Environmental Governance for Sustainable Development: East Asian Perspectives

Environmental Governance For Sustainable Development

Author:      Akihisa Mori

ISBN:           9789280812190

Publisher: United Nations University

Year:           2013

Price:         £26.99


Reviewed by Huahsuan Chu, Doctoral student, State University of New York at Binghamton, Sociology, USA.

Climate catastrophes and natural disorders nowadays have been so evident that the awareness of the presence of environment, nature, or ecology has pushed natural and social scientists to “unthink” the conventional dualist view of nature and society which characterizes modernity. In social sciences, many attempts have been made to modify the way of enquiring and knowing in different disciplines by incorporating environmental concerns into theoretical interrogation and historical interpretation, such as science and society studies, political ecology, environmental sociology and so on. These endeavors rely on the mutual enrichment of natural sciences and social sciences to reveal the social dynamics in a holistic way with the hope of formulating effective measures for contemporary crises. This book is not only an ongoing intervention with this broad trend from specific angles which focus on the relationship between governance and suitability. Its focus on regional variations also steers to a deepened engagement with the particular politics and economies in East Asia which is helpful to historically exploring the confrontation between environmental issues and regional development.

In the Introduction, Mori delineates the framework of embedding the issues of environmental governance in the particularity of East Asian development. He examines the definition of sustainable development and explains why it is necessary to take into consideration the uneven development and unequal distribution of life opportunities in East Asian cases. While improvement of people’s life conditions is crucial to strengthening the capabilities for environmental sustainability, some dominant factors, such as authoritarian polity or developmentalist strategy, made East Asian states reluctant and inefficient in empowering both. With increasing democratization in this region and globalization over the world, exploring the mechanisms and operations of governance, which contains private sectors and civil socie ties rather than states alone to cooperate for specific goals, is key to realizing the possibilities and limits of environmental sustainability in East Asia. In Chapter 1 Mori continues this argument to discuss how the international and domestic politics and economy in East Asia, such as 1990s financial crises, free trade and global climate regime, condition East Asian states’ capability and reaction to environmental problems. According to the pattern of the network deployed in various contexts and by different actors, Mori identifies the evolution of the models of environmental governance from 1990s in East Asia (p. 33).

The following four chapters in Part II respectively tell the different experiences of Korea, Thailand and Japan to explore how “internal” dynamics shape the environmental governance. In Chapter 2, we can see how policies for sustainable development are shaped in correspondence to different development paradigms in each stage of Korea’s economic growth. This step-by-step change fosters the organizational innovation (like PCSD, p. 47-51) to place private business in a critical partnership with government and upgrades the coverage of environmental governance through the close collaboration between public and private sectors, though somehow the participation of NGOs and experts is limited. Chapter 3 instead shows how environmental issues in Thailand are interwoven with its democratization and get response from active citizens and NGOs. However, the class antagonism and political structures retards the institutional capability from being able to generate a cross-class interest in environmental governance regardless of the high degree of social capability. In contrast to the focus on how the relationship among multiple actors shapes the performance of environmental governance, both of Chapter 4 and 5can been seen as studies of science knowledge praxis, which aim to reveal the correlation among knowledge production, policy implementation and environmental governance. CBA (cost-benefit analysis), as the model to evaluate road projects according to a selective set of criteria and standards, not only determines certain direction of policies but also embodies how Japan’s economic situation impacts its road projects which in turn influence the environment. In the following Chapter 5 displays a vivid example in details through a simulation analysis which illuminates the combined effects and possible insights of knowledge model and consideration of various variables in the potential energy-tax reforms.

