Is International Law Conducive To Preventing Looming Disasters?

Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Remodel Blog / CC BY

Looming disasters mostly require collective action but international law is traditionally consent based. For a state to be bound by international law, it needs to have ratified a treaty (e.g. concerning climate change) or must be bound by customary international law. This horizontal form of cooperation makes the system sensitive to collective action problems (like free-riding on global public good, overuse of commons, begging-thy-neighbor etc.). I explore the question of whether other forms of cooperation, e.g. cooperation through soft law or international organizations mitigate the problem and under what circumstances this might be so. Furthermore, international law design might need to take into account internal processes within states (breaking up the black box) as well as behavioral economic insights. The paper suggests some mechanisms to help states overcoming the cooperation problem with regard to looming disasters and highlights their limits as well. It submits that international lawyers need to look at all behavioral mechanisms of international law in order to understand how it can be designed and used to prevent looming disasters.

Policy Implications

  • Global looming disasters can only be solved by cooperation. Consent of states is the traditional prerequisite for states to cooperate and it remains important for the creation of international law. But for overcoming collective action problems, policy makers need to take a more holistic and pragmatic view and consider also nonconsensual mechanisms of international law.
  • Preventing looming disasters cannot rely on states alone. Nonstate actors, municipal policy processes as well as market mechanisms also need to be used.
  • To understand and design international law in a way conducive to prevent looming disasters, policy makers need to take into account internal processes within states as well as behavioral mechanisms of international law.
Access Article

Related