Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making

By Scott Barrett | Go to book overview
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6 International Environmental Agreements

We are every day, in one sense, accepting limitations upon our complete freedom of action…We have more than 4,300 treaties and international agreements, two-thirds of which have been entered into in the past 25 years… Each one of which at least limits our freedom of action. We exercise our sovereignty going into these agreements. Secretary of State Dean Rusk (1965) 1


6.1 INTRODUCTION

Cooperative arrangements for managing shared environmental resources are typically codified in international environmental agreements (IEAs), variously referred to as treaties, conventions, protocols, covenants, compacts, agreements, charters, and acts. 2 IEAs differ from custom in that they are negotiated, written down in black and white, and legally binding only on the countries that consent to be bound by them. 3 If custom offers a general curative to transnational environmental problems, IEAs provide issue-specific remedies.

International environmental agreements address almost every kind of transnational environmental issue. They establish regimes for conserving marine mammals, such as whales and seals; fish, like tuna and salmon; biodiversity; migratory birds; and particular species of wildlife like the polar bear and vicuna. They obligate countries to preserve unique ecosystems like the Serengeti and the Galapagos Islands, and sites of cultural heritage, including the Pyramids and Hadrian's Wall. IEAs coordinate policies for preventing the spread of pests like the Mediterranean fruit fly and plant diseases like Dutch elm disease, and for controlling swarms of desert locusts, huge plagues of which can range over sixty or more countries. They impel countries to reduce pollution in regional and inland seas as well as in the high seas, by controlling run-off, setting emission standards, regulating tanker design, and establishing liability in the event of an oil spill. They create rules for managing Antarctica's mineral resources and marine life, including krill, whales, and penguins; they regulate civil nuclear power by requiring timely notification of a nuclear accident; they create organizations for managing shared river basins; and they establish common standards for safeguarding workers from toxic substances, asbestos, and other forms of

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