Effects of funding mechanisms on participation in multilateral environmental agreements


The “rational design approach” to studying international agreements holds that policy-makers evaluate costs and benefits of cooperation when designing treaties and subsequently deciding on participation. To influence this cost–benefit calculus, treaty designers sometimes include a fund from which financial assistance is provided to treaty members and to which treaty members contribute. We argue that the inclusion of a funding mechanism in a treaty can increase but also decrease the costs (benefits) of membership and can thus influence state choices on participation in both directions. Specifically, we argue that: (1) overall, states are more likely to join international agreements that include a fund; (2) the probability of joining is higher for agreements including a fund if contributions to the fund are voluntary; and (3) countries are more likely to join agreements including a fund that disburses assistance only to a select group of treaty members. We test these arguments using a new dataset with information on 154 countries’ ratification behavior toward 178 multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) from 1950 to 2011. Our findings are in line with these arguments. The main policy implication is that MEA designers interested in maximizing treaty participation should include a formal funding mechanism and, in an effort to balance out positive and negative effects this might have on participation, base this mechanism on voluntary contributions and selective entitlements.

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Change history

  • 12 November 2019

    In the original publication of the article, there were few mistakes in the text, tables and figure. The corrected text has been presented with this correction.


  1. 1.

    International agreements exhibit a wide range of variation based on their legality from legally binding (“hard” law, contracts or treaties) to non-legally binding (“soft” law or pledges) agreements (Raustiala 2005; Guzman 2005). In this paper, we only study legally binding agreements, namely treaties.

  2. 2.

    We use the terms (international) environmental agreements, (international) treaties, and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) interchangeably.

  3. 3.

    For a broader economic perspective of international environmental law, see Rao (2002).

  4. 4.

    Side-payments (also called transfers) are included in some treaties (e.g., the Montreal Protocol; see Barrett 2005) to compensate a subgroup of member countries and are financed by another subgroup of members. Therefore, side-payments are transfers that benefit not only recipients, but also donors (de Zeeuw 2015).

  5. 5.

    The costs of implementing the phase-out of ODS, according to the Montreal Protocol, were estimated at between $5 billion and $21 billion for the USA and at $235 billion globally (Barrett 2005, 228, 237; Benedick 1991, 103).

  6. 6.

    Prior to this literature, the “managerial perspective” suggested fostering international cooperation via the provision of dispute resolution procedures, transparency, and assistance, but these propositions were not examined through large-N empirical studies (Chayes and Chayes 1990, 1993, 1995; cf. Downs et al. 1996).

  7. 7.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this perspective.

  8. 8.

    The annual list of sovereign states is based on Correlates-of-War data (2011).

  9. 9.

    While we selected treaties for our sample that we judged to be theoretically global in their membership even though they may address only regional environmental issues, we also test whether the results obtained from this large sample hold for a smaller subsample of agreements that are open to all UN member countries.

  10. 10.

    If a country withdraws from a MEA it has ratified before, the dependent variable is reset to zero. In the data used for our main empirical model, there are 5751 withdrawals. 36 MEAs experienced at least one withdrawal. 112 countries withdrew at least once from a MEA.

  11. 11.

    To give an example for an optional reference to a fund, the “Agreement On The Conservation Of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds” states in its Art.5.3: “The Meeting of the Parties may establish a conservation fund from voluntary contributions of Parties or from any other source for the purpose of financing monitoring, research, training and projects relating to the conservation, including protection and management, of migratory waterbirds.” (emph. added). For this agreement, the variable fund takes the value zero.

  12. 12.

    For example, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas states that “The Commission shall establish a Working Capital Fund to finance operations of the Commission prior to receiving annual contributions, and for such other purposes as the Commission may determine.”

  13. 13.

    To give an example of voluntary contributions, the Agreement On The Conservation Of Albatrosses And Petrels (Art.7.3) says: “The Meeting of the Parties may establish a fund from voluntary contributions of Parties (…).” In contrast, the London Amendment to the Montreal Protocol specifies mandatory contributions: “The Multilateral Fund shall be financed by contributions from Parties not operating under paragraph 1 of Article 5 (…) on the basis of the United Nations scale of assessments.”

  14. 14.

    We use GDP and per capita GDP data from version 6.0 of Gleditsch’s expanded GDP data released on September 9, 2014 (Gleditsch 2002).

  15. 15.

    Comprehensive measures of countries’ environmental quality are not available for the long time period and the countries we study. We approximate domestic environmental quality via the log of anthropogenic sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions per capita. The data are from Smith et al. (2011a, b). We use population data from Gleditsch’s (2002) expanded GDP data. We hence calculate annual per capita SO2 emissions for 1950–2005 and 137 countries. As an alternative source for countries’ annual per capita SO2 emissions, we use the variable lnso2pc_stern2005, which Spilker and Koubi (2016) calculated using Stern (2005) as a source for emission data. While their variable is limited to a smaller number of years, it covers more countries than our version.

  16. 16.

    We take this dummy variable from Spilker and Koubi (2016), who relied on Hathaway (2008) who describes countries’ status quo as of 2007. We assume that these domestic rules are time invariant from 1950 to 2011. We address this assumption by re-estimating the main model after omitting countries that experience a regime change and therefore are more likely than other countries to have experienced constitutional changes.

  17. 17.

    For each year studied, we assigned countries to income quintiles on the basis of Gleditsch’s expanded GDP data. Since these data start in 1950, we cannot compute the income-based lag for our observations in 1950. We add this income-based lag in a robustness test.

  18. 18.

    Spilker and Koubi (2016) obtained these variables via content analysis of treaty texts on a yearly basis (1950–2000). They emphasize that these variables hardly vary within countries over time. We use their observations from 2000 and carry them forward (2001–2011). Our main findings are unaffected if we avoid relying on these unobserved values by studying only observations from 1950 to 2000.

  19. 19.

    We control for the subjects energy, freshwater, habitat, nature, ocean, pollution, species, and weapons. Our treaties cover 1–4 subjects. We use subject information from the IEA Database Web site of Ron Mitchell (Agreements by Subject: http://iea.uoregon.edu/page.php?query=list_subject.php; downloaded on December 3, 2015).

  20. 20.

    Climate change is an example of a global public good. Issues regarding domestic wildlife constitute an example of a (sub-)national public good.

  21. 21.

    Each confidence interval summarizes the simulated fitted ratification probabilities with 95% confidence. All input variables besides the fund-dummy and GDP per capita are held constant at average values.

  22. 22.

    These controls are useful for isolating the effects of funding mechanisms from the effects more general promises of assistance (technical or financial) within a treaty may have.


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Correspondence to Vally Koubi.

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We thank two anonymous reviewers, Gabriele Spilker, and Tobias Böhmelt for highly useful comments, and Ron Mitchell for providing us with data on treaties. We also thank Michelle Cohen, Eleanor Willi, Katherine Woolbright, and Mike Hudecheck for research assistance. This paper was written in the context of the Swiss National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) “Democracy in the 21st Century.”

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Mohrenberg, S., Koubi, V. & Bernauer, T. Effects of funding mechanisms on participation in multilateral environmental agreements. Int Environ Agreements 19, 1–18 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-018-9423-z

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  • Multilateral environmental agreements
  • Ratification
  • Fund
  • Voluntary contributions
  • Fund usage