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International Environmental Agreements

A strong majority thinks there should be international agreements on environmental standards, and that the US should abide by them. When given arguments for and against making more international agreements on the environment, a strong majority finds arguments in favor to be convincing, while a majority rejects arguments against the idea as unconvincing.

Polls show that a very strong majority favors having binding international agreements on environmental standards. In a May 2000 survey by the National Opinion Research Center, 74% agreed that, "for environmental problems, there should be international agreements that America and other countries should be made to follow." Only 6% disagreed and another 14% neither agreed nor disagreed. When presented with two options, as in a 2001 Pew poll, a more modest majority preferred the US working to set standards in concert with other nations instead of acting on its own. In that poll, 58% thought "the United States should join other countries in setting standards to improve the global environment," while 38% wanted to see the US "set its own environmental standards independently." [1]

While there is a clear preference for global agreements and standards, a slim majority is not ready to give up full authority to international organizations on environmental decisions. A January 2003 Pew asked, "If the United States government and other leading countries cannot agree on policies to protect the global environment, which should have the final say on United States global environmental policies, the United States government, or should the final say rest with an international organization such as the UN." Fifty-four percent chose the US, while a fairly strong minority of 37% favored an international organization making the final call.[1a]

PIPA's October 1999 poll presented a series of pro and con arguments on the issue. After hearing them, an overwhelming majority supported having more international agreements on environmental standards. Arguments in favor of such agreements were found convincing by very strong majorities, while con arguments fared poorly. After hearing both the pro and con arguments, an overwhelming 77% (48% strongly) favored "making more international agreements on environmental standards" (see table below).

Support for International Agreements on Environmental Problems

- Percent Finding Argument Convincing -

Many environmental problems are global in nature. Therefore, the only way to solve them is to get all countries involved in addressing the problems. 78% It should be up to each country how it deals with its environment. There should not be international bodies that tell countries what to do. 33%

If some countries have lower environmental standards than others, then companies…will relocate to countries with low standards. This will be bad for the environment and will take jobs away from countries with high standards.

67% For some countries, raising their environmental standards will be much more costly than it will be for other countries. Creating international agreements will lead to pressures to make all countries abide by the same standards. This would not be fair. 37%

77% (48% strongly) felt there should be more international agreements on environmental standards.

As shown above, the strongest pro argument (78% convincing) was based on environmental concerns, suggesting that because many environmental problems are global, international approaches are best. The more self-interested argument that an absence of international environmental standards will threaten US jobs, as well as the environment, by making it attractive for companies to relocate to countries with lower standards, was found convincing by two out of three respondents (67% convincing). The con argument that imposing environmental standards violates national sovereignty was not popular (33% convincing), nor was the argument that doing so would be unfair because the costs of compliance would be different for different countries (37%). [2]

More specifically, a very strong majority has supported the embattled Kyoto Treaty that aims to reduce global warming. (See the Global Warming report, Kyoto Treaty.)



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