Handbook on Trade and the Environment
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Handbook on Trade and the Environment

Edited by Kevin P. Gallagher

In this comprehensive reference work, Kevin Gallagher has compiled a fresh and broad-ranging collection of expert voices commenting on the interdisciplinary field of trade and the environment. For over two decades policymakers and scholars have been struggling to understand the relationship between international trade in a globalizing world and its effects on the natural environment. The authors in this Handbook provide the tools to do just that.
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Chapter 16: Environmental Politics and Global Shipping Trade: Club Goods as a Solution to Common-Pool Resource Problems

Elizabeth R. DeSombre


Elizabeth R. DeSombre Most goods traded internationally – whether measured by value or by weight – are moved from one place to another on ships (Steinberg, 2001, p. 14). The environmental impacts of ships are therefore important to consider, as well as the political processes by which these impacts are influenced. These impacts have been dramatic, from major oil spills that wreaked havoc with coastlines and wildlife to invasive species transported in ballast water that have destroyed ocean ecosystems. The international political economy of shipping underpins any effort to understand its environmental effects. Changes in technology and globalization made a dramatic increase in global shipping trade possible, and the international regulatory structure – most prominently the role of ‘flag-of-convenience’ ship registries within which global shipping now primarily operates – has influenced the level and type of regulation to which ships are held. The issue structure of ocean environmental issues is central to understanding the environmental politics of global shipping: for the most part, environmental issues pertaining to the oceans have the characteristics of common-pool resources, since they are both rival and non-excludable. This issue structure, combined with an international regulatory system in which states choose which international rules to adopt and a ship registration system in which ship owners can choose which state in which to register their ships, makes protecting the ocean environment especially difficult. The actual environmental politics of shipping is primarily coordinated through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN-affiliated organization under whose auspices most...

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