia can be instructive through the lens of two special types of regions. First, there are typically multiple functional regions – a concept that refers to regions defined for a particular purpose (eg, river basins, coastal seas, airsheds, animal migration corridors) – which only partially overlap (Balsiger 2012). The scope of functional regions and overlaps, and in particular the ways in which these are recognized and mobilized by different actors provides important clues for how policy integration is organized in Europe and East Asia. Second, the crucial importance to Asia of shifting monsoon patterns raises the interesting question of how such a “mobile region” is framed, with what consequences, and whether an analog can be found in Europe (e.g. in terms of transboundary risk management schemes for flood and other natural hazard events).

Theme 2: Crafting Cooperation

The second theme that will be used to focus the comparison between regional environmental governance in Europe and East Asia concerns modes of cooperation. On the surface, REG in Europe and East Asia are very different (Schreurs 2011), yet that difference is mitigated (a) when the scope of European REG is expanded between the narrow context of the EU to include other formal and informal initiatives (e.g. treaties under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, river commissions), and (b) when the governance is interpreted broadly so as to encompass a wide variety of collective action shaping behavior (e.g. norm promoting networks of cities or non-governmental organizations), rather than more narrowly limited to legally binding regulatory norms. For instance, much East Asian environmental cooperation is carried out though development assistance (Mori 2005), which in Europe takes the form of EU cohesion programs in Eastern and Central Europe. Whereas Schreurs (2009) points to significant heterogeneity of economic development among states in the regions as a reason for the absence of regional cooperation, Li (2008) suggests similarities between the Baltic Sea area and North East Asia in terms of shared problems of their transnational pollution and the heterogeneity of the level of the economic development of countries within each region.

Previous work on regional economic governance in Europe and East Asia has shown a marked tendency toward multilateralism in the former and bilateralism in the latter. An important question for EE-REG participants is therefore whether this contrast also applies to environmental governance, for instance in terms of coordinating mechanisms among overlapping environmental initiatives (Komori 2010). Or, since bilateral cooperation is also found in Europe and multilateral cooperation is also found in East Asia, under what circumstances one or the other prevails. Additionally, since a growing role of public-private partnerships and direct cooperation between subnational governments can be observed in both regions (Noguchi 2007, Odaira 2011), what can be said about these particular forms of cooperation?

A second issue that emerges from the literature on comparative regionalism is the role of cultural values. While much regionalist work on Asia has suggested an “Asian way” in how cooperation is designed. Values principally derived from Confucian traditions are thus said to have contributed to particular forms of communitarian governance, an argument that is frequently advanced by Asian writers. By contrast, Western writers analyzing forms of governance in Europe typically refer to legalist and individual rights-based cooperative traditions. In the context of regional governance, while Asian views of nature values are seen to have largely positive influences on society-environmental relations, critical environmental studies of the West. Assessing whether and how cultural values indeed manifest in regional environmental governance, and with what consequences, emerges as an interesting dimension of comparison.

Theme 3: Reverberating Beyond the Region

The third theme concerns the embeddedness of European and East Asian regional environmental governance in larger contexts (e.g. global regimes for climate change, transatlantic cooperation, Asia-Pacific cooperation), as well as the links between Europe and East Asia. One dimension of this relates to policy mobility and diffusion, that is the degree to which ideas and practices travel from one region to the other (Stone 2004, Börzel et al. 2012). Subsidiary questions include the content and direction of what is mobile, the nature of agents of diffusion, and the dynamics and consequences of adoption and adaptation.

Finally, both Europe and East Asia (collectively or via constituent states or organizations) maintain neighborhood policies. In this special case, they meet in the Central Asian region, which emerges as a unique empirical field in which the encounter of European and East Asian regional governance can be studied.

Selected References

Balsiger, J. 2012. New environmental regionalism and sustainable development in the European Alps. Global Environmental Politics 12(3): 58-78.

Balsiger, J., and B. Debarbieux (eds). 2011. Regional environmental governance: Interdisciplinary perspectives, theoretical issues, comparative designs. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences Vol 14. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Balsiger, J., M. Prys, and N. Steinhoff. 2012. The nature and role of regional agreements in international environmental politics. GIGA Working Paper. Hamburg: German Institute of Global and Area Studies.

Balsiger, J., and S. D. VanDeveer. 2010. Regional Governance and Environmental Problems. In R. A. Denemark (Ed.), The International Studies Encyclopedia. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Balsiger, J., and S.D. VanDeveer. 2012. Navigating Regional Environmental Governance. Global Environmental Politics 12(3): 1-17.

Börzel, T., L. Goltermann, M. Lohaus, and K. Striebinger (eds.). 2012. Roads to Regionalism: Genesis, Design, and Effects of Reginoal organizations. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Carmin, J., and S.D. VanDeveer. 2004. EU Enlargement and the Environment: Institutional Change and Environmental Policy in Central and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge.

Debarbieux, B. 2012. How regional is regional environmental governance? Global Environmental Politics 12(3): 119-126.

Jordan, A., and C. Adelle (ed.). 2012. Environmental Policy in the European Union. 3rd Edition. London: Earthscan.

Kato, H. 2004. An Introduction to Regional Environmental Regimes in Asia and the Pacific: The Present State and Future Prospects. Nagoya University Journal of Law and Politics 202: 325-352.

Knill, C., and D. Liefferink. 2007. Environmental politics in the European Union: policy-making, implementation and patterns of multi-level governance. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Komori, Y. 2010. Evaluating Regional Environmental Governance in Northeast Asia. Asian Affairs: An American Review 37: (1): 1-25.

Lee, S.W. 2002. Building Environmental Regimes in Northeast Asia: Progress, Limitations, and Policy Options. In International Environmental Cooperation: Politics and Diplomacy in Pacific Asia, edited by Paul Harris. Boulder, CO: Colorado University Press.

Li, G. Z. 2008. Japan and Chinese Environmental Cooperation: Toward to Establish the Northeast Asian Environmental Community. Bulletin of Hokuriku University 32.

Matsuoka, S. 2009. Nihon - no - Kokusai - Kankyo - Kyoryoku - toh - Higashi - Asia - Kyodotai (Japan’s International Environmental Cooperation and East Asian Community). Waseda Asia Review 5.

Noguchi, T. 2007. The Progress of Regional Environmental Cooperation in East Asia. Journal of the Japan Sea Rim Studies 13.

Odaira, T. 2010. Regional Environmental Cooperation in East Asia: From Track 1 ODA to Track 1.5 Business Arrangement. GIARI Working Paper Vol. 2010-E-7. Waseda, Japan: Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration.

Schreurs, M. 2009. Problems and Prospects for Regional Environment Cooperation in East Asia. In Advancing East Asian Regionalism, edited by M. Curley and N., 202-228. London: Routledge.

Schreurs, M. 2011. Transboundary cooperation to address acid rain: Europe, North America, and East Asia compared. In S. Dinar (ed.), Beyond Resource Wars: Scarcity, Environmental Degradation, and International Cooperation, 89-116. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Stone, D. 2004. Transfer agents and global networks in the ‘transnationalization’ of policy. Journal of European Public Policy 11(3):545-566.

Takahashi, S., et al. 2010. Higashi - Asia - niokeru - Kankyo - Kyoryoku - no – Arikata: Ho - Seido - karano - Approach (Current Status of Environmental Cooperation in East Asia: An Approach from Legal Institutions). Jichi Kenkyu (Autonomy Studies) 86 (8).

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