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Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 3: Changing Issue Structure to Avoid Free Riders: Protecting the Ocean Environment
Elizabeth R. DeSombre International cooperation is difficult under the best of circumstances. States have the ability to decide whether they want to participate or not in cooperative measures. Because second-order cooperation to monitor or enforce any cooperative agreement is subject to many of the same cooperative difficulties as the initial decision over working collectively to address an issue in the first place, even those agreements that are made may not be well implemented. Free riders abound, and cooperative regimes are underprovided. Environmental issues face even greater difficulties than some other issues in garnering cooperation, because of structural characteristics of environmental problems that make cooperation to address them particularly fragile. The common-pool resource (CPR) nature of most environmental problems means that, unlike with public goods, those states that remain outside a cooperative endeavor can undermine the ability of those within an agreement to protect the resource in question. In this circumstance, free riders do not just weaken the likelihood of agreement; they have the ability to undermine the success of an agreement altogether, and the fear of free riding may be sufficient to undermine creation of such agreements in the first place. Lessons from efforts to circumvent free riding on international cooperation in one particularly challenging issue, standards on ocean ships, suggests some possible broader conclusions about the conditions under which state cooperation may be marshaled to address CPR problems. If the problem that prevents successful cooperation on environmental issues is that free riders cannot just decrease the advantages of but...
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