Document Type


Publication Date



For more than a century, the United States has taken the lead in organizing international responses to international environmental problems. In the last two decades, however, U.S. environmental leadership has faltered. The best-known example is the lack of an effective response to climate change, underscored by the U.S. decision not to join the Kyoto Protocol. But that is not the only shortfall. The United States has also failed to join a large and growing number of treaties directed at other environmental threats, including marine pollution, the loss of biological diversity, persistent organic pollutants, and trade in toxic substances. This white paper identifies ten of these critical, pending environmental treaties and explains their importance and the actions needed to fully join them. The failure of the United States to join these treaties undermines global environmental protection and undermines U.S. interests in protecting a wide range of natural resources. The treaties set out standards and create institutions designed to find and implement solutions to problems of critical importance. They have attracted support from other countries, including our closest allies. Indeed, several are among the most widely ratified treaties in history. In every case, the regimes these treaties have established are less successful without U.S. membership than they could be with the full engagement of the country with the largest economy and the largest environmental impact.