Local environmental policy making is no longer what it used to be two decades or so ago. At that time, the rational model of local environmental policy making was often challenged but most analyses and interpretation frameworks could still start their analysis with the formal model of local policy making and then discuss the deviations, irregularities and shortcomings of such standard policy approaches in local practices of environmental protection. Today, it is hardly useful to even present such a formal or standard model of local environmental policy making, in which local governments and authorities are committed to specify national environmental policies to local conditions in order to guarantee effective implementation processes and safeguard environmental quality. A variety of recent concepts, such as multi-actor and multi-level governance, subpolitics, government-organised NGOs (GONGOs), public-private partnerships, privatisation, hybrid arrangements, political modernisation, gamekeeper states and network society, all point to the fact that the state, including the local state, is under transition. More than incidentally the environment is presented as a key area where these transformations of governance are most clearly and first witnessed.
But the large diversity of concepts is also evidence of the variation in interpretations of such developments in, what has been labelled, the ‘environmental state’ (cf. Mol & Buttel, 2002). We seem to be only at the beginning of grasping the recent transitions that local governmental authorities are going through, let alone agreeing on a common understanding of new models of local environmental governance, if that will ever be possible. This special issue brings together five contributions that together illustrate the different ways in which local environmental governance has moved far beyond the state, to become diverse, complex, enmeshed but not necessarily less effective. In this introduction we provide a more theoretical and analytical understanding of the emerging diversities, complexities and enmeshments of what was once a rather clear and straightforward practice: local authorities as key actors responsible for preserving the quality of living.