On Environmental Governance: Sustainability, Efficiency and Equity, by Oran R. Young, published by Paradigm, 2013, 210pp., $22.95, paperback.

AuthorKerryn Brent,Jeffrey McGee
Published date01 November 2014
Date01 November 2014
Book Reviews
On Environmental
Sustainability, Eff‌iciency
and Equity,byOran R.
Young, published by
Paradigm, 2013, 210pp.,
$22.95, paperback.
Through the issue of climate change,
science has been sounding alarm
bells that humanity’s relationship
with the global natural environment
is changing. Due to rapid population
growth, accelerating consumption
levels and increased demand for
natural resources, humanity has
become a dominant force of envi-
ronmental change.1Scientists
refer to this new era as the
‘Anthropocene’, meaning that
human activity is now a primary
agent of change in the Earth’s major
natural systems, including the
climate system.2The greatest chal-
lenge humanity faces in the
Anthropocene is developing fair and
effective strategies to sustain the
systems of the Earth that are vital for
human development. In light of
increased greenhouse gas emissions
following the shift in architecture of
global climate governance at the
2009 Conference of the Parties to
the UNFCCC at Copenhagen there is
an urgent need for lawyers to better
understand environmental gover-
nance, in particular how human and
natural systems interact and might
be managed to attain sustainable,
efficient and equitable outcomes.
Over the past four decades, Oran
Young has become arguably the
leading international scholar in the
field of environmental governance.
The breadth of Young’s work spans
the development of general theories
on the formation, effectiveness and
design of environmental gover-
nance systems.3His work suggests
that carefully designed rights, rules
and decision-making procedures
can shape the behaviour of actors
(including States) towards interna-
tional cooperation to avoid collec-
tive failures, such as overuse of
natural resources and pollution
sinks. Young is also one of the
founders of the Earth System Gov-
ernance network – an international
interdisciplinary network of schol-
ars (including lawyers) that special-
izes in the analysis of various forms
of environmental governance. Few
scholars have contributed more in
terms of building theory, empirical
work and a scholarly community to
address the key question of how
human societies might exist more in
harmony with the natural environ-
ment. As another key figure in the
environmental governance commu-
nity recently commented, Young’s
work ‘has challenged scholars . . . to
engage in critical research that
helps us resolve – rather than
merely understand – the pressing
environmental problems we face’.4
The academic fields of environmen-
tal governance and environmental
law share much in common. Both
strive to better manage human
interaction with the natural envi-
ronment in a time of unprecedented
economic and technological devel-
opment. At an international level,
both fields contend with divisions
between the global North and the
global South over responsibility for
environmental problems and how
the burdens of an effective response
to pressing concerns, such as
climate change, should be equitably
shared. However, despite these
commonalities, there has not been
widespread engagement between
the fields of environmental gover-
nance and environmental law. This
has been largely due to the different
methodologies adopted. Lawyers
traditionally focus on explicating
and analyzing rules found in formal
legal sources and have little experi-
ence in developing and testing theo-
ries on the causes of environmental
problems or the effectiveness of
institutions formed in response to
them. For this reason, Young’s work
on the formation, effectiveness and
design of institutions for environ-
mental governance may not be
prominent in the minds of many
environmental and climate change
On Environmental Governance
offers those lawyers an accessible
but comprehensive entry point to
Young’s work. He wrote this book in
response to a request from his
1See W. Steffen, P.J. Crutzen and J.R.
McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: Are Humans
Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of
Nature’, 36:8 Ambio (2007), 614.
2J. Rockström et al., ‘A Safe Operating
Space for Humanity’, 461:24 Nature (2009),
472, at 472.
3See, e.g., O.R. Young, Compliance and
Public Authorities: A Theory with Interna-
tional Applications (Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1979); O.R. Young, International
Cooperation: Building Regimes for Natural
Resources and the Environment (Cornell
University Press, 1989); O.R. Young, ‘The
Politics of International Regime Formation:
Managing Natural Resources and the Envi-
ronment’, 43:3 International Organization
(1989), 349; O.R. Young, ‘The Problem of
Scale in Human/Environment Relationships’,
6:4 Journal of Theoretical Politics (1994),
429; O.R. Young, The Institutional Dimen-
sions of Environmental Change: Fit, Interplay
and Scale (MIT Press, 2002).
4R.B. Mitchell, ‘Oran Young and Interna-
tional Institutions’, 13:1 International Envi-
ronmental Agreements: Politics, Law and
Economics (2013), 1, at 10.
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law
RECIEL 23 (3) 2014. ISSN 2050-0386 DOI: 10.1111/reel.12097
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

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