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Does membership in intergovernmental organizations help developing countries enhance their environmental performance? This article argues that IGO membership can improve the environmental performance of developing countries, by linking different issues, promoting the general idea of environmental sustainability and providing a channel through which these countries receive technologies and resources necessary to reduce pollution. This argument has been tested on panel data for 114 developing countries in 1970–2000. The results confirm that, controlling for a country's income and its political system, IGO membership is indeed associated with a reduction in both air pollution and greenhouse gases. To understand the mechanisms behind this result better, IGO membership is disaggregated according to both function and the degree of institutionalization of the respective organization.
1 (IEA) International Energy Agency, ‘CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion – Highlights’, IEA Statistics (2009), p. 10. According to the IEA for developing countries, power generation and transport, the two main contributors to global CO2 emissions, increase by three times and by one and a half times than the global average between 1990 and 2007 – see IEA, ‘CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion – Highlights’, p. 16.
2 Neumayer Eric, ‘Does Trade Openness Promote Multilateral Environmental Cooperation?’ World Economy, 25 (2002), 815–832; Ward Hugh, ‘Liberal Democracy and Sustainability’, Environmental Politics, 17 (2008), 386–409; Baettig Michèle and Bernauer Thomas, ‘National Institutions and Global Public Goods: Are Democracies More Cooperative in Climate Change Policy?’ International Organization, 63 (2009), 281–308.
3 Cf. Neumayer Eric, ‘Do Democracies Exhibit Stronger International Environmental Commitment? A Cross-Country Analysis’, Journal of Peace Research, 39 (2002), 139–164; Deacon Robert T., ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and the Provision of Public Goods’ (University of California, Santa Barbara, Working Paper, 2003), 1–57.
4 Antweiler Werner, Copeland Brian R. and Scott Taylor M., ‘Is Free Trade Good for the Environment?’, American Economic Review, 91 (2001), 877–908.
5 Antweiler, Copeland and Taylor, ‘Is Free Trade Good for the Environment?’; Frankel Jeffrey A. and Rose Andrew K., ‘Is Trade Good or Bad for the Environment? Sorting out the Causality’, Review of Economics and Statistics, 87 (2005), 85–91.
6 Mani Muthukumara and Wheeler David, ‘In Search of Pollution Havens? Dirty Industry in the World Economy, 1960–1995’, Journal of Environment and Development, 7 (1998), 215–247; Busse Matthias, ‘Trade, Environmental Regulations and the World Trade Organization’, in World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3361 (Washington: World Bank, 2004), 1–30.
7 Ward Hugh, ‘International Linkages and Environmental Sustainability: The Effectiveness of the Regime Network’, Journal of Peace Research, 43 (2006), 149–166.
8 Russett Bruce and Oneal John, Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence and International Organizations (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).
9 Ingram Paul, Robinson Jeffrey, and Bush Marc, ‘The Intergovernmental Network of World Trade: Igo Connectedness, Governance, and Embeddedness’, The American Journal of Sociology, 11 (2005), 824–858,
10 Ward , ‘International Linkages and Environmental Sustainability’, p. 154.
11 According to Jon Pevehouse, Timothy Nordstrom and Kevin Warnke, ‘Intergovernmental Organizations. 1815–2000: A New Correlates of War Data Set. Version 2.1’ (2004), an IGO is an organization that consists of at least three members of the COW-defined state system, holds regular plenary sessions at least once every ten years, and possesses a permanent secretariat and corresponding headquarters. According to this definition, IGOs are formalized forms of international co-operation.
12 Keohane Robert, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984).
13 Keohane, After Hegemony; Abbott Kenneth W. and Snidal Duncan, ‘Hard and Soft Law in International Governance’, International Organization, 54 (2000), 421–456.
14 Although some arguments about the way that IGO membership could serve to increase environmental quality should hold for both industrialized and developing countries alike, this is not the case for all arguments.
