Based on a literature study and more than twenty interviews with scholars and practitioners, this paper identifies the main barriers for a reform of International Environmental Governance.
In the past forty years numerous proposals to improve the fragmented international environmental governance (IEG) system have been developed, many of which call for the establishment of an international environment organisation. Although consensus exists among governments and scholars that the system needs improvement, no sub-stantial decisions regarding its reform have been taken to date. Based on a literature study and more than twenty interviews with scholars and practitioners of international environmental governance, this paper identifies the main barriers for IEG reform, using three strands of institutional theories: historical institutionalism, discursive institu-tionalism and rational choice institutionalism. Historical institutionalism draws atten-tion to the way in which the complex nature and the ad-hoc and diffused development of the IEG system prevent institutional change. It also shows that power inequalities and lack of trust between nation-states hamper debates concerning IEG reform. Draw-ing on discursive institutionalism, the incentive to maintain the status quo can be iden-tified as a key hurdle, which is mainly caused by the fear of nation-states and interna-tional organisations to lose their authority to another international environment organisation. Discursive institutionalism shows that a mobilisation of bias and the nature of the debates concerning IEG reform—which are fragmented, unclear and tend to re-cycle issues—thwart progress towards agreement. Finally, rational choice institutional-ism suggests that fundamental differences in national and institutional self-interests are important barriers to IEG reform. A reflection on the utility of the theories of new institutionalism will be given, showing that despite some fundamental differences the three theories complement rather than contradict one another in their explanation of the absence of IEG reform. The paper ends with a number of recommendations that may stimulate progress in the debates concerning IEG reform.