The purpose of this chapter is to outline and analyse neoliberal institutionalist theories of IR in the light of the experience of global warming. 1 While these accounts vary in some respects, they hold certain common positions which differ in significant respects from neorealist positions, and serve as a basis for discussion.
Within the debate on global warming (and global environmental change generally), this line of thought is very important, since it provides the basis of many prescriptions for the forms which international responses should take. Institutionalist assumptions lie behind the proposals, included in the Climate Change Convention, and more widely in the UNCED process, to create new international bodies within the UN system (for example, the bodies created in the convention, or the Commission on Sustainable Development proposed in Agenda 21 at UNCED, and created by UNGA). Chapter 1 reviewed some of the statements made by proponents of this position. The viability of many of these proposals depends on the assumption that institutions matter, and the ability to demonstrate the conditions under which they matter.
The general line of argument in this chapter will be that there are two types of institutionalist thought, which require different types of analysis. The first is one which reduces the concept of an institution to formal organisations, an approach which often happens in practice even while this reduction is denied in institutionalist theory. Here, it is not difficult to show that, at particular points, the role of international organisations such as WMO and UNEP has been immense. It is also possible to specify reasonably closely the conditions under which their influence declined.
The second type of institutionalism uses a broader concept of institutions, and again, here, there are two underlying approaches which, to an extent, compete as explanations for the existence, prevalence and importance of institutions. One is a rational choice/game-theoretic