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Section 2: Environmental Treaties and Other Policy Instruments

One of the purposes of the ENTRI system is to serve as a two-way bridge between people who are knowledgeable about international treaties and people who are knowledgeable about various types of resource indicators (including national socioeconomic variables and data derived from remote sensing). Accordingly, we recognize that many of our users may need some guidance to understanding the world of treaties. This page points you to a number of information resources that may help you in understanding the role of environmental treaties and other policy instruments in global environmental change.

The Legal and Political Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

To learn more about the international political context within which environmental treaties become important, we suggest you begin by reviewing CIESIN's Thematic Guide to Political Institutions and Global Environmental Change, and especially the subsection on International Environmental Agreements.


A treaty is a binding agreement between two or more nations. Professor John King Gamble has observed:
".. [t]here is a widespread perception that powerful states will do as they please, largely ignoring international law. The reality is that international law works exceedingly well almost all of the time. Some 30,000 treaties are in force today guiding most aspects of state behavior, and compliance approaches 100%. Courts, ranging from the International Court of Justice to hundreds of national courts, render thousands of decisions about international law, again with remarkable success."--Gamble, 1995. Electronic Information System for International Law [proposal].

The ENTRI service focuses primarily on multilateral treaties, i.e. treaties signed by three or more nations. There are two main reasons for this: first, it is a reasonable (although by no means infallible) way of sifting out treaties which are likely to have implications for the global environmental issues that fall within our SEDAC mandate; and second, the data in the ENTRI system is from a database of multilateral treaty status information maintained by our data provider partner, IUCN.

Because there are multiple sources for the information in the ENTRI system, there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between the availability of status information about a particular treaty and the availability of the text of the treaty. For example, the ENTRI Webspace contains several bilateral treaties between the United States and Canada; we have the text of these treaties, but no treaty status information; therefore, the user can find the text of the treaty by browsing the treaty texts tree, but cannot use the basic questions features to look up information about the status of the treaty. Similarly, because our treaty summary information comes from UNEP, which summarized information about 150 treaties of global environmental significance, we do not have treaty summary information about those bilateral treaties.

The ENTRI system contains treaty status information for 425 multilateral treaties, as well as summaries of more than 150 treaties and the full text of more than 75 treaties.


A quick glossary of key terms related to treaties is provided below. Quotations are from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 23 May 1969

Other Policy Instruments

The ENTRI project is focused on environmental treaties because they are an important and manageable element of the total information needed to understand the legal and political dimensions of global environmental change. Most of the information currently stored within the ENTRI system falls into two main categories: A) environmental treaties and information about treaties and B) resource indicators. With additional funding, however, it would be reasonable to expand category A) to include other policy instruments--such as national environmental legislation and national action plans--which are not treaties per se, but are known to be important to understanding key issues related to global environmental change.

We define "policy instruments" to include legal documents such as treaties, agreements, and laws; information on the negotiation, structure, and status of these legal instruments; and directives, programmes, and statements from governments, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

Finding Answers To Additional Questions About Treaties

If you have additional questions about environmental treaties and other policy instruments, see the ENTRI page on "Resource Discovery Tips for Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators".

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