Taylor & Francis Group

Multi-level environmental governance: a concept under stress?

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The past decade has witnessed a change in the world order of environmental policy making. The strongholds of national environmental policy competence gave room for international regimes beginning in the 1980s, a development that reached a peak during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Since then the direction of governance patterns has partly been reversed. However, the trend is not back towards nation states, but towards sub-national units that are reforming environmental governance patterns directly with supra-national units, such as the EU, with nation states, with inter- and non-governmental organisations as well as with other sub-national governments. Additionally, increased networking across public and private actors and shifting responsibilities from the public to the private sector has emerged, leading to new forms of environmental governance regardless of formal hierarchies. This development is especially evident in the Baltic area, including the Nordic countries. The papers in this special issue of Local Environment aim at analysing this development. This editorial will review some of the literature in the field of multi-level governance, with a special focus on that which has earlier appeared in Local Environment. There will also be a brief comment on the way those issues were discussed in a workshop on Multi-level Environmental Governance at the 6th Nordic Conference on Environmental Social Sciences in June 2003 from which the papers in this issue originate.

About Multi-level Environmental Governance: some theoretical notes
The traditional way to see policy making in general as a top-down system—from the international level down to the local level, with nation-states as dominating actors—has been considered out-dated among academics. In several theoretical studies the central position of nation states has been questioned on a general level and we are, according to scholars, witnessing a partial ‘hollowing-out’ of the nation state, or institutions closely connected to it, as a political authority.

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