Sociology Mind
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 83-88
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 83
Global Environmental Coordination: How to Overcome the
Double Collective Action Problematic?
Jan-Erik Lane
University of Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Received August 19th, 2012; re vi sed October 12th, 2012; accepted October 26th, 2012
The need for stronger global coordination of environmental policies has become ever more obvious, but
there are no formal arrangements in sight. The UN framework of UNEP is not delivering effective poli-
cies. Only global environmental coordination on the successful model of the World Band and the IMF can
stem the rising emissions numbers and projections—quantitative voting reflecting the differences in size
between the states of the world. However, the system of weighted voting typical of the WB and the IMF
must be reformed in an egalitarian manner, when a global ecology organisation is set up, reducing their
excessive voting power disparities. This paper suggests a simple but effective mechanism for reducing
these voting power disparities, decreasing all member country votes by either the square root or the cube
root expression.
Keywords: Ecological Capital; Global Environmental Coordination; Economic and Environmental
Interdependencies; Tragedy of the Commons; Greenhouse Gases; Depletion of Environmental
Resources; Global Environmental Agency; Weighted Voting; Coleman-Banzhaf Voting Power
Planet Earth is running down its ecological capital. Whereas
its economical capital—real or financial–tends to augment every
year, resulting in sustained economic growth, the environ-
mental assets of the world are shrinking, day by day and year in
year out. All the available evidence point at the coming of a
major ecological deficit the next decades, involving the deci-
mation of endangered species, the overexploitation of oceans,
seas and forests as well as the slow but steady poisoning of the
atmosphere, leading to climate change. Why has it proved im-
possible to halt this slow but continuous erosion of global eco-
logical capital?
To account for the dismal failure to protect the environ-
mental assets of the world—the great animals, clean air, fresh
water, tropical forests, graze lands, etc., I will turn to late soci-
ologist James S. Coleman and his two ideas, developed from
game theory (Coleman, 1986, 1998):
1) Non-economical capital: Coleman concentrated upon so-
cial capital, or trust, but I would argue that ecological capital is
even more important for the future of mankind; there is an ur-
gent need for collective action in order to protect global envi-
ronmental assets from rapid depletion. This is the first collec-
tive action problem: the tragedy of the commons, or how to
stem the over utilization of open access resources (Coleman,
2) Capacity to decide in groups: Coleman employed the Pen-
rose-Banzhaf framework to show that groups that employ una-
nimity become essentially powerless, only producing transac-
tion costs. I will show that this second collective action prob-
lem of stalemate among veto players in the global group of all
states is making global environmental coordination a so-called
“Polish Diet”—the liberum veto (Coleman, 1971).
Thus, at the core of the problematic of protecting ecological
capital is two classical collective action problems: first free
riding upon open access resources, reducing ecological capital
day by day, and second the failure of the governments of the
states of the world to decide upon global environmental coor-
dination and set up an agency to enforce a global policy.
The UN Framework
The UN has engaged in global environmental policy-making
during the last two decades, resulting in global meetings with
resolutions concerning important principles, e.g., sustainability.
The United National Environment Program (UNEP) is the fra me-
work for the United Nations involvement environmental issues
at the global and regional level, comprising a very broad man-
date is to coordinate the governments of the countries in the
world towards environmental policy consensus by means of
global environment review, bringing emerging issues to the
attention of governments and the international community for
action. Yet, the enforcement problematic has not at all been
addressed. Environmental coordination lacks a global organisa-
tion that can follow up on what happens with all the declara-
tions and intentions, monitor real developments in various con-
tinents and engage in practical activities that promote environ-
mental sustainability.
