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Untying the knots of international environmental agreements

Anthony Clunies Ross (Department of Economics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Economic Studies

ISSN: 0144-3585

Article publication date: 1 February 2000



Curbing (without banning) potentially environmentally‐damaging activities that have global, rather than local, effects raises challenges analogous to those faced by a community lacking legislative powers that has to restrict access to a common pasture in order to make its use sustainable. A local community achieves autonomy in a matter such as this by consensual cooperation. In the absence of a world coercive authority, global environmental problems (in which a measure of world autonomy is needed) have to be met similarly by consensual co‐operation among governments. The conditions under which local consensual cooperation have been observed to be successful may also be relevant to global consensual cooperation. In particular there must be clear rules, and devices for interpreting them; they must be acceptable to all parties; and monitoring of compliance is crucial. Even in such cases of quasi‐voluntary compliance, graduated sanctions for infringement, or analogous arrangements, are quite likely to play a vital part. In an international regime for reducing greenhouse‐gas emissions, it is essential that rules should be devised that will appeal as fair and practically tolerable to opinion in both rich and poor countries and to both high and low per capita emitters. This will rule out a regime of uniform percentage reductions without balancing compensation. It will also rule out a regime based on equal per capita claims to engage in the restricted activity. It is desirable that the rules also act to make the allocation of the reductions in the potentially damaging activity efficient. This will favour rules under which financial signals reflecting marginal costs or benefits play some part in the allocation of any target aggregates. It will probably be essential, given prevalent views of justice and differing valuations of environmental goals between rich and poor nations, that the arrangements involve transfers of resources from richer, higher‐per‐capita polluting countries to poorer, lower per capita polluting countries. Nevertheless, reducing emissions sufficiently through a system of tradable quotas summing to the targeted total of emissions – which might seem to meet both this requirement and the need for efficient marginal incentives – has, in its simple form in which the quotas issued are proportional to countries’ populations, little chance of being acceptable to rich, high‐emitter nations. An attempt is made to explore solutions to these dilemmas, leading on from the arrangements made under the Kyoto protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.



Clunies Ross, A. (2000), "Untying the knots of international environmental agreements", Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 27 No. 1/2, pp. 94-110.




Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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