An Economic Theory of International Environmental Law

Scott Barrett

in The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199552153
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

An Economic Theory of International Environmental Law

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  • International Law
  • Environment and Energy Law



International law, of which international environmental law is a part, shapes and constrains state behaviour. Essentially, it tells states what they are permitted to do, what they are prohibited from doing, and what they are required to do. In this respect, international law is indistinguishable from domestic law. In other respects, however, domestic and international law could not be more different. Domestic law develops and is applied within a vertical system of governance, with a legislature that creates law, a judiciary that interprets law, and an executive that enforces law. International law, by contrast, is rooted to a horizontal system – states at once make, interpret, and enforce international law. This article presents an economic theory of international environmental law, showing how international law can restructure incentives, making it in the interest of states to change their behaviour, and so protect the environment. It examines customary law, theory of treaty design, treaty participation, minimum participation, compliance, narrow and deep versus broad and shallow treaties, tipping treaties, trade restrictions, asymmetric countries, and payment compensation.

Keywords: economic theory; international environmental law; states; domestic law; incentives; customary law; compliance; treaties; trade restrictions; compensation

Article.  12906 words. 

Subjects: Law ; International Law ; Environment and Energy Law

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