Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 26: International environmental cooperation

Carlo Carraro


International environmental cooperation, as well as international cooperation over other global economic, social or military issues, has become increasingly important worldwide. The range of topics on which negotiations to achieve a substantial degree of cooperation among countries and regions are underway is wide. Transnational issues, such as trade and financial flows liberalization, migration, technological cooperation, development aid and environmental protection are the most important issues discussed in G-8, G-20 and other international meetings. The common feature of these issues is a high degree of interdependence among countries: in general, the welfare of each country depends on its own action as well as on the action of any other country. As a consequence, in most cases, unilateral policies can be jeopardized and possibly made useless by the other countries’ reaction. This is the well-known ‘tragedy of the commons’. International cooperation, which makes policy more effective and can also redistribute the resulting gains among the cooperating countries, is therefore welfare improving. Among transnational policy issues, environmental protection constitutes a particular case. In areas such as global warming, ozone layer depletion and biodiversity, spillovers, as well as the absence of clear property rights, create strong incentives to free-ride. As a consequence, international agreements which are both effective and widely accepted can hardly be achieved (see, among others, Barrett, 2002 or Finus and Maus, 2008; a different conclusion has however been recently proposed by Battaglini and Harstad, 2012, in a dynamic model of environmental cooperation).

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