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Flexibility provisions in multilateral environmental treaties | SpringerLink

Flexibility provisions in multilateral environmental treaties


In international politics, intergovernmental treaties provide the rules of the game. In this paper, we investigate the rules under which the contents of treaties may be changed, such as rules for adoption and entry into force and rules for dispute resolution. In the first part of the paper, we describe how frequently these rules are used in practice and how they are typically combined, based on 400 treaties and supplementary agreements from the field of international environmental law. Using correspondence analysis, we show that treaty provisions can be represented by a two-dimensional property space. The detected underlying dimensions express varying degrees of institutionalisation and flexibility, respectively. In the second part of the paper, we place amendment rules into the framework of a formal model in the incomplete contracts tradition. It is shown that there exists a trade-off between the risk of too little flexibility, which leads to frequent inefficient breach of the treaty, and the danger that the binding nature of the treaty and hence, the level of commitment by treaty members, is being undermined if the treaty can be amended too easily.

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This work was financially supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in the framework of the interdisciplinary research group. Institutionalization of International Negotiation Systems. Additional support was provided by Department B of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES). We wish to thank Dirk Hanschel for discussions on the legal aspects of this paper, as well as the members of the research group, Jörg Blasius and Suzumu Shikano for helpful comments. We also thank Benjamin Ohm, Cornelia Weinmann and Gwendolyn Jardine for competent and dedicated research assistance.

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Correspondence to B. Boockmann or Paul W. Thurner.



Appendix 1Code book used for coding flexibility provisions

Code Definition Row number (tabs. 3–5) Notation
1. Provisions mentioning the number of parties to the treaty
    AX Explicit mentioning of X contracting parties   
    BX Explicit mentioning of X contracting parties, if accession of further parties is arranged for in the treaty   
    0 Contracting parties are not mentioned in the treaty   
2. Provisions specifying limited duration or revision
    CX Revision possible on request in X years at the earliest   
    RX Revision scheduled in X years   
    BX Treaty is limited in duration (X years)   
    AX Amendments are not permitted until expiration of X years   
    0 No revision or limitation in duration of the treaty   
3. Existence of amendment provisions
    1 Yes   
    2 Only in the form of a revision   
    0 No   
4. Provisions for adoptiona
    X Majority requirement for approval: X percent 3 Qualified majority
    B Consensus 2 Consensus
    C Unanimity 1 Unanimity
    D Other or combinations   
    E No provisions for adoption 4 Not specified
    F Adoption according to the statute of an international organisation   
    G No amendments 4 Not specified
5. Provisions for entry into force
    Xa After ratification of X percent of the signatories; then in force for all states which have ratified 2 A majority ratifies
    Xb After ratification of X percent of the signatories; then in force for all states, except those that object explicitly 2 A majority ratifies
    Ya After ratification of Y signatories; then in force for all states which have ratified 2 A majority ratifies

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Boockmann, B., Thurner, P.W. Flexibility provisions in multilateral environmental treaties. Int Environ Agreements 6, 113–135 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-006-9001-7

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  • Flexibility
  • Incomplete contracting
  • Quantitative treaty analysis