15 Keohane, After Hegemony.
16 Ward, ‘International Linkages and Environmental Sustainability’; Young Oran R. and Levy Marc A., ‘The Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes’, in Oran R. Young, The Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes: Causal Connections and Behavioral Mechanisms (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999).
17 This trend is also becoming evident in the lending behaviour of major development aid actors such as the World Bank. For example, countries applying for loans with the International Development Association (IDA), which is the part of the World Bank that provides loans to the poorest developing countries, are obliged to provide a National Environmental Action Plan, which outlines a country's major environmental problems and describes solutions to mitigate these problems (see Gutner Tamar, ‘Explaining the Gaps between Mandate and Performance: Agency Theory and World Bank Environmental Reform’, Global Environmental Politics, 5 (2005), 10–37.
18 Cao Xun, ‘Networks of Intergovernmental Organizations and Convergence in Domestic Economic Policies’, International Studies Quarterly, 53 (2009), 1095–1130.
19 Jahn Detlef, ‘The Impact of Globalization on Comparative Analysis’ (paper presented at the ISA Annual Meeting, New Orleans, 2002), p. 2. This idea is closely related to the concept of issue linkage (Keohane, After Hegemony). In order to achieve co-operation in an environmental issue, benefits in other areas like trade, financial or technological assistance, etc. could be offered to countries that would not be willing to co-operate on environmental issues in general.
20 UNEP, ‘State of the Environment Report: Laos’, http://www.rrcap.unep.org/pub/soe/index.cfm, (2001).
21 Porter Gareth, Welsh Brown Janet and Chasek Pamela S., Global Environmental Politics (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000); Dasgupta Susmita, Laplante Benoit, Wang Hua and Wheeler David, ‘Confronting the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16 (2002), 147–168.
22 Porter, Brown and Chasek, Global Environmental Politics.
23 El-Ashry Mohamed, ‘The Road to Rio: Implications of the UN Conference on Environment and Development for the World Bank’, Journal of Environment and Development, 2 (1993), 67–79.
24 Gartzke Erik, Boehmer Charles, Nordstrom Timothy and Joseph Hewitt J., ‘disaggregating International Organizations in Time and Space’ (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Organization, Philadelphia, 2006), p. 6.
25 Boehmer Charles, Gartzke Erik and Nordstrom Timothy, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace’, World Politics, 57 (2004), 1–38, p. 37.
26 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace’, p. 37.
27 Grossman Gene M. and Krueger Alan B., ‘Economic Growth and the Environment’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 110 (1995), 353–377; Selden Thomas M. and Song Daqing, ‘Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions?’ Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 27 (1994), 147–162; Shafik Nemat and Bandyopadhyay Sushenjit, ‘Economic Growth and Environmental Quality’ (Working Paper: World Development Report, 1992), 1–55; Hettige Hemamala, Mani Muthukumara and Wheeler David, ‘Indutrial Pollution in Economic Development: Kuznets Revisited’, Journal of Development Economics, 62 (2000), 445–476; Dasgupta, Laplante, Wang and Wheeler, ‘Confronting the Environmental Kuznets Curve’.
28 A luxury good is a good for which the demand increases with the income level. This implies that at low-income levels the good is usually demanded in small quantities, if at all, whereas its demand increases with growing income.
