Multilateral Environmental Agreements and the Compliance Continuum


This paper responds to the observation that despite the high number of multilateral environment agreements (“MEAs”), and relatively high compliance rate, the global commons are continuing to deteriorate. I review the contemporary literature addressing the question: "why nations comply with international law," focusing specifically on MEAs. The competing schools of thought are organized along a "compliance continuum," – bordered at one end by the Chayesian approach advocating managing compliance, and the Downsian view at the other, arguing for enforcement when there are high incentives to defect.

In sum, my conclusions are (1) adequately responding to global environmental problems requires increasing the obligations assumed by the Parties to MEAs; (2) ensuring compliance with these obligations will require strong enforcement mechanisms; and (3) the effectiveness of any enforcement mechanism will be determined by its measure of legitimacy, as illegitimacy emerged as one of the principal rationales against the use of coercive enforcement in international law.


Environmental Law | International Law

Date of this Version

August 2003