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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    A Southern identity could stem from various factors, including charismatic leaders, shared history, socialization, or ideology (Schirm 2013; Mahrenbach 2016; Miller 2016; Muhr 2016). Pinpointing the origins of such an identity is left for other work, however. After all, before asking why developing countries would operate in tandem, it is necessary to investigate whether they actually do move in tandem.

  2. 2.

    When poorer states do become preoccupied with the natural environment, they often focus on localized “brown” issues (e.g., the reversal of land degradation), rather than the global “green” issues (e.g., ozone depletion) that regularly arise in international fora (Johnson and Urpelainen 2012, 657).

  3. 3.

    This is not to say that developing countries never work to protect the environment (e.g., Jeuland and Pattanayak 2012; Pfaff et al. 2017; Pizer and Zhang 2018). Indeed, many have submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. However, it remains plausible that developing countries, even if they are working on environmental protection, will want to do so on their own terms and will be unlikely to prioritize environmental protection over further trade liberalization. Their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement illustrate that developing countries may be quite comfortable with environmental targets – so long as those targets are voluntary, self-determined, non-binding, and calibrated to avoid jeopardizing economic growth (Dubash 2017).

  4. 4.

    Comparing CTE behavior with behavior in a similar pre-1995 forum is impossible because no such forum was active before the WTO. Nevertheless, much work indicates that the “Third World coalition” had a relatively high degree of unity during the Cold War (Krasner 1985; Thomas 1987; David 1991) and shared skepticism of environmentalism (Rowland 1973; Williams 1993; Miller 1995).

  5. 5.

    Note that this is not a probe of when states reach consensus: in the consensus-based context in which much global governance takes place, focusing only on “successful” decisions would be misleading, because much of the action of international politics occurs where people do not reach agreement.

  6. 6.

    This does not include separate “special sessions” (CTESS) requested in the 2001 Doha Ministerial Declaration.

  7. 7.

    Due to the work that goes into transcription, approval, and translation of meeting minutes into the WTO’s official languages, there is a lag between when meetings occur and when the transcript is made public. Our data goes through 2012 because that is the latest year that was available when we began the manual coding. Subsequent years have been released more recently and remain for future extensions; our coding approach provides the basis for such extensions.

  8. 8.

    The within-speech standard deviations exceed 0.20 for most of the outcome variables.

  9. 9.

    Table A5 shows standard errors clustered by country to account for serial correlation within each country unit; there is no change in the main results. Table A6 shows no change in results with linear probability models.

  10. 10.

    For 2017, for instance, the World Bank Atlas method uses per capita Gross National Income (GNI) and U.S. dollars and sets the thresholds as: High-Income at 12,476 or more; Upper Middle-Income between 4,036 and 12,475; Lower Middle-Income between 1,026 and 4,035; and Low-Income at 1,025 or less. As a country’s per capita GNI changes, its classification can change. In our time period there were seven instances of graduation into a higher income level. In these cases, the country’s development level coding changes.

  11. 11.

    We do not claim that the lending categories themselves shape coalition formation. They are, rather, natural measures of different development levels.

  12. 12.

    The World Bank adjusts the category cutoffs for inflation. However, we use constant dollars and criteria based on the year 2000, and therefore the cutoffs remain unchanged throughout our study period. Countries may shift between categories over time, but the categories themselves are fixed.

  13. 13.

    The European Commission collectively represents European Union members, which are high-income.

  14. 14.

    Russia was not a WTO member until August 2012.

  15. 15.

    All categories contribute sufficient statements for statistical analyses: even low-income countries, which speak least, account for 378 observations.

  16. 16.

    This dilution may be because environmental protection is very important to many industrialized countries, but not all of them. Moreover, even the industrialized countries that advocate environmental protection may be wary about economic disjunctures accompanying it. For instance, although EU countries are credited with “greening trade” through preferential trade agreements (PTAs), such agreements often feature asymmetries, with Northern countries agreeing to liberalize their markets only if Southern countries adopt particular environmental standards (Bechtel and Tosun 2009). This PTAs pattern – with poorer countries having environmentalism foisted from outside, and richer countries trying to mitigate the erosion of their economic competitiveness – suggests that even industrialized countries championing environmental protection often find ways to avoid prioritizing it, if it means absorbing all of the associated costs themselves.

  17. 17.

    The EPI is not available at the supranational level, and therefore the European Union is not included.

  18. 18.

    Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/TM.TAX.MRCH.WM.AR.ZS. Average import tariffs are for all products, weighted by volume, as of 2016.

  19. 19.

    If Southern countries support one another, that does not automatically indicate that they oppose Northern countries. However, in diplomatic contexts, governments regularly vent their opposition to X by speaking about their support for Y, and therefore overt patterns of support provide clues about implicit patterns of opposition too.

