The Environment

Oxford Handbook of International Organizations, Jacob Cogan, Ian Hurd & Ian Johnstone eds., Forthcoming

25 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2015

See all articles by David A. Wirth

David A. Wirth

Boston College - Law School; Vermont Law School

Date Written: July 29, 2015


This chapter surveys settings under the auspices of international organizations and institutions that address the environment and highlights a number of underappreciated structural attributes of international environmental governance. A variety of approaches to treating environment on the multilateral level are categorized, resulting in a typology of both international institutional structures and the diversity of international instruments and policy tools available for promoting substantive international environmental policy. Utilizing examples that are intended to be illustrative of specific aspects of the challenges presented by international environmental policy and law rather than exhaustive, the piece concludes by examining the extent to which form effectively follows function on a variety of subject matter areas from the point of view of multilateral governance.

A number of conclusions emerge from this analysis. First, many international organizations whose functional orientation is not primarily environmental, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization, are very active on environmental issues. Further, only one international institution - the United Nations Environment Program, which is not even formally an international organization - is charged with environment as its primary mission. Third, the treatment of environment is highly compartmentalized and fragmented, distributed among multiple multilateral institutions and international agreements. Last, an identifiable model of an organic treaty establishing a comprehensive, self-contained regime has emerged in recent years. The environmental-treaty-as-governance-structure is an alternative to, although in some ways the functional equivalent of, a formal international organization as an international institutional vehicle for addressing environmental issues.

Suggested Citation

Wirth, David A., The Environment (July 29, 2015). Oxford Handbook of International Organizations, Jacob Cogan, Ian Hurd & Ian Johnstone eds., Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

David A. Wirth (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

Vermont Law School

68 North Windsor Street
P.O. Box 60
South Royalton, VT 05068
United States

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