Recently, there has been an increasing trend of further interest and action towards mitigating the present matters of global climate change (Held) leaving hope of cooperation in contrast to the realist view. The realist view acknowledges global challenges but believes that these state issues are direct causes of other states and that these issues should be solved through self-help and military power (Bova 238-239). Realist thinkers often perceive the notion of cooperation to resolve issues is foolish and naïve. (Bova 249-250) The question then becomes, have the past and present helped to indorse realistic thoughts or is there hope that global collaboration is possible in the future? To me, the answer to such questions is that realists should contemplate the “self-help” idea, asking themselves if that is really enough to combat adequate enough responses to present threats. (Bova 239)
In the past, yes maybe this view would make more sense in a time before conferences of the parties were a thing and where there were less regulations or targets for emissions reductions in place. Hell, even at a time when the notion of attempting emissions reductions through the Kyoto Protocol was on the rise, realism may be justified. There were large emitters of green house gases that would not sign the protocol and many developing countries with fewer emissions were not required to reduce. In situations like this, where all nations are not held accountable, it is reasonable that some may see the idea of “self-help” as the best or only option. Furthermore, in times of war or dispute between other nations, it is practical to not see global cooperation as a possibility.
But it is not the past, it is the present and with this we must look today to the inspiring and remarkable efforts that are rising from the developing nations, stepping up to be “climate leaders”. Numerous developing countries around the world are commencing and transforming from no involvement in the climate change problem to actually initiating their own actions; cap and trade systems, targets/goals, emissions reductions regulations, etc… This is happening in different parts of the world, regardless of whether they are huge top-ten emitters of greenhouses gases or not. (Held) These examples of more and more nations stepping up to the plate, looking to further address the problem is reason enough to me, for realists to recognize the escalating potential of collaboration.
We must look forward from the past and focus attention to the present and the future of such issues. Every man for himself has been a start to assessing the worldwide subject of climate change, but it is just that; worldwide and universal. To me, this means that everyone must assess together, that cooperation as the main focus, is the only way. We are all human beings alike, regardless. Realists know that there is a problem and they know that it needs to be addressed. It is “naïve” of them to not give hope to our world working together, not the other way around.
**Arguments and ideas are supported by “Editors’ Introduction: Climate Governance in the Developing World.”
Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag, eds. “Editors’ Introduction: Climate Governance in the Developing World.” Climate Governance in the Developing World. Malden: Polity Press, 2013. 1-25. Print.
Russell Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations (New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 2011)
The world in which we live in is made up of optimists and pessimists. There are those who always look for the bright side in a given situation and then there are those who just expect the worst. In terms of international relations, we call the optimists the liberals and constructivists and we call the pessimists the realists. Liberals believe that global cooperation can be achieved and is an alternative to power politics. Constructivists are a bit different. They believe that change in world politics can transpire without having to change the entire structure of the international system. Realists on the other hand think that everyone is in it for themselves. It is all a game of who can get the most power between sovereign states.
According to Russell Bova’s book “How the World Works”, “While liberals and constructivists see global problems like the environment pushing states toward cooperation and global solutions, U.S. nonparticipation in the Kyoto Protocol and the disappointing outcome at Copenhagen reinforce realist skepticism. Indeed, realists see those environmental problems as yet another potential source of international conflict” (p.248). Realists see that international conflicts will arise such as competition for scarce resources. Just like the power game, a race will start regarding who can get the most of what is running out—let’s face it, the bigger country with the most power will win.
If every single country decides to cooperate and solutions are created for our global problems, all might be well and go smoothly…NOT! This is where the question of governance for whom comes into play. Harriet Bulkeley and Peter Newell addressed this question pretty well in “Governing Climate Change.” They discussed three areas where issues arise regarding global problems. The questions of who is responsible, who pays for action on mitigation and adaption, and who bears the costs of actions and inactions pops up. The countries that have contributed the least amount of carbon emissions which would be the developing nations, are actually much more susceptible to the effects of climate change than the large actors. Richer countries have the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change. For example, Bangladesh is a country that lies below sea level. When areas in Bangladesh are hit hard and homes, lands, family, as well as many other things are lost, who comes to their rescue? It’s certainly not their government because they cannot afford it. These people living in these areas have to fend for themselves and establish a whole new life in the slums of a city. They have to start from scratch. However, when the Northeastern coast was hit by hurricane Sandy, shelters, food, repairs, and so much more were provided to those who needed the aid. The government had funds to aid those in need and also had money to repair the damages. In New York City, the subways were drained, houses near beaches were fixed, and even places such as South Street Seaport were repaired almost immediately. A big and powerful country like the United States has the ability to go back to our daily routines. Countries like Bangladesh do not.