The Stern Review (2007) is probably correct in calling the
CO2 emissions the largest market failure ev er for mank ind. The
governments of the countries of the world must be interested in
global environmental coordination, as the risks involved are
enormous. Constant meetings of heads of states and premiers
have thus far not resulted in any credible policy, halting the
increase in greenhouse gases. The need for global environ-
mental coordination relates not only the climate change prob-
lematic but covers all kinds of issues in the environmental pre-
dicament of Mother Earth, like for instance safeguarding bio-
diversity and protecting endangered species, i.e. counter-acting
the constantly ongoing depletion of ecological capital (Balmford,
2002; Tol, 2002a, 2002b; Nordhaus, 2007; Weitzman, 2007).
Economic Capital against Ecological Capital
As the process of globalisation rolls on year in and year out,
the states of the world become dependent upon each other. The
inter-dependencies between countries—economically, environ-
mentally and culturally—call for common policy -making, i.e. co-
ordination of decision-making. The often heard call for global
governance is only credible if it can deliver a theory about ef-
fective decision-ma kin g. However, the global meetings of govern -
ments result in little or nothing except sometimes nonbi nding re -
commendations when it comes to protecting ecological capital.
Global Economic Interconnectedness
This Marxian contradiction between ONE global environ-
ment on the one hand and some 200 states in need of policy
coordination in response to the challenges of globalisation is
extremely difficult to resolve. On the one hand, the representa-
tives of each and every state will want to have a SAY in global
decision-making—the unanimity principle. On the other hand,
respecting the will of each of the 200 governments would lead
to staggering transaction costs in negotiations. Is there a way
out of the veto-transaction cost problematic that can save global
reunions from coordination failures like e.g. the Copenhagen
Summit on Climate Change?
The interconnectedness in the global economy has become so
large that any major shock hurts almost all economies in the
world (Bhagwati, 2004). The amount of interaction in the
global economy is typically measured with the IMPEX indica-
tor, which divides imports plus exports with the GDP. Diagram
1 shows the constantly growing IMPEX scores for the global
economy, which follow closely the expansive trend for global
output and world trade.
Global trade and foreign direct investments remain the en-
gine that power global economic expansion. Constantly increas-
ing economic interactions between countries not only cement
ONE global economy, but also push the GDP of most countries
steadily higher. Growth in aggregate output means that it is
easier to fight poverty, but it comes with a most important con-
sequence, namely the reduction in global ecological capital, as
for instance the steady increase in CO2 emissions, poisoning the
atmosphere and leading to global warming.
Environmental Interdependency: CO2 Emis si on s as a
Result of GDP Growth
The emission of greenhouse gases, as measured by Energy
Information Administration, has been on sharp rise for twenty
years. And they are predicted to keep rising considerably in the
stylised scenario for the next twenty years. How could all the
meetings of the governments of the world change this trend?
The principal difficulty stems from an almost unavoidable
green-growth trade-off. The CO2 equivalent emissions are a
strict function of economic development, i.e. rising GDP. Eco-
nomic expansion must have cheap energy, and thus far only the
burning of the fossil fuels has provided this vital input to the
global market economy. Figure 1 shows the close association
between GDP and emissions.
As the emerging economies in Asia, Africa and South America
are heading for 5 - 10 percent GDP growth yearly, the total
emissions must increase, perhaps sharply. One could argue that
future GDP expansion will come by energy saving innovations
Diagram 1.
Interconnectedness: IMPEX scores, trade and global GDP. Source: Output = Gross domestic product based on purchasing-power-
parity (PPP) valuation of country GDP; Current international dollar; Billions (left axis); Trade = Imports and exports of goods and
services; Current dollars; Billions (left axis); Impex = Trade/Gross domestic product, current prices; Current dollars; Billions (right
axis); Globalization = Means for KOF index (Dreher, 2006) for 174 constant countries (right axis); Sources: IMF (2010) World Eco-
nomic Outlook Database; available via: Dreher, Axel (2006):
Does Globalization Affect Growth? Evidence from a new Index of Globalization, Applied Economics 38, 10: 1091-1110; data avail-
able via:
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 1.
