The more things change, the more they stay the same: Developing countries’ unity at the nexus of trade and environmental policy

  • Tana JohnsonEmail author
  • Johannes Urpelainen


The term “global South” refers to developing countries as a whole, but recently, numerous developing countries – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Thailand, South Africa, and others – simultaneously grew wealthier while many other countries remain poor. This prompts a fundamental question: does the global South demonstrate unity in international politics, with developing countries at various wealth levels behaving like one another, and in ways unlike the industrialized “North”? Or is the global South fractured, too economically and politically diverse to operate in tandem? Theoretical expectations are mixed, and the empirical record is inconclusive. To adjudicate, we pinpoint a stringent set of observable implications that should hold if the developing world is to be considered at all unified vis-a-vis the industrialized world. Then we probe those implications with statistical analyses of over 3,600 paragraphs of text from governments’ negotiations concerning trade and environmental policy, a policy space that facilitates generalizability by representing fundamental sovereignty and wealth issues underlying traditional North-South frictions. Our finding – that overall, developing countries exhibit surprising unity – weighs in on central theoretical and policy debates in international relations, comparative politics, and political economy.


North-south relations Global environmental politics International trade International political economy Developing countries 

JEL Classification

F0 F1 F5 



For research assistance, we thank Duke students Irina Danescu, Sanjeev Dasgupta, and Shanelle Van. For useful comments, we thank audiences at the annual conferences of the International Studies Association (ISA) and the International Political Economy Society (IPES), as well as audiences at seminars at Princeton and the University of Michigan. We are particularly grateful to Margaret Foster, Robert Franzese, Andrew Hurrell, Sikina Jinnah, Marc Jeuland, Miles Kahler, Eddy Malesky, Ronald Mitchell, Bora Park, and William Pizer for their feedback on previous drafts. A supplementary appendix is available at the Review of International Organization’s website.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sanford School of Public Policy and Department of Political ScienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.School for Advanced International StudiesJohns Hopkins UniversityWashingtonUSA

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