Climate change is a serious issue, and not only from an environmental perspective. Climate governance, a practice once thought to be a concern only for the industrialised Western countries, has recently shifted and tried to include also the heterogeneous developing world, more and more responsible for the total emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the resulting global warming. Climate governance in the developing world lists and analyses how a specifically chosen sample of developing countries adopted national environmentalist policies or stated international future commitments, what their motivations were and which kind of problems they are facing implementing such policies. The task undertaken is complex for many reasons that we are going to articulate in this review. Yet the final product of the editors David Held[i], Charles Roger[ii], Eva-Maria Nag[iii] and their many contributors is an almost flawless and comprehensive analysis of how climate governance is perceived in the ‘developing universe’, a laudable goal for a handbook of less than 300 pages.

The manual is a collection of case studies, each chapter a country, collected in three macro-sections by continent: Asia, the Americas and Africa. For each continent four countries are analysed. The structure of the book is coherent, even in the chapter themselves, where case studies are almost always approached with a similar scheme. Every chapter is, in fact, usually structured this way: an introduction, a description of the process which brought the country to develop its climate governance, an analysis of the players involved and a consideration on the main obstacles to national environmental achievements. We say ‘almost’, because every chapter, since it covers the peculiar situation of a single country, always presents some particularities. These particularities make the comfortable, stable structure of the manual never tediously predictable. Every country presents, in fact, some common factors, still each country is complex in its own right: such complexity is accurately outlined in this manual. 

The first chapter, “An Editor’s Introduction”, answers the main questions we ask ourselves while approaching such a manual: why is it important that developing countries adopt climate policies? Based on which criteria were the case studies chosen? Are they representative of the developing nations’ situation as a whole?

The fundamental concept of the manual is that climate change is such a compelling challenge that every country in the world should commit itself to solving it. The theory that only industrialised countries have a moral obligation to adopt climate policies, as the main responsible party of GHGs emissions in the past, is now outdated. Countries still defined as ‘developing’ are nowadays accountable for major stakes of pollution. Still they are not held mandatorily obliged to comply with adaptation and mitigation policies, unlike their Western counterparts. The manual nevertheless tries to find the causes on why some developing nations more than others are willing to abandon their positions as climate laggards, and become climate governance leaders. Whether the reason be international fundings, actual damages suffered by climate change, or other international incentives, every factor is examined. Some developing countries may even want to become virtuous examples of climate policymaking to then use it as a currency to join the ‘big players’ in the international arena.

Each country analysed in the manual is chosen to examine a different approach to climate governance. They might not represent fully the totality of developing countries, as clearly stated in the manual’s preface. Still they are highly suitable for this study, as together they account for almost 50 percent of the world’s population, about 25 percent of global gross domestic product and almost 40 percent of the world’s annual GHG emissions. Brazil, China, India and Indonesia are analysed for their major emissions (together they make 85 percent of all the emissions considered in the countries analysed), but for different reasons: while China is studied for its explosive industrialisation, the Indian case links emissions to the socioeconomic iniquity in the country, while Brazil and Indonesia are mainly held accountable for GHG emission related to deforestation. Among the other case studies we can find developing countries which are role models for the whole international community, like South Korea with its ‘Low Carbon Green Growth’, Mexico and its enacted laws on long-term reduction targets (one of two countries in the world) and Ethiopia, which is trying to become an African leader by becoming a climate role model through its climate-resilient green economy. It is not all roses, though: while some of those same countries are struggling with the implementation or their ambitious policies, some others are insensitive to climate change, such as Argentina, which makes the perfect case of how important socialisation processes are in defining the climate governance of a country. We have then countries which are investing in GHG reductions mainly by shifting their energy supply, thus seeking energy independence rather than for environmental reasons. This happens mainly due to increasingly volatile international and domestic energy prices: Egypt and, again, China, are the countries examined. Other interesting cases are countries once laggard on climate governance which have recently undertaken serious efforts. The main focus in such chapters lies in the understanding of what changed the mind of the political establishment. It is the case for Costa Rica and its campaign for climate neutrality. Finally, but most interestingly, developing countries which do not contribute to GHG emissions but which are greatly suffering from climate changes and countries in extreme poverty whose only choice is to invest in adaptation policies to contain incremental damages from natural disasters and droughts are considered - Mozambique is the key case.

Coherence and consistence are among the main strengths of this manual. This achievement is particularly laudable if we consider the different background of the 16 contributors. Such various fields of study, from political science, law, environmental studies and economics, also provide a fresh interdisciplinary approach to a subject interdisciplinary by definition. Climate governance is a field which entails deep economic, social and political aspects. That is why the manual can aspire to be considered a comprehensive textbook for the purpose of its own title: the reasoned choice of case studies and the aforementioned collaboration between experts from different fields; together they really give the reader the feeling of increasing its own critical knowledge on the issue. The Costa Rica chapter, for example, is the result of ongoing long-term field research from the author, Robert Fletcher. To be able to study, condensed in few pages, years of research on strategies for environmental governance from all around the globe, without feeling disoriented from chapter to chapter, is an editorial strength that has to be acknowledged.

If we have to point out a suffered weakness of the manual, it would be the lack of a conclusion. After going through continents and countries facing the same challenges in such different ways, you feel lost when, after the last case-study, you find the book index. The purpose of the book is stated in the Editor’s introduction, but a final wrap up on international future challenges we might come to face would have made the manual more complete. For example, one of the main arguments in the book is how being a climate policy leader represents a status symbol in the international arena. It would be interesting to test this hypothesis in the light of the recent withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement to see if it still stands. 

But maybe in Climate Governance in the Developing World we miss a conclusion, because   climate change itself is far from being solved. In any case, like after reading a good novel, we highly hope for a new collaboration on a sequel.  We feel nonetheless that we can disclose even now that Climate governance in the developing world is a must-read book for any political scientist, development economist or serious environmentalist who wants to get an alternative insight on the delicate cross-sectoral issue of climate change outside of the Western world.


[i] Master of University College, Durham, and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, UK. Director of Polity Press, and General Editor of Global Policy.

[ii] PhD student at the University of British Columbia and Liu Scholar at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, Canada.

[iii]Holding a PhD on Indian political thought from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, she has taught courses on political theory, ethics and public administration, and South and East Asian politics at the LSE, the School of Oriental and African Studies, King’s College London and the American University in London, UK.