The design of environmental regimes: Social construction, contextuality, and improvisation
While much of the literature on environmental regimes has focused on effectiveness, this article takes a new look at a lesser-studied topic, the evolution of regime design. Understanding how regimes differ in design, and how various factors and processes shape such design, is important if we are to more carefully craft these regimes. We should also pay close attention to the formative role of social construction and context. Focusing on transboundary marine programs, we see that their designs basically follow a common template, namely that of the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) Regional Seas Programme. However, the action of context (i.e., local actors and political processes) can modify these designs away from the common template. The extent to which these programs begin to differentiate from each other may be an important sign of program maturity and responsiveness to context. In this article, we examine a set of transboundary marine programs to uncover what the important dimensions of differentiation are. Then, we focus on one specific program, the SSME (Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion) and closely trace how its specific form and organization came about. The analysis is informed by a model of institutional coherence that portrays institutions as the product of multiple generative mechanisms (e.g., social construction, ecological fit, and others). While it is premature to make definite judgments about the relative merits of competing regime designs, the work provides us with a new mode of analysis that can provide helpful directions for institutional assessment.