29 Selden and Song, ‘Environmental Quality and Development’. It is important to note that there exist several studies that criticize the literature on the EKC (Dasgupta, Laplante, Wang and Wheeler, ‘Confronting the Environmental Kuznets Curve’; Stern David I., ‘The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, World Development, 32 (2004), 1419–1439; Millimet Daniel L., List John A. and Stengos Thanasis, ‘The Environmental Kuznets Curve: Real Progress or Misspecified Models?’ Review of Economics and Statistics, 85 (2003), 1038–1047; Perman Roger and Stern David I., ‘Evidence from Panel Unit Root and Cointegration Tests that the Environmental Kuznets Curve Does Not Exist’, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 47 (2003), 325–347; Shen Junyi, ‘A Simultaneous Estimation of Environmental Kuznets Curve: Evidence from China’, China Economic Review, 17 (2006), 383–394; Plassmann Florenz and Khanna Neha, ‘Household Income and Pollution: Implications for the Debate About the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, Journal of Environment and Development, 15 (2006), 22–41). The main criticism is that the inverted U-shaped relationship described by the EKC does not reflect the true relationship between environmental quality and national income for two reasons. First, it does not capture all of the factors important for the relationship between income and pollution. Second, most statistical models are not correctly specified. In contrast to the findings of the EKC, the critics argue that the relationship between income and pollution should be either monotonically increasing for all levels of national income or, in the most optimistic setting, pollution might level off for high income countries but not decline. It is important to note that this criticism does not cut against the predictions of my arguments, since they would only reinforce the positive relationship between national income and pollution, which is proposed in this article.
30 Torras Mariano and Boyce James K., ‘Income, Inequality, and Pollution: A Reassessment of the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, Ecological Economics, 25 (1998), 147–160; Neumayer, ‘Do Democracies Exhibit Stronger International Environmental Commitment?’; Deacon, ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and the Provision of Public Goods’; Fredriksson Per G., Neumayer Eric, Damania Richard and Gates Scott, ‘Environmentalism, Democracy, and Pollution Control’, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 49 (2005), 343–365; Ward, ‘Liberal Democracy and Sustainability’; Bernauer Thomas and Koubi Vally, ‘Effects of Political Institutions on Air Quality’, Ecological Economics, 68 (2009), 1355–1365.
31 de Mesquita Bruce Bueno, Smith Alastair, Siverson Randolph M. and Morrow James D., The Logic of Political Survival (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003); Deacon Robert T., ‘The Political Economy of Environment–Development Relationships: A Preliminary Framework’ (Working Paper, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1999), 1–33; Deacon, ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and the Provision of Public Goods’; Midlarsky Manus I., ‘Democracy and the Environment: An Empirical Assessment’, Journal of Peace Research, 35 (1998), 341–361; McGuire Martin C. and Olson Mancur, ‘The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force’, Journal of Economic Literature, 34 (1996), 72–96; Olson Mancur, ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 567–576.
32 Bernauer and Koubi, ‘Effects of Political Institutions on Air Quality’; Smith Alastair, ‘Pernicious Foreign Aid? A Political Economy of Political Institutions and the Effect of Foreign Aid’, in International Political Economy Society Inaugural Conference, Princeton, 2006); Bueno de Mesquita et al., The Logic of Political Survival.
33 Bueno de Mesquita et al., The Logic of Political Survival.
34 As Bueno de Mesquita et al. (The Logic of Political Survival, p. 294) note: once autocratic leaders have survived the first year in office, they usually stay in office for a long period.
35 Congleton Roger, ‘Political Institutions and Pollution Control’, Review of Economics and Statistics, 74 (1992), 412–421; Midlarsky, ‘Democracy and the Environment’.
36 Midlarsky, ‘Democracy and the Environment’; Olson Mancur, The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982).
37 Rogowski Ronald, ‘International Capital Mobility and National Policy Divergence’, in Miles Kahler and David A. Lake, eds, Governance in a Global Economy: Political Authority in Transition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 355–374.
38 Neumayer , ‘Do Democracies Exhibit Stronger International Environmental Commitment?’, p. 150.
40 The World Bank calculates annual gross national income (GNI) per capita levels using its Atlas method to diminish the impact that exchange rate fluctuations have on the cross-country comparison of national incomes.
41 Grossman and Krueger, ‘Economic Growth and the Environment’.
42 Sigman Hilary, ‘International Spillovers and Water Quality in Rivers: Do Countries Free Ride?’ American Economic Review, 92 (2002), 1152–1159.
43 De Soysa Indra and Neumayer Eric, ‘False Prophet, or Genuine Savior? Assessing the Effects of Economic Openness on Sustainable Development, 1980–99’, International Organization, 59 (2005), 731–772.
