International Organizations and Environmental Policy

By Robert V. Bartlett; Priya A. Kurian et al. | Go to book overview

3
Environmental Policy and the European Union

John McCormick

Because many environmental problems are transnational by nature, they cannot be addressed effectively by individual countries acting alone. Recognition of this reality has led in the last twenty years to notable progress in international responses to such problems as acid pollution, whaling, and the management of shared rivers, lakes, and seas. But agreement on environmental policy at the international level continues to suffer at least two basic handicaps.

First, most governments have so far proved unwilling to give significant powers or support to international environmental organizations. The many problems (constitutional, financial, and otherwise) experienced by the United Nations Environment Programme come readily to mind in this regard ( McCormick, 1989b: 109-14). Second, governments are inclined to put the short-term interests of their domestic electorates and economies above the long- term interests of the global environment. And because the costs of environmental regulation are often seen to compromise comparative economic advantage, few governments are willing to take unilateral action.

Against this background, one productive channel for the resolution of international environmental problems may lie in regional economic integration. As nations become more dependent upon international trade and foreign investment, and reach the compromises that allow them to be more closely tied into regional and global economic systems, so parochial concerns about loss of comparative economic advantage may diminish. At the same time, the trade distortions created by differing environmental standards will become more obvious, and national governments may be more inclined to take collective action and come to agreement on common policies. In the case of the European Union (EU), formerly the European Community (EC), this has already happened.

Originally created to help rebuild Western European economies after World War II and to promote common security, the influence and authority of the EU

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