Impacts of Overlapping International Regimes: The Case of Biodiversity

By Rosendal, G. Kristin | Global Governance, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Impacts of Overlapping International Regimes: The Case of Biodiversity


Rosendal, G. Kristin, Global Governance


Recent decades have witnessed an upsurge in transborder environmental problems, as well as the creation of a large number of international arrangements to meet these challenges. From this has come scientific and political interest in understanding the actual factors that determine the effectiveness and successful implementation of international environmental agreements. These agreements have been negotiated without explicit measures to resolve the frequently conflicting goals of overlapping economic regimes. This raises the question of how such overlap may affect the formation and subsequent implementation of environmental regimes.

The focus in this article is on the overlap between one environmental and one trade-related regime. These are the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) [1] and the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs) under the World Trade Organization (WTO). In response to the worldwide loss of species and ecosystem decay, the CBD was agreed to in Rio in 1992 and entered into force in 1993. One year later, the TRIPs agreement under the WTO was formally established. The CBD is concerned with conservation of biological diversity and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the world's genetic resources. [2] TRIPs, being part of a trade regime, seeks to discourage policies that obstruct trade liberalization in any area--including that of biotechnology, which is based on the utilization of genetic resources. How do the functional scopes of these institutions overlap and what are the implications for the operation of the CBD? I will argue that the overlap between the CBD and TRIPs conc erns both diverging norms and diverging regulations pertaining to the same issue area.

At present, we lack both systematic mapping of types of institutional overlap and mapping of effects from overlap. There is little knowledge about how institutional overlap may affect the effectiveness of international environmental cooperation. [3] Clearly, within the scope of an article it is hardly possible to provide a full answer to these questions. The aim here is to propose a typology for approaching analysis of institutional overlap, develop some assumptions, and apply these to the analysis of the CBD and TRIPs. In the first part of the article, I propose a typology based on compatible and diverging norms and rules, in order to determine the scope and type of overlap. Against this backdrop, I develop assumptions concerning the scope for synergy and conflict in different situations of institutional overlap. In the second part, I study the two regimes--the CBD and TRIPs--in light of this framework, in order to illustrate how the typology may be used. Finally, I discuss the analytical implications of el aborating or diverging from traditional regime theory. The analysis of several regimes active in a single issue area may bring about lessons other than those that an isolated regime study might engender. This discussion is confined to how the overlapping regime approach may add to our understanding of the regime formation process, as it is premature to draw conclusions about impacts in the implementation phase.

Overlapping International Institutions: Analytical Framework

The analytical approach builds on theoretical contributions from the field of institutionalism and international relations--more specifically, regime and implementation studies. Regimes are often defined as "implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors' expectations converge in a given issue-area." [4] The term implementation is used to indicate deliberate efforts by national authorities to follow up their international commitments in domestic policies within the specific issue area. [5] Domestic implementation involves ratification, legislation establishing domestic policies, and programs aimed at following up international commitments at the national level. …

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Impacts of Overlapping International Regimes: The Case of Biodiversity
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