44 Data on water quality, on biological oxygen demand in particular, also exist in time-series format. However, availability of the data limits the time frame to 1980–2000, which makes a comparison with the results of this analysis somewhat difficult. The main results, however, do not change when using Biological Oxygen Demand instead of SO2 or CO2 emissions and are available upon request. Furthermore, although there are environmental performance indices, their use for time-series cross-section analysis is limited. For example, the composition of the environmental sustainability index changes from year to year, rendering it non-valuable for time-series analysis. Moreover, the concept of genuine savings intends to measure the true rate of savings in an economy after taking into account investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and damage caused by pollution. Although it can be seen as a measure of weak sustainability (De Soysa and Neumayer, ‘False Prophet, or Genuine Savior?’), its environmental component is very small, implying that genuine savings are not a valuable indicator of environmental performance per se.
45 Stern David I., ‘Global Sulfur Emissions from 1850 to 2000’, Chemosphere, 58 (2005), 163–175.
46 World Bank, ‘World Development Indicators’, http://go.worldbank.org/U0FSM7AQ40, 2006).
47 World Bank, ‘World Development Indicators’.
48 World Bank, ‘World Development Indicators’.
49 Pevehouse, Nordstrom and Warnke, ‘Intergovernmental Organizations, 1815–2000’.
50 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace?’
51 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace?’
52 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace?’ p. 37.
53 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace?’ p. 37.
54 Boehmer, Gartzke and Nordstrom, ‘Do Intergovernmental Organizations Promote Peace?’ p. 38.
55 Monty G. Marshall and Keith Jaggers, ‘Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2002’. The original Polity IV score ranges from -10 (most autocratic) to +10 (most democratic). To facilitate interpretation, the variable is transformed to be positive throughout its complete range. This innocuous change does not affect the results.
56 Munck Gerardo L. and Verkuilen Jay, ‘Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy’, Comparative Political Studies, 35 (2002), 5–34.
57 Alvarez Michael, Cheibub José Antonio, Limongi Fernando and Przeworski Adam, ‘Classifying Political Regimes’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 31 (1996), 1–37.
58 Bueno de Mesquita, Smith, Siverson and Morrow, The Logic of Political Survival.
59 Results are available from the author upon request.
60 Estimating a quadratic model of GDP per capita on environmental performance using all countries’ yields to a turning point of $23,192 in the case of SO2 and to a turning point that is out of sample in the case of CO2.
61 Skrede Gleditsch Kristian, ‘Expanded Trade and GDP Data’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46 (2002), 712–724.
62 COW Correlates of War, ‘Data Set of National Military Capabilities. Version 3.02’, 2008; David Singer J., Bremer Stuart and Stuckey John, ‘Capability Distribution, Uncertainty, and Major Power War, 1820–1965’, in Bruce Russett, ed., Peace, War, and Numbers (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1972), 19–48.
63 Frankel and Rose, ‘Is Trade Good or Bad for the Environment?’
64 Frankel and Rose, ‘Is Trade Good or Bad for the Environment?’; Antweiler, Copeland and Taylor, ‘Is Free Trade Good for the Environment?’
65 Zarsky L., ‘Havens, Halos and Spaghetti: Untangling the Evidence about Foreign Direct Investment and the Environment’ (OECD Conference on Foreign Direct Investment and the Environment, The Hague, 1999).
66 Frankel Jeffrey A., ‘The Environment and Globalization’ (NBER Working Paper, 2003), 1–40.
67 Gleditsch, ‘Expanded Trade and GDP Data’.
68 However, results do not change if contemporaneous variables are used. In contrast, some results are even more significant. Consequently, using a one-year time lag of all of the independent and control variables seems to be a more conservative approach. Results using contemporaneous variables are available upon request.
69 Since the dependent variable is pollution emissions, a negative coefficient sign implies a reduction in emissions and therefore an increase in environmental quality.
