This article proposes a way to strengthen international environmental agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. Multilateral environmental agreements such as these are extremely fragile. At the heart of the problem is what is known as the tragedy of the commons—a unique dynamic that viciously sabotages cooperation. The cause of this tragedy is that no one can trust that other actors will conserve the common resource, which triggers a race to the bottom—a race to deplete. Global warming and our inability to halt it is perhaps the ultimate example of a tragedy of the commons on a truly massive scale. On a domestic level, the tragedy of the commons is easily solved through regulation. However, on a supranational level, where there is no overarching authority, governance mechanisms tend to collapse. The hard truth is that without robust enforcement of some kind, international cooperation is extremely difficult to maintain. This article proposes the following idea: governments joining (or already party to) an agreement, contribute an upfront deposit to an international regulatory body (the Commons Management Fund (“CMF”)) with the understanding that their contribution will be forfeited if they fail to honor their treaty commitments. The idea, while ostensibly simple, is deceptively complex. The focus is not the penalty, but rather the ability of governments to credibly signal commitment. In game theory, credible signaling can prevent a tragedy of the commons by generating confidence that everyone will stick to their commitments. The CMF is designed to exploit this effect. Now, more than ever, a solution to the tragedy of the commons on a supranational level is desperately needed—the CMF is such a solution.
Bryan H. Druzin,
The Parched Earth of Cooperation: How to Solve the Tragedy of the Commons in International Environmental Governance,
27 Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law
Available at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/djcil/vol27/iss1/3