Arild Underdal

University of Oslo

Primary Section: 64, Human Environmental Sciences
Secondary Section: 53, Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type:
International Member (elected 2017)

Photo Credit: Ola Saether


Arild Underdal is a political scientist known primarily for his contributions to the study of international cooperation, with particular reference to environmental governance. In his doctoral dissertation, he examined regional fisheries management in the Northeast Atlantic and found a pattern close to what he called ‘the law of the least ambitious program’. Most of his subsequent research have tried to find ways to escape that ‘law’. Underdal was born in Bodø, Norway, and graduated with a ‘magister’ degree in political science from the University of Oslo (UiO) in 1972. In work on his doctoral dissertation he benefited significantly from a six months stay at (what was then) the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, and another three months at the Institute for Marine Studies, University of Washington, Seattle. At the age of 34 he was elected Chair of the Department of Political Science. He has later served in a wide range of other leadership positions, including those of Vice Rector and Rector of the University of Oslo. Throughout much of his career he has been affiliated also with CICERO – Center for International Climate Research.

Research Interests

Underdal's contribution to the study of international cooperation has focused on three main aspects: diagnosing problems, assessing potential 'cures', and measuring regime effectiveness. In diagnosing problems he has supplemented established political economy categories such as global 'collective goods' and search for actor 'private' interests. In assessing potential 'cures', he has emphasized the role of political science as a partner filling gaps in natural science and economics. In measuring effectiveness his main interest has been to determine how much of potential collective gains are in fact delivered by an existing international regime.

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