While endogenous factors greatly condition the environmental governance, the international forces, usually from richer Global North, also play a key role in, on the one hand, shaping the attitudes and measures of governments in developing countries, and, on the other hand, formulating pragmatic solutions to the conflict between local economic development and environmental preservation. Part III tries to answer this issue. Since the rural area accounts for the most population in China where poverty pervades and people heavily rely on the appropriation of natural resources for subsistence, international aids very often encounter the challenge of alleviating poverty and protecting environment at the same time. Chapter 6, by pointing out how population, poverty and development interweave together with people’s vulnerability to natural resources in China’s rural area, discusses how different approaches adopted by foreign NGOs get involved with this dilemma. Cambodia, another economy experiencing rapid growth of industrialization and high share of foreign investment over last decades, also faces the predicament of serious poverty and environmental degradation. Same with Chapter 6 that analyzes how different approaches shape governance through policies, Chapter 7 further focuses on how to integrate an innovative technique to improve poor people’s living condition but simultaneously achieve the goal of energy-saving. Chapter 8 gives a similar story with a focus on China. The rising of Chinese economy destroys the recyclable balance between nature and population and made waste and excrement deteriorate the environment especially in the countryside. The installation of small methane fermentation systems and its effects seems a possible solution, which however exceeds what peasant and Chinese government can afford and probably requires external assistance.

That China and South Korea successively emerge as economic strong powers after Japan draws much attention on how the economic activities in East Asia will reshape themselves and the world. Then, how would this great transformation in East Asia embody its impact on environmental governance in specific issues such as energy policies or climate regime? The chapters in Part IV describe the economic changes in East Asia under globalization (Chapter 9), exemplify the impact of free trade on environment (Chapter 10), and analyse the effects of market as the mechanism to mediating environmental measures (Chapter 11). While China seems to replace Japan as the pivot of East Asian regional economy and politics and South Korea becomes a strong competitor, Japan can no more alone regulate and form the environmental governance through its technical, knowledge and economic advantages. In contrast, with economic integration rising in this region, the responses from China and other Asian countries to a great degree determines the performance of regional sustainable development. Though a normative framework is necessary to substitute conventional “problem-solving” measures toward environmental crises and some institutional cooperation has been established, the lack in common institutional foundation and trust relationship among Asian countries, as implied in Chapter 12, have complicated the regional framework of environmental governance and confiscated its possible benefits.

Continuing the concern about a consistent and common cross-border institutional framework for regional environmental governance in Part IV, Chapin 13 in Part V discusses how the conditions of industrial competitiveness, environmental standard and social institutions vary in each nation and thus lead to the inconsistent policy-diffusion effect of regional regulation for environment. In Chapter 14, the comparison of green management of machinery industry between Japan and China makes obvious how the capability of environmental governance differs due to different export structure, technological level and social values. But governmental network is not the only framework for regional environmental governance. Chapter 15 shows how NGOs and citizens in Japan and Korea establish a transnational platform for victims of industrial pollution to impose pressure on governments and realize desired policies. Therefore civil society is proved another effective channel to deal with similar environmental issues in East Asia and practice cross-border governance. As a short summary to bring out more questions about the environmental governance in East Asia, Chapter 16 implies that, in addition to solving the dilemma as literally shown by the concept of “sustainable”“development”, East Asian countries inevitably need to face the challenges of improving the climate of governance on a whole and upgrading the capability of innovation in every aspect given the decreasing aids from outside of this region.

Through many specific examples and their concrete social context, this edited book not only covers a wide range of issues on environmental governance and orients readers to understand the current advances and ineffectiveness of East Asian environmental governance. Its endeavors to combine the policy analyses of sustainable development with a wide comprehension of the social and economic dynamics in East Asia can also serve as a stepping  stone for inquiries from specialized angles such as interstate system, rural development and Chinese economy to further investigate how they constitute with environmental governance. While each sector of this book bases on similar recognition, like the rising of China, the overall incapability of East Asian countries, the dilemma between development and sustainability or the complex relationship among Asian countries, rather than delving too much into theories about these phenomena, this book is a good introduction to people who are interested in the East Asian characteristics of environmental governance and hope to develop the comparative study of environmental governance between East Asia and other regions.

Suggested citation:

Chu, Huahsuan (2014). Review of “Environmental Governance for Sustainable Development: East Asian Perspectives”, by Akihisa Mori, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 7, no.23, Internet file: https://asianintegration.org/index.php?option=com_joomlib&task=view&id=137&Itemid=75

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