AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

Critical Mass Governance: Addressing US Participation in Environmental Multilateralism

by Luke Kemp

Institution: Australian National University
Year: 2015
Keywords: UNFCCC; climate policy; US; international law; international climate politics; ratification; international environmental policy; UNEP
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2076976
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/101513


A recurring problem for international environmental governance has been the legal participation of the United States (US). Due to a number of unique domestic institutional and political conditions, the US is effectively trapped in a ‘ratification straitjacket’. This has made US ratification of most environmental treaties impossible. It has been a crucial obstacle given the role of the US as the foremost great power of the developed world and formerly as a hegemon. Despite the importance of this obstacle to environmental multilateralism, it has attracted little sustained, direct academic scrutiny. Moreover, the rise of China and a multipolar world provides unique opportunities to consider different approaches to managing US ratification and participation in environmental regimes. This thesis attempts to address this gap in the literature through two research questions: 1. How US ratification and participation be effectively enabled within an effective international architecture for environmental governance? 2. How can effective environmental governance without the US (or other recalcitrant states) be enabled through; major international institutions, decision-making processes, and operational treaties? This thesis is structured as a thesis by publication that is composed of four peer-reviewed papers along with a context statement that covers the introduction, methods, discussion and conclusion. The four papers focus primarily on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The thesis examines how US ratification and participation can be addressed in the context of an international institution (UNEP and a potential World Environment Organisation), multilateral decision-making (consensus and majority voting in the UNFCCC) and treaty design (a future climate agreement). The results suggest that there are primarily two ways of dealing with US participation, both of which involve some form of plurilateralism. First, governance arrangements can attempt to pursue US participation by appealing to its interests in fragmentation and allowing for the use of presidential-executive agreements. Alternatively, an international regime can be constructed to bypass US ratification and instead attempt to maximise the participation of other states as well as willing subnational actors within the US. The former approach is termed ‘inclusive critical mass governance’. In contrast, the latter is labelled as ‘exclusive critical mass governance’. Both strategies to address US ratification rely on the use of semi-globalism and thus challenge the current dominant paradigm of creating consensus-based, broad-but-shallow international agreements. Based upon this, a theory of plurilateralism and accompanying theoretical framework is developed. The theory and framework of critical mass governance suggests that a small group of progressive actors can create the political, social and economic feedbacks necessary to spread environmental actions and encourage increasing…