Skip to main content Accessibility help

Developing environmental governance research: the example of forest cover change studies


Environmental problems are often complex and it is widely recognized that they cannot be satisfactorily addressed by single disciplines. The review of forest cover change studies points to the need to carry out research integrating economic, political, social and environmental aspects. Existing interdisciplinary study areas, namely ecological economics, political ecology, sustainability science and Earth system governance do not yet fully integrate all the required aspects. This paper points out that the establishment of greater synergies between those study areas would be beneficial in developing the broader study area of environmental governance. A definition of environmental governance as a subject of study is developed. Lack of an all encompassing theory of environmental governance is highlighted, while the improbability of such a theory is acknowledged. In relation to normative work, the refinement of principles of good environmental governance could support the design and prioritization of policies. Empirical research needs to include the testing of hypotheses arising from theoretical developments, assessment of policy uptake and new exploratory research. Methodologically, environmental governance might start from an interdisciplinary approach followed by further integration leading to a transdisciplinary study area that uses a mixed methods research approach.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence: Dr Luca Tacconi Tel: +61 261257554 Fax: +61 261254884 e-mail:
Hide All
Abbott, A. (2001) Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago, IL, USA: University Of Chicago Press.
Adger, W.N. & Jordan, A., eds (2009 a) Governing Sustainability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Adger, W.N. & Jordan, A. (2009 b) Sustainability: exploring the processes and outcomes of governance. In: Governing Sustainability, ed. Adger, W.N. & Jordan, A., pp. 331. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Agrawal, A. (2007) Forests, governance, and sustainability: common property theory and its contributions. International Journal of the Commons 1 (1): 111136.
Agrawal, A. & Ostrom, E. (2006) Political science and conservation biology: a dialog of the deaf. Conservation Biology 20 (3): 681682.
Angelsen, (2010) Policies for reduced deforestation and their impact on agricultural production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107 (46): 1963919644.
Angelsen, A. & Kaimowitz, D., eds (2001) Agricultural Technologies and Tropical Deforestation. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI.
Arcand, J.-L., Guillaumont, P. & Jeanneney, S.G. (2008) Deforestation and the real exchange rate. Journal of Development Economics 86 (2): 242262.
Armitage, D. (2008) Governance and the commons in a multi-level world. International Journal of the Commons 2 (1): 732.
Ascher, W. (1999) Why Governments Waste Natural Resources: Policy Failures in Developing Countries. Baltimore, USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Auld, G., Balboa, C., Bernstein, S. & Cashore, B. (2009) The emergence of non state market-driven (NSMD) global environmental governance: a cross-sectoral assessment. In: Governance for the Environment: New Perspectives, ed. Delmas, M.A. & Young, O.R., pp. 183215. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Barbier, E.B. & Burgess, J.C. (2001) The economics of tropical deforestation. Journal of Economic Surveys 15 (3): 413433.
Barbier, E.B., Burgess, J.C. & Grainger, A. (2010) The forest transition: towards a more comprehensive theoretical framework. Land Use Policy 27 (2): 98107.
Barbier, E.B., Damania, R. & Leonard, D. (2005) Corruption, trade and resource conversion. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 50 (2): 276299.
Bauer, H.H. (1990) Barriers against interdisciplinarity: implications for studies of science, technology, and society (STS. Science, Technology and Human Values 15 (1): 105119.
Baumgärtner, S., Becker, C., Frank, K., Müller, B. & Quaas, M. (2008) Relating the philosophy and practice of ecological economics: the role of concepts, models, and case studies in inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability research. Ecological Economics 67 (3): 384393.
Biermann, F. (2007) `Earth system governance’ as a crosscutting theme of global change research. Global Environmental Change 17 (3–4): 326337.
Bhattarai, M. & Hammig, M. (2001) Institutions and the environmental Kuznets curve for deforestation: a cross country analysis for Latin America, Africa and Asia. World Development 29 (6): 9951010.
Bhattarai, M. & Hammig, M. (2004) Governance, economic policies, and the environmental Kuznets curve for natural tropical forest. Environment and Development Economics 9 (3): 367382.
Bolin, B., Clark, W., Corell, R., Dickson, N., Faucheux, S., Gallopín, G., Gruebler, A., Hall, M., Huntley, B., Jäger, J., Jaeger, C., Jodha, N., Kasperson, R., Kates, R., Lowe, I., Mabogunje, A., Matson, P., McCarthy, J., Mooney, H., Moore, B., O'Riordan, T., Schellnhuber, J. & Svedin, U. (2000) Core questions of science and technology for sustainability [www document]. URL
Boscolo, M. & Vincent, J. R. (2000) Promoting better logging practices in tropical forests: a simulation analysis of alternative regulations. Land Economics 76 (1): 114.
