Skip to content


Craig Kauffman’s research investigates how the interaction between actors at the global and local levels determines policy responses to environmental challenges like climate change and ecosystem destruction, both domestically and internationally. This agenda is driven by three questions. First, when states fail to address a global problem like climate change, either through multilateral agreements or national laws, why and how are actions nonetheless taken on the ground? Second, how does the interaction among global, national, and local actors determine the success of governance reform attempts? Third, how do ideas regarding the best way to tackle global problems, and the structures for implementing these ideas, evolve? To answer these questions, Kauffman examines how authority is structured and exercised in new, experimental global governance arrangements; how national and local systems intersect with and push against these global structures; how power is distributed and flows within transnational governance networks; the politics of creating collaborative, multi-level governance arrangements; norm contestation and evolution; and ecological economics. He is particularly interested in how these issues shape the politics and policies relating to climate change and sustainable development.

Kauffman is the author of Grassroots Global Governance: Local Watershed Management Experiments and the Evolution of Sustainable Development (Oxford University Press, 2016). His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Global Environmental Politics, World Development, Latin American Research Review, Environmental Research Notes, Agricultural Water Management, Peace Review, Encyclopedia of Political Theory, and elsewhere. Kauffman is a member of the United Nations Knowledge Network on Harmony with Nature, tasked with providing recommendations on implementing Earth Law as a means for implementing the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. His research has been supported by the Inter-American Foundation, the Rotary Foundation, Sony Corporation, the University of Oregon, and the Latin American School of Social Sciences-Ecuador (FLACSO-Ecuador).

Kauffman’s book, Grassroots Global Governance, shows how when international agreements fail to solve global problems like climate change, transnational networks attempt to address them by implementing “global ideas”—policies and best practices negotiated at the global level—locally around the world. Grassroots Global Governance not only explains why some efforts succeed while others fail, but also why the process of implementing global ideas locally causes these ideas to evolve. The book shows how transnational actors’ success in putting global ideas into practice depends on the strategies they use to activate networks of grassroots actors influential in local social and policy arenas. Yet, grassroots actors neither accept nor reject global ideas as presented by outsiders. Instead, they negotiate whether and how to adapt them to fit local conditions. This contestation produces experimentation with unique institutional applications of a global idea infused with local norms and practices. Local experiments that endure are perceived as “successful,” allowing those involved to activate transnational networks to scale up and diffuse innovative local governance models globally. These models carry local norms and practices to the international level where they challenge existing global approaches. By explaining how this occurs, the book reveals the grassroots level as an important but often overlooked terrain where global governance is constructed.

Kauffman’s current book project analyzes new global governance structures created to institutionalize Earth Law (Rights of Nature) in order to alter the way we practice sustainable development and address climate change. The project analyzes the global Rights of Nature movement and its effort to incorporate rights of nature into laws and institutions at both the domestic and international levels. Because rights of nature is rooted in non-Western understandings of humans’ relationship with nature, the book’s theoretical argument provides an alternative to explanations of normative change rooted in the literatures on human rights and sovereignty norms. Empirically, the book analyzes the institutionalization of Earth Law/rights of nature in Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S., as well as efforts at the international level.

Kauffman also has several projects relating to ecological economics. He is part of an inter-disciplinary team developing an original dataset to analyze the effect of international conservation aid on tropical deforestation worldwide. This project builds on Kauffman’s research on innovative, experimental financing mechanisms for conserving forest and watershed ecosystem