Why International Environmental Agreements Fail and How to Fix Them
In the last thirty years, environmental problems have joined nuclear proliferation, terrorism, economic stability and human rights initiatives as some of the most pressing issues facing the international community. Environmental concerns like global warming, depletion of the ozone and an increasing activism to protect natural resources involve many actors and institutions, and thus to successfully address these problems requires the synthesis of both individual states and international agreements. While multilateral international agreements are often imperfect, most environmental legislation has been particularly ineffective at curbing global problems—the world's level of pollution is the highest it has been since the 1960's despite over forty international environmental agreements in the last three decades alone [Terry, Jim. "Multilateral Agreements--Kyoto Protocol] . The unique failure of much of this legislation is because of both an inability to prevent states to not comply with the agreement and a lack of institutional monitoring outlined in the agreement itself. This essay will examine these issues through political economic theory as well in the analysis in two major environmental agreements: the Montreal Protocol in 1987 and the Kyoto Protocol ratified in 1997. In addition, this essay will also suggest specific recommendations to make multilateral environmental legislation more effective in the future [Terry, Jim. "Multilateral Agreements--Kyoto Protocol].
First, it is important to recognize what separates environmental legislation from other international treaties. The dilemma facing international environmental agreements is that each country is reluctant to bear costs to protect the environment, but all agree that if every country took this stance, the environmental issues would go unresolved. Furthermore, each country's actions affect the environment individually, and therefore to properly solve any environmental issue requires the cooperation and participation from many countries. In other words, unilateral action from the United States to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions from factories will not be successful on a global level if other polluting countries like China and Russia do not become involved as well [Terry, Jim. "Multilateral Agreements--Kyoto Protocol]. This is especially difficult given the diverse interests of states and there unique abilities to bear costs. Most significantly, the environment is a public good, or something that is non-excludable and non-rival, and therefore it is very difficult to monitor when an actor abuses the environment and how exactly to resolve the issue when a sovereign body does not exist to govern the public good.
In multilateral environmental agreements, non-compliance of states is usually the main reason for the treaty's failure. This is due to the necessity of collective action to solve environmental problems. Addressing environmental concerns on a global scale requires immense participation from states because they all contribute to environmental problems, yet unlike other multilateral agreements, environmental legislation has no governing institution. This requires states to have to work collectively on environmental legislation, which is problematic for two reasons: states are unequal economically and do not want to bear the same environmental costs as other states who can perhaps better afford it and countries do not want to participate in a treaty where other countries are free-riding, or not bearing the costs of protecting the environment but benefiting from the legislation
Consider the economic differences between the United States and Brazil in an agreement limiting deforestation. The United States may be in favor of this agreement because they view protecting forests as worth the economic cost, but Brazil, whose economy is more dependent on lumber and other...
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