Global forest politics reveal surprising impacts of environmental norms on state behavior at the international level. Negotiations regarding deforestation have repeatedly failed to produce a policy agreement. Instead of abandoning the deadlocked talks, governments created the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), a hollow entity deliberately deprived of decision-making powers. Various theoretical perspectives fail to explain why states create blank international institutions without policy mandates. Several arguments are advanced here. First, a global norm of environmental multilateralism (NEM) helps explain the creation of the UNFF as well as universal state participation in it. Second, such “good” norms can have negative consequences in world politics. NEM prohibits states from disengaging from failed political initiatives, and fosters the creation of hollow institutions that nourish skepticism about the effectiveness of global governance. Finally, global forestry defies the widespread academic notion that norms, institutions and governance are coterminous. Sometimes states design “decoy” institutions whose function is to preempt governance.

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