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For many observers, the Paris Agreement signaled a historic breakthrough in addressing the problem of global warming. In its basic design, however, the Agreement is far from novel. Its dependence on each nation’s self-determined pledge to reduce greenhouse gases mirrors the domestic policy strategy called management-based regulation—a flexible regulatory approach that has been used to address problems as varied as food safety and toxic air pollution. In this article, I connect insights from research on management-based regulation to the international governance of climate change. Unfortunately, management-based regulation’s track-record at the domestic level gives little reason to expect that the Paris Agreement will lead to major long-term behavioral change needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although a management-based regulatory strategy may have been the best option available for securing a widespread global climate agreement, this strategy seems to offer little assurance of forward momentum on climate policy due to an inherent paradox created by the Agreement’s management-based design: global progress will depend on domestic politics. Especially given the rise of nationalistic populism around the world, the Paris Agreement will succeed only if political efforts within individual countries push back the threat to global cooperation posed by populism and convince domestic leaders to support serious climate action.


Paris Climate Accord, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, environmental law & policy, international agreements, global governance, meta-regulation, voluntary regulatory programs, public policy analysis, populist movements, self-regulation, pledge & review

Publication Title

Maryland Journal of International Law

Publication Citation

34 Md. J. Int'l L. 139 (2019)