Climate change was caused by the development of the North. The United States has contributed twenty percent towards global emissions. The United States alone caused this much damage, so why should others pay the price? Ultimately, can all of the countries in the world cooperate and come up with global solutions when the United States did not even participate in the Kyoto Protocol?
Evidently realists will be realists, I will be me, and you shall be you. Set on a trajectory of thought spanning from the latter end of World War II, realism, as a paradigm, populated the gamut of international relations, which felt seemingly appropriate for its time. Strikingly similar to that of the second law of thermodynamics, entropy or chaos, was at an all time high post-World War II, in which case a realists’ pessimistic stance deemed valid. Within R. Bova’s text, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, he boldly states, “At this point, however, no single paradigmatic challenger to realism has emerged”, where I contentiously yet mindfully respond. Today, September 12, 2014, I challenge the realist paradigm on the sanction of qualitatively and quantitatively significant evidence extrapolated from the liberalism paradigm of international relations theory.
In essence, liberalism speaks to the ever-changing nature of world politics and opens the window to optimism that realists’ blocked with stagnant anarchic assumptions for the rest of the world. In lieu of qualitative evidence negating Bova’s statement, “In short, for realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history”, the unity of liberal internationalism, liberal commercialism, and liberal institutionalism creating the Kantian Triangle are highly regarded (pg 249-50). The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is an outstanding example for a liberal institution that promotes peaceful cooperation on an issue as pressing as global climate change. Moreover as presented by the National Research Council within “The Context for America’s Climate Choices” the United States “…endorsed an effort to work with the international community to prevent a 2 (3.6 ) increase in global temperatures relative to pre-industrial levels” (pg. 11). Furthermore providing evidence framing single nation and multi-nation cooperative initiations that are making active efforts to mitigate climate change.
Within a working liberalism paradigm there exists this notion of “absolute gains”  which is derived from cooperative and peaceful state interactions. Whilst keeping a focus on absolute gains, a liberalist sees no reason to compare their gains to that of another nation. In fact, quantitative statistical analyses as presented by the International Energy Agency reveal that “The Australian government and European Union had announced intentions to link their systems, starting with one-way trading of European allowances into the Australian market from 2015, followed by two-way linking from 2008” and “In December 2008, the European Council and the European Parliament endorsed an agreement on climate change and energy package which implements a political commitment by the European Union to reduce its GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The package also includes a target for renewables in the European Union, set at 20% of final energy demand by 2020” (pg. 17).
As previously stated – realists will be realists, I will be me, and you shall be you. Derive what you will from the empirical trends, but know this – if anarchy is what they think, anarchy is what they will get.
 Kantian Triangle – Idea that international institutions, economic interdependence, and the diffusion of democratic government are mutually reinforcing and together support liberal notions of a trend towards peace and cooperation among states (Bova, 22).
 Absolute gain – the total benefits that accrue to a state as a consequence of its interactions with other states without regard to the benefits that accrue to others (Bova, 19).
Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism, and its critics” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.
Bova, R., 2011, “Transnational challenges, the state system under stress” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 237-250.
International Energy Agency, 2013, CO2 emissions from Fuel Combustion, Highlights, pp 7 – 19.
National Research Council, 2011, “The Context for America’s Climate Choices,” in America’s Climate Choices, pp 7 -14.
The concept of the international system as anarchic is the foundation for most, if not all, paradigms used in the study of international relations. There is a debate, however, between realists and liberals as to how states deal with this problem. Realists believe that international cooperation among states is very unlikely, because there are no laws or governments higher than states that have the power to force states to cooperate or communicate. Realists focus on relative gains, or how much a state benefits in comparison to others, rather than on absolute gains, or overall benefits (Bova 20). Only in the rare cases where a state can accrue relative gains from cooperation will communication between states occur, realists say, because if one state gains more power than another, that would be a threat to that second state’s national security and not be in that state’s national interest.
