Selected Articles

Case Studies in the EnvironmentKashwan, Prakash.  2021.  Climate Justice in the Global North: An Introduction. Case Studies in the Environment. 5 (1): 1125003

This essay provides a broad-based and jargon-free introduction to climate justice to foster critical thinking, engaged discussions, and profound reflections. It introduces the reader to three dimensions of justice – distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice – and shows how each relates to climate justice. A unique contribution of this essay is to identify and discuss the following three blind spots in the debates on climate justice: 1) The tendency to focus heavily on post-hoc effects of climate change while ignoring the root causes of climate change that also contribute to injustices; 2) assuming incorrectly that all climate action contributes to climate justice, even though some types of climate responses can produce new climate injustices; and, 3) while scholars have studied the causes of climate injustices extensively, the specific pathways to climate justice remain under-developed. This essay concludes by showcasing a few examples of the ongoing pursuits of climate justice, led by social justice groups, local governments, and some government agencies.


Gupta, Aarti, I. Möller, F. Biermann, S. Jinnah, P. Kashwan, V. Mathur, D.R. Morrow, S. Nicholson. 2020. Anticipatory governance of solar geoengineering: Conflicting visions of the future and their links to governance proposals. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 45: 10-19.

This article identifies diverse rationales to call for anticipatory governance of solar geoengineering, in light of a climate crisis. In focusing on governance rationales, we step back from proliferating debates in the literature on ‘how, when, whom, and where’ to govern, to address the important prior question of why govern solar geoengineering in the first place: to restrict or enable its further consideration? We link these opposing rationales to contrasting underlying visions of a future impacted by climate change. These visions see the future as either more or less threatening, depending upon whether it includes the possible future use of solar geoengineering. Our analysis links these contrasting visions and governance rationales to existing governance proposals in the literature. In doing so, we illustrate why some proposals differ so significantly, while also showing that similar-sounding proposals may emanate from quite distinct rationales and thus advance different ends, depending upon how they are designed in practice.


Kashwan, Prakash, Biermann, Frank, Gupta, Aarti & Okereke, Chuks. 2020. Planetary justice: Prioritizing the poor in earth system governance. Earth System Governance.

We are in the middle of a planetary crisis that urgently requires stronger modes of earth system governance. At the same time, calls for justice are becoming increasingly pronounced in sustainability research: there can be no effective planetary stewardship without planetary justice. Rapid planetary-scale processes have reinforced and further created vast injustices at international, national, and subnational levels. Often, the burden has fallen most severely on the poor and marginalized communities. Yet the literature on planetary justice tends to stay at the level of ideal conceptions and abstract normative arguments of justice theory, without an explicit concern for the needs of the poor. In this Perspective, we focus discussions of planetary justice on the needs of the poorest. We discuss whether the dominant approaches to planetary stewardship and earth system governance are apt at realizing a pro-poor vision of justice and what alternative approaches might be needed.


Kashwan, Prakash, Lauren M. MacLean, and Gustavo García López. 2019. Rethinking Power and Institutions in the Shadows of Neoliberalism: An Introduction to a Special Issue of World Development. World Development.

Despite the recognition that institutions matter for international development, the debates over institutional reforms tend to obscure the role of power. Neoliberal models of development are often promoted in terms of their technical merits and efficiency gains and rarely account for the multiple ways that social, economic and political power shape institutional design and institutional change. Even recent efforts to address power tend to conceptualize it too narrowly. This special issue seeks to rethink the role of power in institutional creation and change in the context of persistent neoliberalism. In the introduction, we synthesize the literature on the nature of power to develop a new conceptual framework – a power in institutions matrix – that highlights the multiple dimensions of power involved in institutional development and change. We argue that such a theoretically-informed mapping of power in institutions will enable scholars, practitioners, and citizen groups to go beyond the standard critiques in order to analyze the multifaceted effects of neoliberal institutional change. Our introduction draws on an extensive literature review as well as the special issue contributors who examine institutional change in a variety of policy sectors in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and North America. We find that a range of diverse local, national and transnational actors, with disparate access to power, negotiate institutional changes from above and below through overt imposition of and resistance to new rules, influence of agendas, and promotion of discourses. Neoliberalism thus creates a new distributive politics. The special issue thus offers a theoretically-grounded approach for linking international and domestic power differences to the process of institutional change, with a specific focus on equity and sustainability. In a departure from the current literature’s focus on elite bargains, we showcase the efforts by less powerful groups to gain a foothold in decision-making processes.


