CORDIS - EU research results

Problem-Shifting between International Environmental Treaty Regimes: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions

Project description

Global environmental problem-shifting

Every month, governments around the world gather to make important decisions to solve global environmental problems. However, their decisions often lead to new, and sometimes even more chronic and severe, environmental problems – what is known as global environmental problem-shifting. With over 800 international environmental treaties in force, the scale and complexity of environmental problem-shifting is severe and expected to increase. The EU-funded ProblemShifting project explains why problem-shifting occurs between these treaties and examines the systemic effects of problem-shifting in global environmental governance. Building on these findings, the project offers innovative governance solutions that help ensure our global environmental efforts add up to a net positive impact.


International environmental treaties (e.g. Paris Agreement) are designed to solve specific environmental problems. Yet their potentially negative impact on environmental issues other than their own is rarely studied. Until now global governance theories have assumed that environmental treaties are inherently ‘green’, and hence, any adverse consequences are conveniently set aside as unintended or inevitable. But is that true? Here I question, do environmental treaties ever pursue their objectives by merely shifting problems to others? If so, when and why? Does such buck-passing create any systemic risk beyond those directly affected? And what might be appropriate responses to ensure our efforts add up to a net positive impact? Environmental problem-shifting, or protecting one part of the environment by damaging another, is a major dilemma arising in global governance. Yet the issue remains under-investigated, requiring an urgent scientific inquiry. PROBLEMSHIFTING will thus examine the causes and consequences of, and provide solutions to, environmental problem-shifting between international environmental treaty regimes. By drawing on my interdisciplinary and multi-method expertise in 'earth system' law and governance, I will (1) identify and explain conditions under which problem-shifting occurs; (2) assess and predict systemic effects of problem-shifting; and (3) offer solutions for optimizing the currently fragmented governance system. The project aims to advance the theoretical debate on the architecture of global governance and its overall effectiveness. The scientific breakthrough will be enabled through methodologically innovative combinations of qualitative and quantitative methods, including process tracing, comparative case studies, network analysis, system dynamics modelling, and multi-stakeholder workshops. Building on the theoretical and empirical foundations, I promise unique insights and valuable advice to markedly improve global governance decisions.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 495 000,00
3584 CS Utrecht

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West-Nederland Utrecht Utrecht
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 495 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)