Boulton, A.J., Panizzon, D. & Prior, J. (2005) Explicit knowledge structures as a tool for overcoming obstacles to interdisciplinary research. Conservation Biology 19 (6): 20262029.
Brito, B., Davis, C., Daviet, F., Micol, L., Nakhooda, S. & Thuault, A. (2009) The Governance of Forests Toolkit: (Version 1): a draft framework of indicators for assessing governance of the forest sector. Draft report.World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, USA [www document]. URL
Bryant, R.L. (1998) Power, knowledge and political ecology in the third world: a review. Progress in Physical Geography 22 (1): 7994.
Campbell, L.M. (2005) Overcoming obstacles to interdisciplinary research. Conservation Biology 19 (2): 574577.
Carter, N. (2007) The Politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism, Policy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Cashore, B., Auld, G. & Newsom, D. (2004) Governing Through Markets: Forest Certification and the Emergence of Non-State Authority. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press.
Cerutti, P.O. & Tacconi, L. (2008) Forests, illegality, and livelihoods: the case of Cameroon. Society and Natural Resources 21 (9): 845853.
Chhotray, V. & Stoker, G. (2010) Governance and Practice: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Clapp, J. & Dauvergne, P. (2005) Paths to a Green World: the Political Economy of the Global Environment. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Clark, W.C. (2007) Sustainability science: a room of its own. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104 (6): 17371738.
Clark, W.C. & Dickson, N.M. (2003) Sustainability science: the emerging research program. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 100 (14): 80598061.
Common, M. & Stagl, S. (2005) Ecological Economics: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Contreras-Hermosilla, A. (2000) The underlying causes of forest decline. Occasional Paper No 30. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.
Copper, M. & Griffith, C. (1994) The interaction of population growth and environmental quality. American Economic Review 84 (2): 250254.
Costanza, R., Andrade, F., Antunes, P., Van Den Belt, M., Boesch, D., Boersma, D., Catarino, F., Hanna, S., Limburg, K., Low, B., Molitor, M., Pereira, J.G., Rayner, S., Santos, R., Wilson, J. & Young, M. (1999) Ecological economics and sustainable governance of the oceans. Ecological Economics 31 (2): 171187.
Costanza, R., Daly, H.E. & Bartholomew, J.A. (1991) Goals, agenda, and policy recommendations for ecological economics. In: Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, ed. Costanza, R., pp. 120. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University.
Curran, L.M., Trigg, S.N., McDonald, A.K., Astiani, D., Hardiono, Y.M., Siregar, P., Caniago, I. & Kasischke, E. (2004) Lowland forest loss in protected areas of Indonesian Borneo. Science 303: 10001003.
Dauvergne, P. (2001) Loggers and Degradation in the Asia-Pacific: Corporations and Environmental Management. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.
Deacon, R.T. (1994) Deforestation and the rule of law in a cross-section of countries. Land Economics 70 (4): 414430.
Delmas, M.A. & Young, O.R., eds (2009) Governance for the Environment: New Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Didia, D.O. (1997) Democracy, political instability and tropical deforestation. Global Environmental Change 7 (1): 6376.
Faber, M. (2008) How to be an ecological economist. Ecological Economics 66 (1): 17.
Faber, M., Petersen, T. & Schiller, J. (2002) Homo oeconomicus and homo politicus in Ecological Economics. Ecological Economics 40 (3): 323333.
FAO (2006) Global Forest Resource Assessment: 2005. Rome, Italy: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Foley, J.A., DeFries, R., Asner, G.P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S.R., Chapin, F.S., Coe, M.T., Daily, G.C., Gibbs, H.K., Helkowski, J.H., Holloway, T., Howard, E.A., Kucharik, J., Monfreda, C., Patz, J.A., Prentice, C., Ramankutty, N. & Snyder, P.K. (2005) Global consequences of land use. Science 309 (5734): 570574.
Forsyth, T. (2003) Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science. London, UK: Routledge.
Fry, G.L.A. (2001) Multifunctional landscapes–towards transdisciplinary research. Landscape and Urban Planning 57 (3–4): 159168.
Funtowicz, S.O. & Ravetz, J.R. (1993) Science for the post-normal age. Futures 25 (7): 739755.
Gale, F.P. (1998) Theorizing power in ecological economics. Ecological Economics 27 (2): 131138.
Geist, H.J. & Lambin, E.F. (2001) What drives tropical deforestation? A meta-analysis of proximate and underlying causes of deforestation based on subnational case study evidence. Report. LUCC International Project Office, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
Golde, C.M. & Gallagher, H.A. (1999) The challenges of conducting interdisciplinary research. Ecosytems 2 (4): 281285.
Grindle, M.S. (2007) Good enough governance revisited. Development Policy Review 25 (5): 533574.
