The purpose of this chapter is to give a general outline of the environmental problems discussed in the book and the institutional arrangements set up to combat them. An obvious dilemma in providing such an overview is that defining these problems and their solutions lies at the heart of the subsequent discussion. So how can they be defined ‘in advance’? And how would doing so influence their discussion in the case studies? I have chosen to provide a review of the environmental status quo as presented in publications of international scientific bodies and in the scientific literature. An overview of the institutional arrangements designed to deal with the problems is given, with reference to how the organisation, activities and performance of these arrangements are generally presented in the scientific literature as well as in publications issued by the organisations themselves. Although an attempt is made to give the outline a factual basis, some amount of ‘framing’ takes place already at this stage since some features of the environment and institutions are emphasised while others are left out. This is partly a consequence of how these phenomena are presented in the literature and by the organisations themselves and partly active selection on my part. However, it should be kept in mind that this chapter is meant as an introduction to problems that will be further discussed in the case studies. It should therefore be regarded as a point of departure, a preliminary outline of commonly held (admittedly scientific) beliefs that will to some extent be challenged later in the book. A major objective of the subsequent discussion is to investigate how these beliefs have been arrived at and whether they are shared equally in Russia and the West and among various types of actors in the different countries.