Global Transitions

Robert Holahan and Prakash Kashwan. 2019. Disentangling the rhetoric of public goods from their externalities: The case of climate engineering. Global Transitions.

Public goods are defined by the technical conditions of nonexclusion and nonrivalry. Nonetheless, public goods are frequently viewed in environmental policy and scholarly debates as providing strictly positive benefits (or, in the case of public ‘bads’, providing strictly negative costs). We provide a theoretical understanding of heterogeneous externalities produced by public goods to challenge this assumption, by highlighting the ways in which a single public good can simultaneously produce positive benefits for some and negative externalities for others. To demonstrate our argument, we apply the theoretical framework onto the contemporary debates over climate engineering projects proposed to mitigate climate change. Such projects inevitably harm some countries internationally and some groups intranationally such that aggregate predictions about the benefits of climate engineering are misleading without an accurate accounting for its negative externalities.


Image result for ecological economics2017. Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment: A Cross-National Analysis. Ecological Economics.

This paper engages with the debate about the relationship between inequality and the environment. Departing from the past contributions, which focused either on the theories of environmental behavior or on economic interests, this paper develops arguments about “political choice” mechanisms that help explain the linkages between inequality and national policymaking related to the establishment of protected areas. A cross-national analysis of the interactions between inequality, democracy and the legal designation of protected areas in a global sample of 137 countries shows that, ceteris paribus, the effects of inequality vary depending on the strength of democracy: in relatively democratic countries inequality is associated with less land in protected areas, whereas in relatively undemocratic countries the reverse is true. The highly significant effects of inequality undermine the democratic dividend in the arena of nature conservation.


View Articles published in Journal of Environmental Management2016. What explains the demand for collective forest rights amidst land use conflicts? Journal of Environmental Management.

This article presents one of the first empirical studies of the demand for collective forest rights by forest-dependent groups locked in longstanding conflicts with government forestry agencies, which is a common feature of forested regions in the Global South. This analysis shows that (1) past engagements with community-based forest protection help foster demand for collective forest management rights despite the longstanding land use conflicts; (2) large areas of forest land affected by land use conflicts undermine the propensity of community groups to demand collective forest rights; (3) after the area affected by land use conflicts is controlled for, a larger number of land rights claimants is associated with a greater probability that a village group will claim collective forest rights; and (4) micro-institutional variables, particularly financial autonomy of village groups engaged in forest protection efforts, are likely to be among the main drivers of the local demand for collective forest management rights. The main finding is that community-based forest management is not merely an agenda that is imposed from the top by donors. Rather, recognizing the agency of rural residents in the process of adjudication of land use conflicts and providing them with autonomous spaces for management of local resources is likely to significantly boost the local demand for environmental stewardship.


Regional Environmental Change2016. Power Asymmetries and Institutions: Landscape Conservation in Central India. Regional Environmental Change, 16, S97–S109

This article argues for revisiting the institutional architecture of wildlife conservation in light of two recent trends: Increased popularity of landscape-level approaches and the recognition that conservation interventions must address longstanding questions of forest and land rights of local residents. The inquiry draws upon primary research conducted in Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve, which is world renowned for its rich flora and fauna, but is also the site of a longstanding struggle over land rights of Adivasis, India’s indigenous people. The institutional landscape of contemporary wildlife conservation regimes, this article shows, is a product of the interlocking of socioeconomic inequalities and the dominant models of wildlife conservation. The analysis presented here follows a political economy of institutions approach, which underlines how the social, economic, and political contexts shape institutional outcomes. Findings from this analysis will inform the proposals for transformational institutional interventions aimed to meet the triple bottom line of social justice, broad-based economic development, and ecological stewardship.