70 Ingram, Robinson and Bush, ‘The Intergovernmental Network of World Trade’.
71 Ingram, Robinson and Bush, ‘The Intergovernmental Network of World Trade’.
72 African Union, ‘African Union in a Nutshell’, http://au.int/en/about/nutshell (2009); African Union, ‘Capacity Building for an Africa-Wide Biosafety System’, http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/AUC/Departments/HRST/biosafety/AU_Biosafety_1b.htm, (2009).
73 The Cartagena Protocol ‘seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology’ (ConventiononBiologicalDiversity, ‘Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety’, http://www.cbd.int/biosafety/background.shtml, 2009).
74 Cao, ‘Networks of Intergovernmental Organizations and Convergence in Domestic Economic Policies’; Simmons Beth A. and Elkins Zachary, ‘The Globalization of Liberalization: Policy Diffusion in the International Political Economy’, American Journal of Political Science, 98 (2004), 171–188.
75 WHO, ‘Public Health and Environment (PHE)’, (2009), http://www.who.int/phe/en/.
76 UNIDO, ‘Energy and Environment’, http://www.unido.org/index.php?id=905 (2009).
77 IAEA, ‘Pillars of Nuclear Cooperation’, http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/index.html (2009).
78 IAEA, ‘National Projects’, http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/index.html (2009). Of course, it is also important to note that nuclear IGOs such as IAEA or the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE) mostly promote the use of nuclear energy production. By relying on nuclear energy production instead of energy production based on fossil fuels, countries that opt for nuclear energy production emit less SO2 and CO2. However, this does not reflect the fact that nuclear energy production produces nuclear waste, which itself constitutes a major environmental problem.
79 It is, however, important to note that this result does not necessarily imply that environmental regimes in general are ineffective. In the present analysis only those regimes that are considered to be an international organization are included, implying that they need to possess an international secretariat. This is only true for a very limited number and for only a very specific set of environmental regimes. For example, the set of environmental IGOs includes organizations such as the International Commission of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, now called the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization; the International Whaling Commission; the Joint Anti-Locust and Anti-Aviarian Organization, which aims to control the damage arising from locust and aviarian pests; the International Seabed Authority, which regulates deep seabed mining and aims to protect the marine environment; or Bionet, whose purpose it is to classify natural species. Many of these organizations, however, pursue goals such as combating locust pests in Africa that are not related to any of the measures of environmental quality used in this analysis. Hence, even if these organizations were effective for the purpose for which they were created, they would not affect air quality or greenhouse gas emissions because of their specialization. In contrast, other important environmental regimes such as the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution are not included in this sample because they are not considered to be an international organization. Therefore, the results of this analysis cannot be interpreted as evidence against the effectiveness of environmental regimes in general.
80 Pevehouse, Nordstrom and Warnke, ‘Intergovernmental Organizations, 1815–2000: A New Correlates of War Data Set. Version 2.1’.
81 Alvarez, Cheibub, Limongi and Przeworski, ‘Classifying Political Regimes’.
82 Bueno de Mesquita, Smith, Siverson and Morrow, The Logic of Political Survival.
83 Cao, ‘Networks of Intergovernmental Organizations and Convergence in Domestic Economic Policies’; Simmons and Elkins, ‘The Globalization of Liberalization: Policy Diffusion in the International Political Economy’.
84 Antweiler, Copeland and Taylor, ‘Is Free Trade Good for the Environment?’; Mani and Wheeler, ‘In Search of Pollution Havens?’
85 Neumayer, ‘Do Democracies Exhibit Stronger International Environmental Commitment?’; Deacon, ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and the Provision of Public Goods’.
* ETH, Zurich (email: Gabriele.firstname.lastname@example.org). For detailed suggestions and comments, the author thanks Thomas Bernauer, Xun Cao, Erik Gartzke, Simon Hug, Anna Kalbhenn, Vally Koubi, Lena Schaffer and the Journal's Editor, Hugh Ward, as well as its anonymous reviewers, for detailed suggestions and comments. This article was written in the context of the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR), ‘Democracy in the 21st Century’.
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