The project started from the observation that while over the past decades the study of international environmental institutions had tremendously advanced the general understanding of international cooperation, the roles and influences of a particular type of organizations that typically emerge as by-products of international environmental cooperation have largely remained unstudied: namely, international bureaucracies that are attached to intergovernmental environmental organisations. Against this background, the project investigated two main questions: What is the type and degree of autonomous influence of the bureaucracies? What explains any differences in this influence? To this end, the research explored and compared in qualitative case studies the outcomes of the activities of nine international environmental bureaucracies, i.e. behavioural changes on the side of actors outside the bureaucracies that can be related to the bureaucracies’ actions and products.
The case studies showed that international bureaucracies have a sizeable autonomous influence as actors in global environmental policy that goes at times beyond expectations. The bureaucracies acted as knowledge-brokers, negotiation-facilitators and capacity-builders in international politics. Through the provision and distribution of information and knowledge, they changed the knowledge and belief systems of other actors, influenced public or scientific discourses, raised awareness, or supported parties and other stakeholders in the assessment and selection of appropriate actions (cognitive influences). They shaped global environmental policy through the creation, support, and shaping of norm-building negotiation processes for issue-specific international cooperation (normative influences). They made international cooperation work through assisting in national implementation (executive influences). These influences varied, however, considerably in both degree and type across the nine international bureaucracies.
Of the variables that were proposed in the explanatory model the organizational expertise, structure, culture, and leadership as well as the problem structure, i.e. the cost of addressing the problem and its saliency, were found particularly relevant. Strikingly, the polity, that is, the legal and institutional setting within which the bureaucracies operate as well as the competencies and resources they command, was found to have far less explanatory power.
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