Cover image for latest issue of {{Journal of Theoretical Politics}}2016. Integrating Power in Institutional Analysis: A Micro-Foundation Perspective. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 28(1), 5-26.

Studies of social dilemmas consistently report higher than expected levels of cooperation, especially in the presence of appropriate institutions. At the same time, scholars have argued that institutions are manifestations of power relations. The higher than expected levels of cooperation amidst widespread power asymmetries constitute an important puzzle about the linkages between power asymmetries and the outcomes of local institutional deliberation. In this paper, I develop a microfoundation-based approach that examines incentives and imperatives to explain how power asymmetries shape individuals’ responses to institutional development and institutional change. I argue that local power asymmetries work across multiple interlinked institutional arenas. A fuller examination of the effects of power asymmetries, therefore, requires that scholars account for how interlinked institutional arenas shape strategic actions of the members and leaders within local communities.



Global Environmental Politics2015. Forest Policies, Institutions, and REDD+ in India, Tanzania, and Mexico. Global Environmental Politics, 15(3), 95-117.

This article investigates forest policies and institutions surrounding REDD+ in three heavily forested countries: India, Tanzania, and Mexico. The comparative analysis leads to three key insights. First, each of the case study countries has multiple land tenure statutes that result in different distributions of the costs and benefits of forest protection for key stakeholders. Second, land tenure regimes that offer local communities the most secure forest rights are not necessarily those associated with benefit-sharing mechanisms outlined in national REDD+ policy proposals. Third, a credible commitment by government to share REDD+ benefits with forest-dependent people is contingent on the interests of key actors involved in the policy process. Political and administrative structures that limit the power and authority of forest government bodies lead to more responsive and accountable policy outcomes.



Prakash Kashwan and Robert Holahan. 2014. Nested governance for effective REDD+: Institutional and political arguments. International Journal of the Commons, 8 (2).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Forest Enhancement (REDD+) has become a central focus of global climate change mitigation efforts. Even though the international demand for forest-based carbon sequestration is the key driver of REDD+, forest protection strategies must be implemented on the ground. This cross-scale nature of REDD+ explains why scholars and policy makers increasingly favor nested governance arrangements over either fully centralized or fully decentralized REDD+ governance. The focus of the literature on nested REDD+ governance has mostly been on monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon emission reductions across sub-national, national, and international levels. We build on Ostrom’s principle of ‘nested enterprises’ to argue that REDD+ must be designed to systematically and formally link national policy reforms with the organization and execution of sub-national (regional and local) forest conservation efforts led by forest users. We also contribute new insights on the political dimensions of nestedness in REDD+, with important roles for inter-community forestry associations and forest rights movements.



2013. The Politics of Rights-based Approaches in Conservation. Land Use Policy, 31: 613-626.

Scholars and advocates increasingly favor rights-based approaches over traditional exclusionary policies in conservation. Yet, national and international conservation policies and programs have often led to the exclusion of forest-dependent peoples. This article proposes and tests the hypothesis that the failures of rights-based approaches in conservation can be attributed in significant measure to the political economic interest of the state in the tropics. To this end, the article presents findings from the empirical analysis of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 in India. Two key recommendations emerge from this analysis. One, the proposals for operationalizing rights-based approaches will likely be far more effective if they protect the inalienability of a minimal set of rights critical to the subsistence and well-being of forest people, as opposed to promising the protection of an expansive set of rights subject to the instrumentality of conservation. Two, the proponents of rights-based approaches in conservation need to guard against their actions reinforcing the institutional status quo of the state control of forests. This, in turn, requires international conservation groups to join hands with national forest rights movements.