Join the Parties: 25+ Ways to Promote Participation in Multilateral Environmental Agreements

By Susan Biniaz

Negotiators of multilateral environmental agreements are frequently faced with the challenge of striking the right balance between stringency of commitment and breadth of participation. A perfect agreement on paper, with strong commitments and a robust compliance mechanism, might attract too few Parties (or too few key Parties) to achieve the agreement’s environmental objective. Conversely, broad participation in a weak agreement might also fail to accomplish the agreement’s goals.

This paper focuses on the various ways in which negotiators have worked to encourage participation in multilateral environmental agreements. In some cases, they involve steps taken before and during the negotiation of the agreement. In other cases, they involve the provisions of the agreements themselves (such as various forms of flexibility, incentives to join, and disincentives to remaining outside) or decisions taken by Parties after agreements have entered into force.

Ultimately, States participate in agreements because they consider it in their environmental, economic, and/or political interest to do so. There may be forces beyond the four corners of environmental agreements that cause States to join them or implement their provisions de facto.

  • There may be bilateral or multilateral pressure to join or implement an agreement, such as through diplomatic exchanges.
  • The UN may call upon States to join or implement particular agreements, such as through a UN General Assembly Resolution.
  • A State may be lobbied domestically, e.g., by environmental NGOs or particular industries.
  • Another State(s) may restrict imports of a particular good if it does not meet a particular international environmental standard.
  • Another type of agreement, such as a trade agreement, may incorporate the requirements of an environmental agreement, either directly or by reference.


At the same time, negotiators of environmental agreements have employed a wide variety of supplementary techniques, often in combination, to further encourage participation. This paper, Join the Parties: 25+ Ways to Promote Participation in Multilateral Environmental Agreements, focuses on such enticements and accommodations.

Susan Biniaz, formerly a long time U.S. Department of State lawyer, is on the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School and is a David Sive Visiting Scholar at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.  

Read her paper here





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