Power and Cooperation in International Environmental Law

UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 06-43


49 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2006

See all articles by Richard H. Steinberg

Richard H. Steinberg

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


This chapter examines international environmental regulation from economic, political, and legal perspectives. Section 1 introduces the economics and politics of international environmental regulation. International agreements on environmental issues are often seen as symmetric contracts among states, solving cooperation problems among states with similar interests, or facilitating side-payments from states that favor environmental regulation to states that would not otherwise support regulation. In contrast, some realist political scientists suggest that when international environmental interests vary across states, international environmental agreements often result from coercion of weaker states by more powerful ones.

With this framework in mind, the bulk of this chapter examines the negotiation and substance of the world's most important international environmental agreements. Section 2 examines the main agreements related to international environmental protection of the oceans, including those concluded to protect fisheries and those intended to reduce land-based marine pollution. Section 3 examines the main agreements relating to global air pollution and climate change - the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) and the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol). Section 4 explores the main trade and the environment issues and agreements, including the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes (Basel Convention) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as environmental issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and European Union (EU).

Section 5 concludes that most effective international environmental agreements have resulted not from symmetrical contracting alone but from negotiations that involve coercion by powerful, greener countries of weaker countries that are generally less interested in international environmental protection. In this sense, international environmental regulation is at least as much political as it is economic.

Keywords: international environmental regulations, environmental agreements, trade agreements, global environmental protection

Suggested Citation

Steinberg, Richard H., Power and Cooperation in International Environmental Law. UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 06-43; RESEARCH HANDBOOK IN INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC LAW, Edward Elgar, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=946783

Richard H. Steinberg (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-267-2064 (Phone)
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