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This chapter surveys settings under the auspices of international organizations and institutions that address the environment and highlights a number of underappreciated structural attributes of international environmental governance. A variety of approaches to treating environment on the multilateral level are categorized, resulting in a typology of both international institutional structures and the diversity of international instruments and policy tools available for promoting substantive international environmental policy. Utilizing examples that are intended to be illustrative of specific aspects of the challenges presented by international environmental policy and law rather than exhaustive, the piece concludes by examining the extent to which form effectively follows function on a variety of subject matter areas from the point of view of multilateral governance.

A number of conclusions emerge from this analysis. First, many international organizations whose functional orientation is not primarily environmental, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization, are very active on environmental issues. Further, only one international institution – the United Nations Environment Program, which is not even formally an international organization -- is charged with environment as its primary mission. Third, the treatment of environment is highly compartmentalized and fragmented, distributed among multiple multilateral institutions and international agreements. Last, an identifiable model of an organic treaty establishing a comprehensive, self-contained regime has emerged in recent years. The environmental-treaty-as-governance-structure is an alternative to, although in some ways the functional equivalent of, a formal international organization as an international institutional vehicle for addressing environmental issues.


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8 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Environmental Law

  • Journal title
    • Oxford Handbook of International Organizations, Jacob Cogan, Ian Hurd & Ian Johnstone eds.

  • Date submitted

    8 September 2022

  • Additional information
    • Suggested Citation:

      Wirth, David A. "The Environment", in Oxford Handbook of International Organizations, Jacob Cogan, Ian Hurd & Ian Johnstone eds.