In contrast to realism, the liberal view is that international cooperation is in fact possible and it stresses the possibility of absolute gains as opposed to relative gains. Liberals do not disagree with realists that states will try to work towards their own national interest, but instead argue that it is in states’ national interests to cooperate. In terms of absolute advantage, states should wonder, “How much do I benefit compared to not cooperating?” While it might not be in a state’s interests to benefit less than other states, the fact that a state is benefiting at all nonetheless in its national interest.
With regard to climate change governance, while many realist expectations seem to play out in climate negotiations, it is actually liberalism that best explains efforts to regulate global climate change. Liberalism explains the existence of international institutions such as the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and the fact that developing countries are working to reduce their GHG emissions.
With the rise in the number of international institutions post-WWII, realism has had the tough task of trying to remain a relevant and suitable paradigm for explaining countries’ relationships in the world in this new era. Realism asserts that while these international institutions might exist and mitigate anarchy to a degree, short of eliminating the idea of the sovereign state and its legitimate use of violence in the world, the international system remains unchanged, as these institutions have no real power over sovereign states (Bova 18). Take the Kyoto Protocol for instance. The protocol is “an international agreement setting targets for industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions” (Kyoto Sendeco2). Countries that have ratified this protocol include Russia, Japan and the United Kingdom. The list goes on, but, very conspicuously, the United States is missing from that list. This is in line with realist thought; The United States, being the most powerful nation in the world, is able to make the rules as to what it chooses to do. The EU giving President Bush diplomatic flak about not ratifying the protocol won’t compel the US to join because, very simply, the US is more powerful than the EU (Reynolds).
The US’s reason for pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 was partially due to the absence of an agreement signed by developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (Bulkeley 30). But these developing countries were acting in their national interest, in line with realist thought. Much of the emissions in developing countries are produced by production facilities to provide citizens with basic amenities and needs such as electricity, warmth and water. Further, many developing countries have little money. Spending this money to reduce emissions instead of encouraging development and reducing poverty is obviously against these countries national interests (Bulkeley 46). Realist thought backs up these reasons for not committing to agreements reducing GHG emissions.
When looked at through a realist lens, climate change negotiations seem to be motivated by power politics and national interests. But a closer look reveals that there is instead more cooperation than disagreement in the realm of climate change governance. When the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, this “galvanize[d] the European Union and the G77+China into further ratification” (Bulkeley 23). Russian ratification in 2005 allowed the Kyoto Protocol to remain relevant, after many people worried that the largest contributor of greenhouse gases and most powerful nation pulling out would render it insignificant. Out of 36 countries that pledged to reduce emissions, only three have not managed to reduce or keep stable their GHG emissions, and out of the 33 that did, there are only three who did not pass the baseline amount for reduction (Kyoto UNFCCC). This directly goes against realist theory, as realists would predict that without the United States, there would be no incentive for others to ratify the Protocol (Bulkeley 23).
Before the Kyoto Protocol, in 1992, 154 countries with very sharp differences in opinion agreed to sign the UNFCCC, committing to reduce atmospheric concentrations of GHGs (Essential Background). This is especially significant considering the lack of momentum at the time and the absence of any norms or precedents for this type of accord (Belkeley 22).
Developing countries were notoriously absent from the Kyoto Protocol and from any binding agreement of CO2 emission reduction. This does not mean that developing countries have not reduced emissions though. On the contrary, many have done a lot to reduce their GHG emissions. China, the number one GHG contributor in the world, has reduced energy intensity by close to 20 percent and far surpassed targets for renewable energy laid out in its 11th Five Year Plan (Held 11). Mexico has become the first developing country in the world to sign into law a long-term emission reduction target, expecting to lower its emissions ultimately by 50% by the year 2050 (Held 14). Ethiopia plans to become carbon-free by 2025 (Held 15; Carbon Neutral). These countries are getting financial aid from larger developed countries to reduce carbon emissions, through carbon trading schemes and REDD+ programs. Contrary to realist theory, it is within these countries’ national interests to cooperate with other sovereign states (Held 12; Held 15).
