National polarization and international agreements

Charles Perrings, Michael Hechter, Robert Mamada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The network of international environmental agreements (IEAs) has been characterized as a complex adaptive system (CAS) in which the uncoordinated responses of nation states to changes in the conditions addressed by particular agreements may generate seemingly coordinated patterns of behavior at the level of the system. Unfortunately, since the rules governing national responses are ill understood, it is not currently possible to implement a CAS approach. Polarization of both political parties and the electorate has been implicated in a secular decline in national commitment to some IEAs, but the causal mechanisms are not clear. In this paper, we explore the impact of polarization on the rules underpinning national responses. We identify the degree to which responsibility for national decisions is shared across political parties and calculate the electoral cost of party positions as national obligations under an agreement change. We find that polarization typically affects the degree but not the direction of national responses. Whether national commitment to IEAs strengthens or weakens as national obligations increase depends more on the change in national obligations than on polarization per se. Where the rules governing national responses are conditioned by the current political environment, so are the dynamic consequences both for the agreement itself and for the network to which it belongs. Any CAS analysis requires an understanding of such conditioning effects on the rules governing national responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2102145118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2021


  • International environmental agreements
  • Polarization
  • Spatial competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'National polarization and international agreements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this