Policy Sciences

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 203–236 | Cite as

International institutions and the framing of domestic policies: The Kyoto Protocol and Canada's response to climate change

  • Steven Bernstein
Article

Abstract

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol establishes an international institutional framework for domestic responses to climate change that links emission targets for developed countries to international market mechanisms. Although these ‘flexible mechanisms’ allow developed countries some leeway in how they meet their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, the protocol also establishes a normative framework that directs domestic policy responses along certain paths. Applying insights from sociological institutionalism and constructivism in international relations, this article argues first, that the climate change regime reflects and further institutionalizes the prevailing international normative structure in the environmental issue area, characterized as ‘liberal environmentalism.’ Second, these norms, as embodied in the climate change regime, have enabled and constrained climate change policy development in Canada, one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita. International norms can shape or redefine domestic interests, enable policies in conformity with those norms, and create normative pressures for change by linking with extant domestic and foreign policy norms. Uncovering this international institutional-domestic policy interaction resolves the paradox of Canada's promotion of commitments and mechanisms consistent with its domestic interests and institutional constraints, but eventual commitment to action well beyond what those constraints dictate. This commitment continues despite Kyoto's uncertain future. The findings also point to lacunae in the literature on regime compliance and effectiveness more broadly, especially its dominant rationalist variant.

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Bernstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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