While realism seems to explain some aspects of international climate change negotiations, liberalism, it seems, explains the negotiations on a much deeper level. In past eras, without many international institutions, realism explained states’ behavior much of the time, but as we move forward, liberalism is more and more able to explain state behavior. States need to realize how cooperating in climate change negotiations does not benefit only a few countries but is a mutual benefit for the whole globe. Hopefully, as norms surrounding climate governance change, states will begin to take more liberalist policies toward it, rather than administer mainly realist policies.
Bova, Russell. “Chapter 1: How to Think About World Politics Realism and Its Critics.” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2012. 3-37. Print.
Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing Climate Change. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
The looming uncertainties of climate change are an imperative call-for-action for swift international cooperation between nations in order to reduce emissions and “to achieve…stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” But is it really practical to expect such universal and broad-based partnership among nations with such drastically polar interests, perspectives, and opinions? An analysis of the historical evidence shown from previous climate governance negotiations, commitments, and actions validates the liberal school’s expectation of international cooperation over a realist’s skepticism moving forward in efforts to mitigate climate change.
The realist school of international relations theory argues that nations act out of their own self-interest and from a fundamental struggle for power over other nations, and thus hardly ever cooperate on an international level. However, such cooperation is the main force for action in the climate governance arena; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has produced significant agreements by major international actors aimed at greenhouse gas emissions reductions, which endorses the liberal institutionalist school’s assertion that international institutions “mitigate anarchy and facilitate international cooperation.” Large numbers of nations from all different backgrounds have taken action through the UNFCCC structure to reduce emissions, whether through legally-binding commitments (Annex I nations) or on their own accord (non-Annex I nations). Forty-four developing countries have submitted Nationally Accepted Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) from 2009 to 2012 outlining their plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while under no legal obligation to do so, which contradicts the realist assertion that, when given the opportunity to, a nation will free-ride off the efforts of another. This elevation of the common good over national self-interest undercuts realism’s core tenet that all international relations are inherently power struggles; nations of sometimes opposing stances (e.g. the current tension between the Russian Federation and the European Union over Ukraine) have put aside their differences and taken meaningful international action to address the growing specter of climate change.
A strong example supporting liberalism is the Kyoto Protocol. If realism were true in climate governance, it would have been expected for the agreement to have floundered and failed after US pulled out of the negotiations in 2001; however, “…the absence of the United States served to galvanize the European Union and G77 + China into further action, and with the Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 it entered into force.” This signals that the international institution of the UNFCCC and the cooperative attitudes of many nations in the negotiations prevail over actions of single nations, and verifies the general alignment between climate governance and the liberal school of thought.
A major factor in the liberal framing of cooperation is the concept of confidence-building measures, which “develop the trust and confidence necessary for resolution of larger conflicts.” Previous agreements made during the UNFCCC function in this capacity, as progress has already been made, but there is still more work to be done. Emissions for all Annex I parties (most of the major emitters of the world) including the US have decreased by 6% from 1990-2008 and “together, the commitments made by developed and developing countries cover more than 80 per cent of global emissions, and, if delivered, could reduce emissions from BAU by 6.7-7.7 billon tonnes.”
One of the criticisms realists argue against international institutions like the UNFCCC is that there is a lack of enforcement of a nation’s actions as they align against their previous commitments, and, thus, anarchy reigns in the world politics. However, the enforcement arm of the UNFCCC ensures that nations not just give “lip-service” to emissions reduction but actually follow through on their commitments, with the threat of strict penalties and increased emissions reductions targets. This added accountability lends strength to the negotiation process and final commitments agreed upon by the Parties, and mitigates anarchy by restricting nations’ behaviors.
Given the evidence presented by previous agreements and negotiations, climate governance can best be described through the liberal school’s lens rather than realism’s because of the scope and durability of international cooperation that has been previously observed. It can be expected that, moving forward in the coming years and at COP20 in Lima in December, this broad-based partnership and interaction between nations can be the rule, and not the exception.
