Reforming international environmental governance: An institutionalist critique of the proposal for a World Environment Organisation

Sebastian Oberthür, Thomas Gehring

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27 Scopus citations


This article argues that a World Environment Organisation (WEO) does not promise to enhance international environmental governance. First, we claim that the establishment of an international organisation alone in a policy field currently populated by regimes cannot be expected to significantly improve environmental governance because there is no qualitative difference between these two forms of governance institutions. Second, we submit that significant improvement of international environmental governance through institutional rearrangement must rely on a modification of decision-making procedures and/or a change of institutional boundaries. Third, we develop three principal models of a possible WEO. A WEO formally providing an umbrella for existing regimes without modifying issue-areas and decision-making procedures would be largely irrelevant. A WEO integrating decision-making processes of existing regimes so as to form comprehensive 'world environment rounds' of intergovernmental bargaining would be largely dysfunctional and prone to a host of negative side-effects. A 'supranational' WEO including large-scale use of majority decision-making and far-reaching enforcement mechanisms across a range of environmental issues might considerably enhance international environmental governance, but it appears to be grossly Utopian. In conclusion, a WEO cannot be at the same time realistic, significant and beneficial for international environmental governance. Available political resources should be invested in advancing existing and emerging sectoral environmental regimes rather than in establishing a WEO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-381
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Co-operation theory
  • Global governance
  • International environmental governance
  • International institutions
  • Multilateral environmental agreements
  • Regime theory
  • World Environment Organisation


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