  20. 20.

    This helps to capture the possibility that countries would behave similarly, whether from the North or the South, if they are similarly reliant on agriculture, mining, drilling, or logging.

References

  1. Alcock, F. (2008). Conflicts and coalitions within and across the ENGO community. Global Environmental Politics, 8(4), 66–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Armijo, L., & Burges, S. (2010). Brazil, the entrepreneurial and democratic BRIC. Polity, 42(1), 14–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ban, C., & Blyth, M. (2013). The BRICS and the washington consensus: an introduction. Review of International Political Economy, 20(2), 241–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bandeira, L.A.M. (2006). Brazil as a regional power and its relations with the united states. Latin American Perspectives, 33(3), 12–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Barkin, J. (2003). Samuel trade, sustainable development, and the environment. Global Environmental Politics, 3(4), 92–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Barma, N., Ratner, E., Weber, S. (2007). A world without the west. The National Interest, 90(4), 23–30.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Barma, N., Chiozza, G., Ratner, E., Weber, S. (2009). A world without the west? empirical patterns and theoretical implications. Chinese Journal of International Politics, 2(4), 525–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bechtel, M., & Tosun, J. (2009). Changing economic openness for environmental policy convergence: When can trade agreements induce convergence of environmental regulation? International Studies Quarterly, 53(4), 931–953.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Beeson, M. (2009). Trading places? china, the united states, and the evolution of the international political economy. Review of International Political Economy, 16 (4), 729–741.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bergsten, C. (2008). Fred a partnership of equals: How Washington should respond to China’s economic challenge. Foreign Affairs, 87(4), 57–69.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bernauer, T., & Nguyen, Q. (2015). Free trade and/or environmental protection. Global Environmental Politics, 15(4), 105–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Biermann, F. (2001). The rising tide of green unilateralism in world trade law: Options for reconciling the emerging North-South conflict. Journal of World Trade, 35(3), 412–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Chin, G.T. (2010). Remaking the architecture: The emerging powers, Self-Insuring and regional insulation. International Affairs, 86(3), 693–715.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. David, S.R. (1991). Explaining third world alignment. World Politics, 43(2), 233–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Davis, C.L., & Pelc, K.J. (2017). Cooperation in hard times: Self-restraint of trade protection. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 61(2), 398–429.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Davis, C.L, & Bermeo, S.B. (2009). Who files? developing country participation in GATT/WTO adjudication. Journal of Politics, 71(3), 1033–1049.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. de Renzio, P., & Seifert, J. (2014). South-South Cooperation and the future of development assistance: Mapping actors and options. Third World Quarterly, 35(10), 1860–1875.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Donno, D., & Rudra, N. (2014). To fear or not to fear? BRICs and the developing world. International Studies Review, 16(3), 447–452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Drahos, P. (2003). When the weak bargain with whe strong: Negotiations in the world trade organization. International Negotiation, 8(1), 79–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Drezner, Daniel W. (2014). The system worked: How the world stopped another great depression. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Dubash, Navroz K. (2017). Safeguarding development and limiting vulnerability: India’s stakes in the paris agreement. Climate Change: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.444.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Esty, D.C. (2001). Bridging the Trade-Environment divide. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15(3), 113–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Gustavo, F.-M., & Kreps, S. (2013). The foreign policy consequences of trade: China’s commercial relations with Africa and Latin America, 1992-2006. Journal of Politics, 75(2), 357–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Gray, K., & Murphy, C. (2013). Rising powers and the future of global governance. Third World Quarterly, 34(2), 183–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Haass, R.N. (2008). The age of nonpolarity: What will follow U.S. Dominance. Foreign Affairs, 87(3), 44–56.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Halper, S. (2010). The beijing consensus: How china’s authoritarian model will dominate the Twenty-First century. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hampson, F.O., & Heinbecker, P. (2011). The ‘New’ multilateralism of the Twenty-First century. Global Governance, 17(3), 299–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Bas, H., & Keukeleire, S. (2016). Rising powers and the future of global governance. Global Governance, 22(3), 389–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hopewell, K. (2015). Different paths to power: The rise of Brazil, India, and China at the world trade organization. Review of International Political Economy, 22(2), 311–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hopewell, K. (2017). The BRICS – merely a fable? emerging power alliances in global trade governance. International Affairs, 93(6), 1377–1396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hsu, A. (2016). The 2016 Environmental Performance Index. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

