The Global Environmental Governance (GEG) system has grown significantly since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. In this paper we analyze ten leading Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), reviewing various quantitative indicators (related to time, resources and commitment) to chart their evolution and to measure the “negotiation burden” that the burgeoning GEG system is imposing on states and secretariats. We find that these representative MEAs have not only grown in size but also have become busier over time, although there are indications that as the GEG system “matures,” it may also be stabilizing. Among other things, we find that the reported budget for these ten MEA secretariats has grown nine-fold in sixteen years, from US$ 8.18 million in 1992 to US$ 75.83 million in 2007. Counting only the most important of meetings, and using the number of meeting days as an indicator of the “negotiation load,” we find that the negotiation load for the leading MEAs has stabilized, averaging around 115 meeting days per year. Decisions also seem to plateau at about 185 per year.

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Author notes


This paper builds on data originally collected by the authors for a project conducted for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The analysis presented here was done independently and does not necessarily reflect the institutional positions of either IISD or UNEP. The authors want to acknowledge the research assistance of Asheline Appleton and Patrick Michaelan, as well as the comments and suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.