Ngos in International Environmental Lawmaking: Theoretical Models

34 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2006

See all articles by Peter J. Spiro

Peter J. Spiro

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


This paper, a revised version of which will appear in the Oxford Handbook of International Law (forthcoming 2007), attempts to distill major theoretical approaches to NGO participation in international law both generally and with specific application to international environmental law. The chapter extracts three models from the major academic work on the question: liberal, stakeholder, and post-national. The liberal model continues to center the state as the primary locus of decisionmaking authority, while allowing the indirect influence of NGOs on the shape of international decisions. Domestic, transnational, and institutionalist variants of the liberal model frame the relevant terrains of NGO activity differently, as bounded or not bounded by national borders, but always with states as the key target actors and ultimate repositories of power. Stakeholder and postnational models, by contrast, recognize independent NGO power, inside public international institutions under the former approach and outside public institutions altogether under the latter.

All three models accurately describe a segment of NGO participation in international environmental lawmaking. Insofar as the Liberal model hews to a state-ordered worldview, it may lose traction as an explanatory framework for considering the place of NGOs going forward. Liberal models are at least implicitly offered as universal theories of global political ordering, which serve as the exclusive tool for understanding international politics. But Liberal theory is in fact ill-equipped to explain evolving new pathways of NGO participation. It is only as good as far as it goes, that is, in explaining how NGOs work through states to advance their agendas; otherwise, it is an approach in denial. Hence the value added of stakeholder and postnational models, which confront, explain, and justify novel forms of NGO participation, at the same time that they accept the fact of state-channeled influence. As those forms of participation ramify and entrench, the scholarly challenge will migrate correspondingly.

Keywords: NGOs, international legal theory, international environmental law, international relations theory

Suggested Citation

Spiro, Peter J., Ngos in International Environmental Lawmaking: Theoretical Models. Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 26, Available at SSRN: or

Peter J. Spiro (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics