Abstract

Highlights

• Climate engineering presents a novel challenge for global environmental governance
• Institutional and discursive structures co-shape global environmental governance
• A lack of joint analyses of both structures impedes understanding of governance emergence
• A joint neo-institutionalist and post-structuralist analysis addresses this gap
• Varying structures shape differing climate engineering governance decisions in several forums

The Anthropocene is giving rise to novel challenges for global environmental governance. The barriers and opportunities shaping the ways in which some of these complex environmental challenges become governable on the global level are of increasing academic and practical relevance. In this article, we bring neo-institutionalist and post-structuralist perspectives together in an innovative framework to analyse how both institutional and discursive structures together bound and shape the global governance opportunities which become thinkable and practicable in the face of new global environmental challenges. We apply this framework to explore how governance of climate engineering – large scale, deliberate invention into the global climate system – is being shaped by discursive and institutional structures in three international forums: The London Convention and its Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Environment Assembly. We illustrate that the ‘degree of fit’ between discursive and institutional structures made climate engineering (un)governable in each of these forums. Furthermore, we find that the ‘type of fit’ set the discursive and institutional conditions of possibility for what type of governance emerged in each of these cases. Based on our findings, we critically discuss the implications for the future governance of climate engineering at the global level.