The conventional wisdom when it comes to environmental standards is that globalization will produce a race to the bottom as countries stint on regulations to undercut their competitors. A new study suggests there has in fact been a race to the top, at least when it comes to automobile emissions.
Emory University environmental sciences professor Eri Saikawa notes in the January 2013 issue of the journal World Politics, the United States in 1970 was the first country to adopt automobile emission standards to reduce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons. Soon thereafter Japan and European Union countries adopted similar regulations. Saikawa reports that "65 countries, including 34 developing countries, have decided to voluntarily regulate their automobile emissions by adopting standards from developed countries without any international agreement to do so."
After parsing data from 129 countries, Saikawa concludes that the trend is driven by the desire to keep domestic automobile manufacturers internationally competitive. Countries adopt more-stringent emission regulations to match the standards of the countries to which they export.