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Special Issue: The Politics of Environmental Accountability

We are delighted to announce the publication of a special issue of Review of Policy Research (January 2017, Volume 34, Issue 1) on Accountability, Policy and Environmental Governance.

This special issue results from the activities of the Earth System Governance Task Force on Accountability in Global Environmental Governance (AGEG) and is edited by Teresa Kramarz (University of Toronto) and Susan Park (University of Sydney) who also co-lead the Task Force.

The idea for this issue evolved from a series of workshops, panels, and roundtables organized with scholars working on transparency and accountability during the 2014 and 2015 annual meetings of the International Studies Association and Earth System Governance Conference. Participants were asked to consider a paradox: while there has been a significant increase in mechanisms of accountability in environmental governance, most global indicators show that the environment continues to deteriorate. This led to question the definition and value of accountability for more effective governance. It soon became evident that academic and policy discussions on accountability have been conducted without much conceptual scrutiny or systematic analysis of its deployment in environmental governance. This special issue is a step toward filling that gap. Although the articles in the issue focus on the environment as a specific issue area, the broad questions we raise in this introduction and in the empirical cases that follow are applicable beyond this policy arena.

The editors argue that accountability should be conceived as a means, rather than as an end in itself in environmental governance. The collection of articles in this issue demonstrates how accountability implicitly or explicitly serves as a tool to promote particular choices in governance regarding who is an authority, to whom they are answerable, and for what outputs. Since accountability is a reflective surface of the underlying politics of choice that shape governance, they caution that the presence or absence of accountability is neither a necessary or sufficient means to guarantee due process or effective problem solving. Instead, accountability is a fruitful object of study as the platform where governance choices are enacted and institutionalized through relationships of obligation. In this collection, they highlight how accountability mechanisms produce or reproduce particular purposes that become authoritative over other, perhaps equally compelling purposes. Accountability is also a relational concept. Conceptually differentiating the perspectives of accountability among those who demand answers versus those who are responsible for providing them allows us to further parse the locus of action and purpose building.

Read the introduction to the special issue here (open access).

More articles

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