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Part VIII Compliance, Implementation, and Effectiveness, Ch.51 Compliance Theory

Ronald B Mitchell

From: The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Lavanya Rajamani, Jacqueline Peel

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 25 March 2023

International environmental law — Compliance with international decisions

This chapter describes the conceptual and theoretical challenges raised by efforts to understand international environmental agreement (IEA) compliance and effectiveness. Both compliance and non-compliance can arise for reasons unrelated to an IEA's causal influence. Equating IEA compliance (comparing state behaviours to legal standards) with IEA influence can overstate the latter by conflating IEA-induced compliance and ‘coincidental’ compliance, in which state behaviours meet IEA standards for reasons unrelated to the IEA. States may negotiate IEA obligations that require no change in their behaviours, may comply because doing so is cheaper than violation, or may lack the capacity to violate IEA rules. Equating non-compliance with a lack of IEA influence also misleads because it ignores the fact that IEAs can lead states to take well-intended actions that fall short of legal standards, as when IEAs set ambitious obligations or exogenous changes put compliance out of reach. Indeed, IEAs with aggressive obligations may be highly effective despite having high non-compliance rates. Thus, the chapter argues that investigations of compliance improve to the extent that scholars use them to identify the causal influence of IEAs rather than a causal assessment of rule-following.

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