Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 2: When Regimes Backfire: Institutional Expectations and Environmental Deadlock
J. Samuel Barkin It has become commonly accepted by students of global environmental politics, and international relations more broadly, that international institutions matter.1 This mirrors a general acceptance of the import of international organizations (IOs) in the discipline of international relations more broadly. There remains substantial debate, however, on what effects IOs have both on the practice of international politics and on environmental outcomes. It is often assumed that these effects will generally reinforce cooperation,2 but is this necessarily the case? This chapter examines a set of circumstances in which institutions can serve to undermine rather than reinforce international environmental cooperation. More specifically, it argues that when international institutions politicize issues by making information about relevant decision-making procedures available to a broader public than would otherwise have access to it, this information can have the effect of polarizing national positions on an issue, thus making a cooperative outcome more difficult to achieve. The irony of this argument is that it is the clarification of decision-making procedures by the institution that can lead to the counterproductive, or anti-cooperative, effects. This sort of clarification, along with the provision of information more broadly, is often referred to as the “transparency” function of IOs. Transparency is claimed by many institutional theorists as one of the key functions of international institutions, and one of the areas in which they can be most effective.3 It can promote international cooperation in two ways. The first is by perfecting the market for international cooperation by increasing communication...
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