Hempel, L. (1996) Environmental Governance: The Global Challenge. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.
Hendricks, P., Betsill, M., Cheng, T. & Taylor, P. (2009) The landscape of environmental governance. Environmental Governance Working Group Discussion Paper 1. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA.
Jakobsen, C.H., Hels, T. & McLaughlin, W.J. (2004) Barriers and facilitators to integration among scientists in transdisciplinary landscape analyses: a cross-country comparison. Forest Policy and Economics 6 (1): 1531.
Johnson, R.B., Onwuegbuzie, A.J. & Turner, L.A. (2007) Toward a definition of mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 1 (2): 112133.
Kuhn, T.S. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL, USA: University Of Chicago Press.
Kaimowitz, D. & Angelsen, A. (1998) Economic Models of Tropical Deforestation: A Review. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.
Kates, R.W., Clark, W.C., Corell, R., Hall, J.M., Jaeger, C.C., Lowe, I., McCarthy, J.J., Schellnhuber, H.J., Bolin, B., Dickson, N.M., Faucheux, S., Gallopin, G.C., Grubler, A., Huntley, B., Jager, J., Jodha, N.S., Kasperson, R.E., Mabogunje, A., Matson, P., Mooney, H., Moore, B., O'Riordan, T. & Svedlin, U. (2001) Sustainability science. Science 292 (5517): 641642.
Kaufmann, D., Kraay, A. & Mastruzzi, M. (2009) Governance matters VIII: aggregate and individual governance indicators 1996–2008. Policy Research Working Paper 4978 [www document]. URL,,contentMDK:21045419~menuPK:1976990~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:1740530,00.html
Kinzig, A.P. (2001) Bridging disciplinary divides to address environmental and intellectual challenges. Ecosystems 4 (8): 709715.
Kolstad, I. & Søreide, T. (2009) Corruption in natural resource management: implications for policy makers. Resources Policy 34 (4): 214226.
Kolstad, I. & Wiig, A. (2009) Is transparency the key to reducing corruption in resource-rich countries? World Development 37 (3): 521532.
Kjær, A.M. (2004) Governance. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Komiyama, H. & Takeuchi, K. (2006) Sustainability science: building a new discipline. Sustainability Science 1 (1): 16.
Koop, G. & Tole, L. (1999) Is there an environmental Kuznets curve for deforestation? Journal of Development Economics 58 (1): 231244.
Krahman, E. (2003) National, regional, and global governance: one phenomenon or many? Global Governance 9 (3): 323346.
Kull, C.A., Ibrahim, C.K. & Meredith, T.C. (2007) Tropical forest transitions and globalization: neo-liberalism, migration, tourism, and international conservation agendas. Society and Natural Resources 20 (8): 723737.
Lambin, E.F. & Meyfroidt, P. (2010) Land use transitions: socio-ecological feedback versus socio-economic change. Land Use Policy 27 (2): 108118.
Le Billon, P. (2000) The political ecology of transition in Cambodia 1989–1999: war, peace and forest exploitation. Development and Change 31 (4): 785805.
Lemos, M.C. & Agrawal, A. (2006) Environmental governance. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31 (1): 297325.
Lockwood, M., Davidson, J., Curtis, A., Stratford, E. & Griffith, R. (2010) Governance principles for natural resource management. Society and Natural Resources 23 (10): 9861001.
Marsh, D. & Savigny, H. (2004) Political science as a broad church: the search for a pluralist discipline. Politics 24 (3): 155168.
Mascia, M.B., Brosius, J.P., Dobson, T.A., Forbes, B.C., Horowitz, L., McKean, M.A. & Turner, N.J. (2003) Conservation and the social sciences. Conservation Biology 17 (3): 649650.
Mather, A.S. (1992) The forest transition. Area 24 (4): 367379.
Mather, A.S. & Needle, C.L. (1998) The forest transition: a theoretical basis. Area 30: 117124.
Mather, A.S. & Needle, C.L. (1999) Development, democracy and forest trends. Global Environmental Change 9 (2): 105118.
M'Gonigle, R.M. (1999) Ecological economics and political ecology: towards a necessary synthesis. Ecological Economics 28 (1): 1126.
Moran, M. (2006) Interdisciplinarity and political science. Politics 26 (2): 7383.
Nepstad, D., McGrath, D., Alencar, A., Barros, A.C., Carvalho, G., Santilli, M. & Vera Diaz, M.C. (2002) Frontier governance in Amazonia. Science 295: 629631.
Nepstad, D.C., Verissimo, A., Alencar, A., Nobre, C., Lima, E., Lefebvre, P., Schlesinger, P., Potter, C., Mountinho, P., Mendoza, E., Cochrane, M.A. & Brooks, V. (1999) Large-scale impoverishment of Amazonian forests by logging and fire. Nature 398: 505508.