Country CO2 emissions against country GDP 2009. Note: CO2 emissions + Population: EIA (2011) International
Energy Statistics; data available from:; GDP data: World
Bank (2011) World Development Indicators; data available from
that make possible economic development without burning
more fossil fuels. However, Figure 2 shows that the emissions
per GDP are not very high in the most affluent countries,
meaning that there is little space for savings in emissions per
There are two fundamental trends in the growth-emissions
problematic. On the one hand, a higher level of GDP requires
more energy that leads to more emissions. On the other ha nd, a
more advanced economy employs less of emissions per GDP
unit. It is the first trend that is the strongest in the world today,
resulting in an inexorable rise in the global emission of green-
house gases, believed to the man made cause of global warming
If the governments of the countries of the world are sincere
about the ambition to stem the progressions of CO2 emissions,
then they must create a strong international organisation that
monitors the future trend in emissions as well as decide about
counter measures, like a CO2 tax or a carbon emissions trading
scheme. This agency should be given the tasks of improving the
overall environmental predicament of the Earth, including safe-
guarding bio-diversity, protecting the open seas, maintaining
fresh water resources, guaranteeing the survival of endangered
species—i.e. reducing the overall ecological deficit of Planet
Earth by increasing ecologi cal capital.
Global Economic Coordination
It is an axiom in theories of capitalism and the market
economy that they do not constitute self-regulating systems of
human interaction. Thus, Max Weber (1978) called attention to
the relevance of firm institutionalisation in order to make mod-
ern capitalism (the market economy) different from “capital-
isme sauvage”. As an economic historian of the institutionalist
bend, he devoted much effort to pinning down how the rules of
the market economy had evolved from other forms of capital-
ism: rural, feudal and state.
Stiglitz (2003, 2006, 2007) raises the need to clarify and am-
plify institutions as modern capitalism has been transformed
into one global market economy, thus resulting in a need for a
bigger role for global economic management by international
organizations in order to enhance fair trade and empower Third
World countries. Stiglitz calls for radical changes in the market
economy itself as a response to the need for achieving justice or
global fairness by means of global economic management
(Stiglitz, 2007, 2010; Stiglitz & Charlton, 2007; Serra & Stig-
litz, 2008; Chang, 2001). At the same time, he recognizes, like
Bhagwati (2004) that only the institutionalised global market
economy can efficiently create wealth and improve on poverty
in the Third World (Stiglitz, Ocampo, Spiegel, French-Davis, &
Nayyar, 2006). What global economic coordination first and
foremost needs is a reform of the voting regimes of WB and
IMF, which could be employed also for an effective regime of
ecological coordination.
Relevance of Weighted Voting
Two types of voting regimes can be distinguished: quantita-
tive regimes and qualitative regimes in economic coordination.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 85
Figure 2.
CO2 emissions per GDP against total economic output (GDP). Note: CO2 emissions + Population: EIA (2011) In-
ternational Energy Statistics; data available from:; GDP
data: World Bank (2011) World Development Indicators; data available from
The first is employed by the World Bank and the IMF, while
the second is used by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The World Bank and the IMF with quantitative voting have
sharply differentiated voting rights, reflecting the contribution
of capital to these organizations. Thus, a few member states
have a huge number of votes, whereas other large economies
have few votes. This creates a fundamental imbalance in global
governance, with the World Bank and the IMF being dominated
by the Western powers plus Japan (triad). This imbalance may
have been a necessity after the Second World War when China,
India, Nigeria and Brazil were extremely poor. But today a re-
distribution of voting rights is feasible and desirable.
The WTO with qualitative voting is unbalanced in terms of
the distribution of votes, but for another reason than the one
just suggested. Here, all member countries have the same num-
ber of votes: that is, one vote for the US and for Djibouti e.g.—
a quite unrealistic situation given the immense differences in
trade among the roughly 160 member countries in the WTO.
Since the WTO employs narrow qualified majority and one
state—one vote, the small member states receive a voting
power that is completely unrelated to their relative size in
global trade. This makes the WTO unwieldy, running up trans-
action costs (Jones, 2009; Steger, 2009), blocking further ad-
vances in the global tr ade regime.