  32. Hug, S., & Lukàs, R. (2014). Preferences or blocs? voting in the united nations human rights council. Review of International Organizations, 9(1), 83–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hung, H.-F. (Ed.). (2009). China and the transformation of global capitalism baltimore. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Hurrell, A. (2006). Hegemony, liberalism and global order: What space for would-be great powers? International Affairs, 82(1), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hurrell, A. (2013). Narratives of emergence: Rising powers and the end of the third world?. Revista de Economia Política, 33(2), 203–221.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Hurrell, A., & Narlikar, A. (2006). A new politics of confrontation: Brazil and India in multilateral trade negotiations. Global Society, 20(4), 415–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Hurrell, A., & Sengupta, S. (2012). Emerging powers, North-South relations and global climate politics. International Affairs, 88(3), 463–484.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Ikenberry, G. (2011). John the future of the liberal world order: Internationalism after America. Foreign Affairs, 90(3), 56–68.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Jeuland, M., & Pattanayak, S. (2012). Benefits and costs of improved cookstoves: Assessing the implications of variability in health, forest and climate impacts. PLOS One, 7(2), e30338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Johnson, T. (2015). Information revelation and structural supremacy: The world trade organization’s incorporation of environmental policy. Review of International Organizations, 10(2), 207–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Johnson, T., & Urpelainen, J. (2012). A strategic theory of regime integration and separation. International Organization, 66(4), 645–677.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kahler, M. (2013). Rising powers and global governance: Negotiating change in a resilient status quo. International Affairs, 89(3), 711–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kasa, S., Gullberg, A.T., Heggelund, G. (2008). The group of 77 in the international climate negotiations: Recent developments and future directions. International Environmental Agreements, 8(2), 113–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Kastner, S.L. (2016). Buying influence? assessing the political effects of China’s international trade. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 60(6), 980–1007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kelley, J.G. (2004). International actors on the domestic scene: Membership conditionality and socialization by international institutions. International Organization, 58(3), 425–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Keukeleire, S., & Bas, H. (2013). The BRICS and other emerging power alliances and multilateral organizations in the Asia? Pacific and the global south: Challenges for the european union and its view on multilateralism. Journal of Common Market Studies, 52(3), 582–599.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Keukeleire, S., & Bas, H. (2016). Developing countries and international organization. Review of International Organizations, 11(2), 155–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Krasner, S.D. (1985). Structural conflict: The third world against global liberalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Lai, B., & Lefler, V. (2017). Examining the role of region and elections on representation in the UN security council. Review of International Organizations, 12 (4), 585–611.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Laidi, Z. (2012). BRICS: Sovereignty Power and weakness. International Politics, 49(5), 614–632.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Mahrenbach, L. (2016). Emerging powers, domestic politics, and WTO dispute settlement reform. International Negotiation, 21(2), 233–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Mansfield, E.D. (2014). Rising powers in the global economy: Issues and questions. International Studies Review, 16(3), 437–442.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Hau, M.V., Scott, J., Hulme, D. (2012). Beyond the BRICS: Alternative strategies of influence in the global politics of development. European Journal of Development Research, 24(1), 187–204.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Mearsheimer, J. (2001). The tragedy of great power politics. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Milhorance, C., & Soule-Kohndou, F. (2017). South-South Cooperation and change in international organizations. Global Governance, 23(3), 461–481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Miller, M.C. (2016). The role of beliefs in identifying rising powers. Chinese Journal of International Politics, 9(2), 1–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Miller, M.A. (1995). The third world in global environmental politics. Lynne Rienner: Boulder.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Mitchell, R., & Bernauer, T. (1998). Empirical research on international environmental policy: Designing qualitative case studies. Journal of Environment and Development, 7(1), 4–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Mittelman, J. (2013). Global bricolage: Emerging market powers and polycentric governance. Third World Quarterly, 34(1), 23–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Muhr, T. (2016). Beyond ‘BRICS’: Ten theses on South-South cooperation in the Twenty-First century. Third World Quarterly, 37(4), 630–648.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Najam, A. (2005). Developing countries and global environmental governance: From contestation to participation to engagement. International Environmental Agreements, 5(3), 303–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Narlikar, A. (2003). International trade and developing countries: Bargaining coalitions in the GATT and WTO. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Narlikar, A. (2010). New powers: How to become one and how to manage them New York. NY: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Narlikar, A. (2013). Negotiating the rise of new powers. International Affairs, 89(3), 561–576.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Narlikar, A., & Tussie, D. (2004). The g20 at the cancun ministerial: Developing countries and their evolving coalitions in the WTO. World Economy, 27(7), 947–966.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Nayyar, D. (2016). BRICS, Developing Countries and Global Governance. Third World Quarterly, 37(4), 575–591.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Panke, D. (2017). Speech is silver, silence is golden? examining state activity in international negotiations. Review of International Organizations, 12(1), 121–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Pfaff, A., Robalino, J., Sanchez-Azofeifa, G.A., Rodriguez, C.M. (2017). Changing the deforestation impacts of eco-/REDD payments: Evolution (2000-2005) in Costa Rica’s PSA program. IOP Conference Series, 6(25), 252022.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Pizer, W., & Zhang, X. (2018). China’s new national carbon market. AEA Papers and Proceedings, 108, 463–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Radelet, S. (2015). The great surge: The ascent of the developing world. Simon and Schuster: New York.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Rowland, W. (1973). The plot to save the world: the life and times of the Stockholm conference on the human environment toronto. Irwin and Co: Clarke.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Schimmelfennig, F. (2001). The community trap: Liberal norms, rhetorical action, and the eastern enlargement of the european union. International Organization, 55 (1), 47–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Schirm, S. (2013). Global politics are domestic politics: a societal approach to divergence in the g20. Review of International Studies, 39(3), 685–706.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Schirm, S.A. (2010). Leaders in need of followers: Emerging powers in global governance. European Journal of International Relations, 16(2), 197–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Schneider, C.J., & Urpelainen, J. (2012). Accession Rules for International Institutions: A Legitimacy-Efficacy Trade-Off? Journal of Conflict Resolution, 56(2), 290–312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Schultz, J. (1995). The GATT/WTO committee on trade and the environment: Toward environmental reform. American Journal of International Law, 89(2), 423–439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Schweller, R. (2011). Emerging powers in an age of disorder. Global Governance, 17(3), 285–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Scott, J. (2016). The international politics of South-South trade. Global Governance, 22(3), 427–445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Scott, J., & Wilkinson, R. (2013). China threat? evidence from the WTO. Journal of World Trade, 47(4), 761–782.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Selden, T.M., & Song, D. (1994). Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions? Journal of Environmental Economics and management, 27(2), 147–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Sinha, M. (2013). An evaluation of the WTO committee on trade and environment. Journal of World Trade, 47(6), 1285–1322.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Srinivasan, R.N. (1998). Developing countries and the multilateral trading system boulder. CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Stephen, M. (2012). Rising regional powers and international institutions: The foreign policy orientations of India, Brazil, and South Africa. Global Society, 26(3), 289–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Tarasofsky, R. (1999). The WTO committee on trade and environment: Is it making a difference?. In Jochen, A., & Frowein, R.W. (Eds.) Max planck yearbook of united nations law, (Vol. 3 pp. 471–488). The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