 Russell Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations (New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 2011), 8-19.  Namely the Kyoto Protocol (2005), the Bali Action Plan (2007), the Copenhagen Accord (2009), the Cancun Agreements (2010), and the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2012).
 Bova, 21.
 David Held, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag, Climate Governance in the Developing World (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 3.
 Bova, 241.
 Harriet Bulkeley and Peter Newell, Governing Climate Change (New York, NY: Routledge, 2010), 23.
There are three main paradigms of international relations theory: realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Realism states that all states are driven to act in their own best interests in unchangeable world of anarchy, requiring a large military at times to maintain security (Bova 8-19). Liberalism states that global cooperation and movement past realism is possible through three main ways- international institutions, commerce between states, and the spread of republics less likely to sway towards war (Bova 19-22). Constructivism states that although states tend towards power-seeking opportunities, the anarchy of international relations does not necessitate such behaviors and furthermore, new norms and non-state actors such as transnational organizations and individuals also play a part in whether states follow a realist path of action or not (Bova 24-26). These paradigms are used to understand behaviors and interactions between actors in the international arena. Thus members of each paradigm have a different take on how global politics will play out in regards to global climate change. Dr. Russell Bova, in his textbook “How the World Works,” writes “in short, for realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history” (249-50).
Efforts thus far in governing global climate change include, among other things, forming the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and hopefully soon, a new mitigation agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in COP21 in Paris in 2015. However, these are not the only methods by which states and other parties in the world address climate change. Other efforts include private encouragement of sustainable, renewable energy development (Held, Roger, Nag 19), sub-national government efforts like carbon trading within individual U.S. states, and NAMAs, or National Appropriate Mitigation Action. Evidence from efforts to govern global climate change do not support this realist view, and in fact, none of the above paradigms perfectly explain the global climate change international responses and governance. Nevertheless, liberalism best describes the recent history in global climate change governance while constructivism describes the near future of global climate change governance.
Nation-states and interstate governance is only one facet of addressing global climate change. Any paradigm focusing on states as the main/only actor in international relations ignores some of the most important actors global climate change governance. Thus, realism which argues nation-states are the only actors in the international relations arena fail to acknowledge key actors in global climate change governance and thus do not explain current trends in global governance. Liberalism proves more hopeful in terms of its acknowledgement of non-state actors, as exemplified by institutional liberalism. Institutional liberalism looks to the formation of formal international governance bodies and laws to turn the world away from a realist fate. Such institutions include the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. However, as Bulkeley and Newell point out in their introduction, the multi-scale, multi-actor nature of global climate change problems requires a “shift away from the position that the nation-state is the only or necessarily most important unit of climate politics” (4). Thus the institutions that liberalists propose still do not align with newer attempts to govern global climate change including non-state actors. Looking backwards, liberal institutionalism explains the Kyoto protocol and UNFCCC but fails to explain what the future might hold if politics are to go down the path Bulkeley and Newell suggest.
Lastly, constructivism may be the most promising paradigm to explain current attempts at global climate change governance as it touches on the need for inclusion of non-state and transnational actors as they promote ideas which promote moving away from realist state behavior. The key to constructivism is that it does not require a structural change such as international law to govern a state’s behavior away from realist tendencies (Bova 27). Therefore, it offers a third option to addressing climate change on a global level besides institutionalism (liberalism) and war (realism). Because constructivism does not require a state-centered governance structure, it falls along the line of Bulkeley and Newell’s thinking that future politics will move past state-centered governance structure as more and more types of actors hold important parts in mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Realism developed to explain countries’ actions in post WWII and Cold War politics (Bova 8) and has lost its relevance as issues like climate change require a cooperative multi-level, multi actors approach to solve the problem. Consequently, the newest paradigm of constructivism, best explains why global governance regarding climate change is going towards a less state-centric approach. Wide-scoped problems call for wide-scoped responses as is reflected in a turn to the constructivist approach to global governance problems.
Bova, Russell. How the World Works. Longman Publishing, 2011. Print.
Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing Climate Change. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag, eds. “Editors’ Introduction: Climate Governance in the Developing World.” Climate Governance in the Developing World. Malden: Polity Press, 2013. 1-25. Print.