In the World Bank and the IMF, the opposite problem exists.
Thus, heavy quantitative voting has resulted in the virtual do-
minance of the so-called “triad” comprising the US, the EU and
Japan: see Table 1: “actual distribution”.
As appears from Table 1, the distribution of votes in both of
these organizations have been highly skewed to the advantage
of the triad. (Western powers plus Japan). Since these two or-
ganizations employ qualified majorities (85%), the dominance
of the three vote-heavy countries becomes complete. The un-
even vote distribution has no doubt reflected the situation in the
past, but it is no longer in tune with economic realities. The
emerging economies are increasingly calling for a balanced
composition of these global management bodies. Whereas the
World Bank and the IMF should consider reducing the ine-
qualities in vote allocation while giving more votes to the
emerging economies, the WTO should reflect on the possibility
of introducing some form of quantitative voting.
Reform Formulas of Weighted Voting Regimes
The most simple and practical of alternative schemes for re-
ducing the immense differences in the allocation of votes con-
sists of starting from the status quo, but taking, for example, the
square root or perhaps even better the cube root of the present
allocation of votes, as modelled in Table 1: “square root or
cube root distribution”. Such a simple institutional reform
would preserve policy effectiveness while substantially reduc-
ing unjust power inequalities that stem from extreme differ-
ences in votes. China could at the same time be invited to take a
bigger amount of voting rights by means of capital injection,
thus also bolstering the capital basis of these IGO:s. The sug-
gested formula, using Coleman-Banzhaf voting power numbers,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 1.
Allocation of votes and Coleman- Banzhaf voting power in the WB and the IMF 1 989-2010.
Actual Distrib ution Square Root Di stribution Cube Root Dist ribution
Country/G roup of
Quotas Share of
Power to
Block Share of
Power to
Block Share of
Power to
United States 371,743 16.79 0.064 1.000 8.68 0.057 0.983 6.84 0.051 0.895
Japan 133,378 6.02 0.057 0.895 5.20 0.050 0.854 4.86 0.047 0.824
Germany 130,332 5.89 0.057 0.888 5.14 0.050 0.853 4.83 0.047 0.824
France 107,635 4.86 0.051 0.807 4.67 0.047 0.812 4.53 0.046 0.807
United Kingdom 107,635 4.86 0.051 0.807 4.67 0.047 0.812 4.53 0.046 0.807
Belgium/Austria 113,969 5.15 0.053 0.833 4.80 0.048 0.826 4.61 0.046 0.815
Netherlands/Ukraine 105,937 4.78 0.051 0.801 4.63 0.047 0.809 4.50 0.045 0.804
Spain/Mexico 98,659 4.45 0.049 0.768 4.47 0.046 0.789 4.40 0.045 0.796
Italy/Greece 90,968 4.11 0.046 0.725 4.29 0.045 0.766 4.28 0.044 0.782
China 81,151 3.66 0.043 0.668 4.05 0.043 0.730 4.12 0.043 0.762
Canada/Ireland 80,636 3.64 0.042 0.664 4.04 0.042 0.727 4.11 0.043 0.760
Indonesia/Singapore 78,068 3.53 0.041 0.650 3.98 0.042 0.717 4.07 0.043 0.754
Korea/Australia 76,311 3.45 0.041 0.640 3.93 0.041 0.709 4.04 0.042 0.749
Sweden/Norway 76,276 3.44 0.041 0.640 3.93 0.041 0.709 4.04 0.042 0.749
Egypt/Lebanon 70,852 3.20 0.038 0.603 3.79 0.040 0.688 3.94 0.041 0.730
Saudi Arabia 70,105 3.17 0.038 0.599 3.77 0.040 0.684 3.92 0.041 0.726
Sierra Leone/Lesotho 66,763 3.01 0.036 0.571 3.68 0.039 0.667 3.86 0.040 0.716
Switzerland/(none) 61,827 2.79 0.034 0.537 3.54 0.038 0.644 3.76 0.039 0.697
Russian Federation 59,704 2.70 0.033 0.522 3.48 0.037 0.636 3.72 0.039 0.689
Iran, IR/Morocco 53,662 2.42 0.030 0.476 3.30 0.035 0.596 3.59 0.037 0.658
Brazil/Colombia 53,634 2.42 0.030 0.476 3.30 0.035 0.596 3.59 0.037 0.658
India/Sri Lanka 52,112 2.35 0.030 0.465 3.25 0.034 0.589 3.56 0.037 0.651