Neumann, R. (2005) Making Political Ecology. London, UK: Hodder Education.
Neumann, R. (2008) Probing the (in)compatibilities of social theory and policy relevance in Piers Blaikie's political ecology. Geoforum 39 (2): 728735.
Nguyen Van, P. & Azomahou, T. (2007) Nonlinearities and heterogeneity in environmental quality: an empirical analysis of deforestation. Journal of Development Economics 84 (1): 291309.
Paavola, J. & Adger, W.N. (2005) Institutional ecological economics. Ecological Economics 53 (3): 353368.
Pearce, D., Putz, F.E. & Vanclay, J.K. (2003) Sustainable forestry in the tropics: panacea or folly? Forest Ecology and Management 172 (2–3): 229247.
Peterson, G. (2000) Political ecology and ecological resilience: an integration of human and ecological dynamics. Ecological Economics 35 (3): 323336.
Redclift, M. (1998) Dances with wolves? Interdisciplinary research on the global environment. Global Environmental Change 8 (3): 177182.
Rhodes, R.A.W. (2007) Understanding governance: ten years on. Organization Studies 28 (8): 12431264.
Rudel, T.K., Coomes, O.T., Moran, E., Achard, F., Angelsen, A., Xu, J. & Lambin, E. (2005) Forest transitions: towards a global understanding of land use change. Global Environmental Change 15 (1): 2331.
Scrieciu, S.S. (2007) Can economic causes of tropical deforestation be identified at a global level? Ecological Economics 62 (3–4): 603612.
Shafik, N. (1994) Economic development and environmental quality: an econometric analysis. Oxford Economic Papers 46(Supplementary Issue): 757773.
Smith, J., Obidzinski, K., Subarudi, & Suramenggala, I. (2003 a) Illegal logging, collusive corruption and fragmented governments in Kalimantan, Indonesia. International Forestry Review 5 (3): 293302.
Smith, R.J., Muir, R.D.J., Walpole, M.J., Balmford, A. & Leader-Williams, N. (2003 b) Governance and the loss of biodiversity. Nature 426: 6770.
Söderbaum, P. (2000) Ecological Economics: A Political Economics Approach to Environment and Development. London, UK: Earthscan Publications.
Söderbaum, P. (2004) Politics and ideology in ecological economics. In: Internet Encyclopaedia of Ecological Economics, ed. Neumayer, E. [www document]. URL
Tacconi, L. (1998) Scientific methodology for ecological economics. Ecological Economics 27 (1): 91105.
Tacconi, L. (2007 a) Decentralization, forest and livelihoods: theory and narrative. Global Environmental Change 12 (3–4): 338348.
Tacconi, L., ed. (2007 b) Illegal Logging: Law Enforcement, Livelihoods and the Timber Trade. London, UK and Bogor, Indonesia: Earthscan Publications and Center for International Forestry Research.
Tacconi, L. (2007 c) Illegal logging and the future of the forest. In: Illegal Logging: Law Enforcement, Livelihoods and the Timber Trade, ed. Tacconi, L., pp. 275290. London, UK: Earthscan Publications.
Tacconi, L., Downs, F. & Larmour, P. (2009) Anti-corruption policies in the forest sector and REDD+. In: Realising REDD+: National Strategy and Policy Options, ed. Angelsen, A., pp. 163174. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.
Treisman, D. (2007) What have we learned about the causes of corruption from ten years of cross-national empirical research? Annual Review of Political Science 10 (1): 211244.
United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, The World Bank & World Resources Institute (2003) World Resources 2002–04, Decisions for the Earth: Balance, Voice and Power. Washington, DC, USA: World Resources Institute.
van Kersbergen, K. & van Waarden, F. (2004) ‘Governance’ as a bridge between disciplines: cross-disciplinary inspiration regarding shifts in governance and problems of governability, accountability and legitimacy. European Journal of Political Research 43 (2): 143171.
Vayda, A. & Walters, B. (1999) Against political ecology. Human Ecology 27 (1): 167179.
Wells, M., Guggenheim, S., Khan, A., Wardojo, W. & Jepson, P. (1998) Investing in Biodiversity. A Review of Indonesia's Integrated Conservation and Development Projects. Washington, DC, USA: The World Bank.
Wickson, F., Carew, A.L. & Russell, A.W. (2006) Transdisciplinary research: characteristics, quandaries and quality. Futures 38 (9): 10461059.
Williams, M. (2003) Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. Chicago, IL, USA: The University of Chicago Press.
World Bank (2006) Strengthening Forest Law Enforcement and Governance: Addressing a Systemic Constraint to Sustainable Development. Washington, DC, USA: The World Bank.
Young, O. (2005) Why is there no unified theory of environmental governance. In: Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, ed. Dauvergne, P., pp. 170184. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed