Strong (green) institutions in weak states: Environmental governance and human (in)security in the Global South

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Over the last two decades, the international community has focused on building green institutional capacity in the Global South to foster human security across societies marked by rapid environmental change. Numerous nation-states have consequently institutionalized global models that have helped build administrative, fiscal, and regulatory capacity, as well as promote social and environmental protections. The emergence of strong (green) institutions, however, has not translated into the kind of social or environmental change expected; informal extractive activity (e.g., “illegal” mining), violent natural resource conflict, and environmental degradation remain enduring challenges. To understand why green governance reform has been unable to contribute to broader forms of human security, I analyze the process of institutional reform in the Global South, drawing specifically on minerals governance in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Building from multi-method fieldwork conducted between 2014 and 2016, I contend that a persistent focus on institutional design has obscured the ways in which green institution building reconfigures cross-scalar power relations that mediate governance-security linkages. In particular, the reform process has channeled power to transnational networks, which constitute what I call the green regulatory state, that produce and reproduce insecurity by reorienting social relations around global standards of natural resource conduct that 1) limit options for domestic political engagement and 2) exacerbate institutional pluralism and conflict. This argument challenges scholarship that perceives insecurity as a function of weak governance capacity by repositioning it as a direct consequence of the growth of green governance. This article contributes to an emerging body of work that questions the growing enthusiasm for green governance as a mechanism to mitigate conflict and improve social and environmental justice. It simultaneously posits that achieving sustainability and security within the context of the Anthropocene requires a more intensive focus on constructing inclusive – rather than strong – governance institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-445
Number of pages13
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Environmental governance
  • Ghana
  • Green institutions
  • Human security
  • Minerals governance
  • Sierra Leone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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