  85. Thomas, C. (1987). In search of security: The third world in international relations. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Tierney, M.J. (2014). Rising powers and the regime for development finance. International Studies Review, 16(3), 452–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Torras, M., & Boyce, J.K. (1998). Income, inequality, and pollution: a reassessment of the environmental kuznets curve. Ecological Economics, 25(2), 147–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Urpelainen, J. (2010). Regulation under economic globalization. International Studies Quarterly, 54(4), 1099–1121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Vihma, A., Mulugetta, Y., Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, S. (2011). Negotiating solidarity? the g77 through the prism of climate change negotiations. Global Change Peace and Security, 23(3), 315–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  90. Voeten, E. (2000). Clashes in the assembly. International Organization, 54(2), 185–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Wade, R. (2011). Emerging world order? from multipolarity to multilateralism in the g20, the world bank, and the IMF. Politics and Society, 39(3), 347–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Walt, S.M. (1987). The origins of alliances. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Williams, M. (1993). Re-Articulating The third world coalition: The role of the environmental agenda. Third World Quarterly, 14(1), 7–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  94. Woods, N. (2006). The globalizers: The IMF, the world bank, and their borrowers. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Woods, N. (2008). Whose aid? whose influence? China, emerging donors and the silent revolution in development assistance. International Affairs, 84(6), 1205–1221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  96. World Bank. (2010). The end of the third world? modernizing multilateralism for a multipolar world. Speech by world bank President Robert Zoellick, April 14, Washington DC.

  97. Young, A.R. (2010). Perspectives on the changing global distribution of power: Concepts and context. Politics, 30(S1), 2–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  98. Zangl, B., Heußner, F., Kruck, A., Lanzendörfer, X. (2016). Imperfect adaptation: How the WTO and the IMF adjust to shifting power distributions among their members. Review of International Organizations, 11(2), 171–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tana Johnson.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

(ZIP 1.14 MB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Johnson, T., Urpelainen, J. The more things change, the more they stay the same: Developing countries’ unity at the nexus of trade and environmental policy. Rev Int Organ 15, 445–473 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-018-9336-1

Download citation

Keywords

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

JEL Classification

  • F0
  • F1
  • F5