The United States and International Environmental Law: Living with an Elephant

33 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2005

See all articles by Jutta Brunnée

Jutta Brunnée

University of Toronto, Faculty of Law

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For many observers, the U.S. decision in 2001 to abandon the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, encapsulates an alarming trend in American attitudes towards international environmental law. This article explores recent trends in U.S. approaches. It begins by canvassing the trajectory of U.S. practice since around the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. This review suggests that some shifts in legal avenues for shaping relevant policy agendas have indeed occurred, but that it would be a mistake to treat one event - the U.S. withdrawal from Kyoto - as representative of the nature of these shifts. It then examines a range of possible explanations for the changing U.S. approach to international environmental law. These include factors related to the growth of treaty regimes and institutional structures, factors related to American power, domestic politics and attitudes towards international law, and factors specifically related to the administration of George W. Bush. Both the review of U.S. practice and the assessment of factors that might account for American policy suggest that the international environmental law community must carefully distinguish short-term developments from longer-term trends.

Suggested Citation

Brunnée, Jutta, The United States and International Environmental Law: Living with an Elephant. European Journal of International Law, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 617-649, 2004, Available at SSRN:

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