Argentina/Uruguay 43,395 1.96 0.025 0.394 2.96 0.031 0.524 3.34 0.034 0.595
Rwanda/Togo 29,855 1.35 0.018 0.275 2.46 0.023 0.400 2.95 0.025 0.439
Decisiveness 0.00066 0.00026 0.00018
Note: On calculating the Coleman-Banzhaf voting power index numbers—see Coleman, 1971 and especially Felsenthal and Machover, 1998: Source: ht tp://www.i
external/np/sec/memdir/members.html. Recently very minor cha nges i n the s hare of vote s have been done (Bryant, 2008; Leech & Leech, 2012).
can be formulated in even more egalitarian formulas.
New Agency for Environmental Coordination
I suggest the creation of a new global environmental agency.
If composed according to the model of WB or IMF (although
with much more egalitarian voting scheme), it could do a lot to
counteract the overall environmental degradation globally. It
could be financed by the carbon taxes or from the emission
rights trading with the surplus going to the funding of the glo-
bal environmental operations, like saving endangered species etc.
Global coordination is, generally speaking, extremely diffi-
cult to achieve, due to the combined veto-transaction cost
problematic. Only two agencies of global coordination work
effectively today, namely the World Bank and the IMF. Why?
Because they have overcome unanimity and reduced transac-
tion costs by employing the institution of weighted voting.
A global ecological agency should be empowered with
enough resources and staff to embark upon programs that effec-
tively enhance environmental sustainability, reversing the trend
towards depletion of global ecological capital. There is so much
to be done to protect endangered species, monitor tropical for-
ests, improving upon energy producing facilities by filters etc.,
and safeguarding fresh water as well as surveying the condition
of the oceans, seas and lakes as well as water tables (Constanza,
1997; Sala et al., 2000; Chapin, 2002).
Global environmental coordination must overcome two fun-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 87
damental types of collective action difficulties: on the one hand
the depletion of ecological capital (tragedy of the commons)
and on the other hand the unanimity-stalemate typical of state
coordination. The UN framework of UNEP with all its meet-
ings and consultations lack enforcement capacity and resources
to take action. The voting regime of the WB and the IMF shows
that global coordination can be done effectively. Weighted vot-
ing is a proper institution for global coordination, but the allo-
cation of voting rights must not be too skewed. By reforming
the scheme in the WB and the IMF, simply taking the square
root or the cube root of the present allocation, a viable format
for global coordination can be constructed, allowing for certain
but not excessive differences in state voting power as well as
overcoming the veto-transaction cost problematic. Global en-
vironmental coordination can only work if these is a strong
agency devoted to these tasks permanently, operating on the ba-
sis of quantitative voting.
The inexorable degradation of the global environment in-
volves yearly losses of ecologica l capital. The international and
regional environmental coordination has not been effective in
halting this dismal process for planet Earth (Rosendal, 1995;
Meyer et al., 1997; Raustiala, 1997), despite the increase in the
recognition of environmental values (Regan, 1983; Taylor,
1986; Attfield, 1999; Singer, 2002). Only a powerful global
environmental agency constructed on the model of global eco-
nomic coordination and entrusted with proper resurces—econo-
mic and legal ones—can stem the global tragedy of the Com-
mons: the final elimination of endangered species, the pollution
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