Legally binding versus non-legally binding instruments

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Although it now appears settled that the Paris agreement will be a treaty within the definition of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, debate continues over which provisions of the agreement should be legally binding. The legal character of the Paris agreement and its constituent parts may matter for several reasons, even in the absence of any enforcement mechanisms. Formulating an agreement in legally binding terms signals stronger commitment, both by the executive that accepts the agreement and by the wider body politic, particularly if domestic acceptance requires legislative approval. It can have domestic legal ramifications, to the extent that treaties prompt legislative implementation or can be applied by national courts. And it can serve as a stronger basis for domestic and international mobilisation. But, despite much empirical work over the past two decades, it has proved difficult to assess the strength of these factors in promoting effectiveness, both absolutely and relative to other elements of treaty design, such as an agreement’s precision and its mechanisms for transparency and accountability. On the one hand, states exhibit a strong belief that the legal character of an agreement matters. On the other hand, some political agreements, such as the 1975 Helsinki Accords, arguably have had a greater influence on state behaviour than their legal counterparts. As a result, confident assertions, one way or the other, on the degree to which the legally binding nature of the Paris agreement does or does not matter seem unwarranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalGeneva Reports on the World Economy
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Legally binding versus non-legally binding instruments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this