Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 4: International Environmental Regimes as Decision Machines
Thomas Gehring International environmental treaty systems are ambiguous institutions. They are highly dynamic and their decision-making apparatuses are established to promote and accelerate international environmental governance. Yet, they do not rely on powerful bureaucracies (secretariats) and many of them lack formal independence and a status as subjects under international law.1 Although these institutions do not fit the model of stable international regimes or international treaties, or that of international organizations, they apparently meet the demand of relevant actors. Many of them have been established over the past 40 years to govern specific areas of international relations. The most important examples include the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol, and the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and its various protocols. Theoretically informed assessment of international environmental treaty systems is blurred by the misleading conceptual dichotomy of regimes and organizations that has guided international relations (IR) theorizing for some 30 years. International regimes are largely conceptualized as comparatively stable sets of norms of different quality that lack institutional autonomy (“principles, norms rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in an area of international relations”2). This conception has provided the foundation for the fruitful and theoretically guided analysis of intergovernmental and transnational cooperation over the past three decades. However, cooperation theory seeks to attribute the formation, operation, and effects of international institutions mainly to external factors, namely key actors,...
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