From the Cold War to Global Warming: Observing Complexity in IR

Emilian Kavalski

Research output: Journal PublicationReview articlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Few international relations (IR) experts will challenge the profound effects that environmental degradation has on the relationship between human and non-human systems and on their ability to survive. Yet this acknowledgement does not seem to produce an agreement on either the conceptualisation of an appropriate IR paradigm, or the best way for mainstreaming the environment in IR. This article provides an overview of the dominant perceptions of climate change in IR: either as a security concern, as a foreign policy issue or as a task that needs to be addressed via a global governance mechanism. The claim, however, is that the inability of IR to grapple convincingly with the issues of climate change reflects its neglect for the ecology within which human affairs are embedded. Thus, current criticisms emanate not because IR offers a truncated representation of the reality of world affairs, but because of its failure to acknowledge that this truncation is only one facet of a much more complex field of observation. The article concludes with a sketch of the likely future trajectories for the IR conversation on the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPolitical Studies Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Complexity theory
  • Ethical adaptation
  • Global governance
  • International relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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