Abstract

Negotiating parties to an environmental agreement can manage uncertainty by including flexibility clauses, such as escape and withdrawal clauses. This article investigates a type of uncertainty so far overlooked by the literature: the uncertainty generated by the creation of a Conference of the Parties (COP) in a context of sharp power asymmetry. When negotiating an agreement, it is difficult for powerful states to make a credible commitment to weaker states, whereby they will not abuse their power to influence future COP decision-making. Flexibility clauses provide a solution to this credibility issue. They act as an insurance mechanism in case a powerful state hijacks the COP. Thus we expect that the creation of a collective body interacts with the degree of power asymmetry to make flexibility clauses more likely in environmental agreements. To test this argument, we draw on an original data set of several specific clauses in 2,090 environmental agreements, signed between 1945 and 2018. The results support our hypothesis and suggest that flexibility clauses are an important design feature of adaptive environmental agreements.

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Supplementary data