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Explaining Conflict Over International Environmental Cooperation

August 01, 2022
Stephanie Rickard


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Stephanie Rickard, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics, discusses how to encourage international cooperation on environmental subsidies in the latest from PVG.

Protecting the environment is one of the most pressing issues countries face today. Yet, nations disagree over how to achieve this goal. In international fora, states often fail to coordinate on protecting the environment. For example, for two decades, countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO), unsuccessfully discussed how to protect the ocean’s biomass.

Governments spend $35 billion of taxpayers’ money annually on subsidies to support the fishing industry. Two-thirds of these subsidies directly contribute to overfishing—that is, fishing beyond environmentally sustainable limits. Yet, WTO member countries couldn’t agree on restrictions on environmentally-destructive fishing subsidies.

In the absence of a WTO agreement, many countries continued to provide subsidies that contributed to the depletion of global fish stocks. But not all. Some countries, like New Zealand, prioritized environmentally-friendly subsidies, including programs that offset the costs of determining sustainable catch limits. All of New Zealand’s general fisheries subsidies now go to “green” programs.

In contrast, the United Kingdom (UK) spends just 20 percent of its fisheries subsidies on green programs. The bulk of spending funds subsidies that reduce the costs of doing business, including subsidies for the purchase of vessels, fuel, and bait. These types of subsidies increase catch levels and can lead to overfishing. A subsidy scheme in force from 1982 until 2001 provided money to purchase a vessel for full-time fishing, thereby increasing the number of boats in the UK’s fishing fleet. Another subsidy assisted with the purchase of an offloading crane to enable factories to discharge larger vessels. By facilitating larger vessels, the subsidy generated incentives for fishers to invest in larger boats with greater catch potentials.

In the absence of international coordination, why do some countries voluntarily prioritize spending on environmentally-friendly subsidies while others don’t?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.