Climate Change Governance Efforts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

the good the bad and the ugly

In a history class, the covered material often consists of past societies’ wars, plagues, rebellions and leadership transitions. Whereas, it seems that periods of peace and prosperity are glimpsed over in the history books and its importance is disregarded.  This neglect for positivity is demonstrated in the climate change’s history where the efforts are often described as failures.  Global climate change is a multifaceted crisis and evidently does not have a straightforward solution. However to describe the notion of a “cooperative response” at the COP20 convention as “naïve and contrary to the record of human history” is unfair (Bova, pg 249-50). Bova’s realist perspective is supported from aspects of past climate change governance; yet, the constructivist international relations paradigm is a more appropriate theory due to the climate change policy landmarks, the global participation in the climate change crisis and negotiations’ advancement through science.

The previous efforts to govern climate change refute the realism view due to: the international efforts and acceptance of climate change, the advancement of international institutions and the number of climate change milestones throughout history.  First of all, realism is a power-based regime theory in which states behave to benefit their own-self-interest politically, socially and economically.  This theory may be applicable for some countries, but holistically countries have worked cohesively on the climate change crisis. One example of successful international climate change relations is the emergence of various institutions, consisting of countries that share similar climate change interests and goals.  The UNFCC and COP are two examples of decision-making bodies that have world-wide involvement to tackle climate change.  Other institutions consisting of SBI, POS, EU and G77 are divided based on geography, current conditions, issues and interests; they are all involved in globally collective institutions and are not motivated by their countries own self-interest.  The advancement of international institutions has led to the organization and planning of climate change governance, which is the first step in the negotiation process.

In contradiction of the realistic view, the history of climate change has achieved many historic milestones, especially, since the knowledge that human-induced climate change was not accepted in the scientific world until the 1970s.  In the last 44 years, climate change has resulted in a change of beliefs, “deepening of cooperation”, “firming–up obligation to act”, “identified problems pressing for a need for action” and the creation of “concrete, legally binding emission reduction commitments” (Bulkeley & Newell 20).  The international acceptance of climate change lead to a successful moment in history was when the UNFCC was agreed upon to deal with climate change. Afterwards the Montreal Protocol was passed to stop the use of chemicals that caused the depletion in the ozone. Another success was Kyoto Protocol that binded 38 countries to reduce their emissions (5.2% below levels in 1990) by 2008-12.  Despite the United States’ refusal to ratify agreement, overall the EU and G77 did not follow the United States’ self-interested footsteps. Instead they acted in regards to the knowledge that climate change was a pressing issue and become even more determined for Kytoto Protocol to succeed.  Regardless of climate change’s complexity and difficulties, there was a strength in climate change’s history for countries around the globe were able to work together through creating institutions and policies.

Although the climate change governance issues had momentum, not every country is participating the global prevention of climate change outlook and behaved with the self-interest as a priority.  One of these self-interested nations is the United States for they focused on the developing countries being required to follow protocols rather than focusing on its own high greenhouse gas emissions.  One example was when the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol even though they helped develop it, 150 other countries signed it and are highly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.  Another realistic issue is that there are more components that require attention in the next conference. One component is that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa have become heavy greenhouse gas emitting countries.   These countries now need to be more involved in the negotiation process and have to make vast changes in their organization. From the past, it is evident that all countries including developing nations need to be included/ restricted in the next agreement. Another component is the strong involvement of businesses for in the past countries did not want to make a mistake economically by altering their energy usage. Money necessary for the mitigations and adaptations strategies to be successful, so the involvement of businesses is vital. Although these components have proven to be difficult in the past, there is a clear need for countries to action from the scientific knowledge.

Although the history of climate change is foggy with self-interest intentions, it mainly consists of countries that have acted due to the acquirement of knowledge.  First of all, without science/ knowledge, the globe would not be aware of climate change and no efforts to govern climate change would be made. Specifically, the history of climate change begins at the Villa Conference of 1980 when scientist were asked to see if climate change was an issue.  From their science, it was realized that further investigation was required and WMO, UEP, ICSU were all created to define climate changes risks.  These organizations were key players in the efforts to govern climate change.  Most importantly, the most credible source used for climate change is the IPCC which is composed of a variety of scientist whom inform the globe about climate change.  The IPCC report determines how countries act towards climate change, which explains that the constructivist international relations theory is the most applicable for understanding the climate change governance.

Although, there are aspects of power-based international relations theory seen throughout the history of climate change, it seems that most of the efforts were based upon knowledge from scientists. Science has played a detrimental role in climate change governance for resulted in global participation and acceptance of climate change.  Although, climate negotiations will be difficult, if countries rely on the pressing dangers that science has demonstrated in the IPCC reports, countries can work together to avoid such issues and avoid the outcome of the youtube video below.

Cooperation: The Driving Force in Climate Governance

UN flag

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.”[1]  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.[2]  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[3] 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.”[4]  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[5] 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.[6]  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.”[7]  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.”[8]  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[9] 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.”[10]

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.[11]  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.

[1] “Article 2: Objective”, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, accessed September 11th, 2014.  http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1353.php

[2] Russell Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations (New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 2011), 8-19. [3] 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).

[4] Bova, 21.

[5] David Held, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag, Climate Governance in the Developing World (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 3.

[6] Bova, 241.

[7] Harriet Bulkeley and Peter Newell, Governing Climate Change (New York, NY: Routledge, 2010), 23.

[8] Bova, 20.

[9] “Compilation and synthesis of fifth national communications: Executive Summary”, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, accessed September 11th, 2014.  http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/sbi/eng/inf01.pdf

[10] Held, Roger, and Nag, 3.

[11] “An Introduction to the Kyoto Protocol Compliance Mechanism”, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, accessed September 11th, 2014. http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/compliance/items/3024.php

Realism Loses Touch with Reality

Cartoon on realism from “International Relations Theory Illustrated.” Honeymonth. WordPress, 8 June 2012. Web. 10 September 2014.
Cartoon on realism from “International Relations Theory Illustrated.” Honeymonth. WordPress, 8 June 2012. Web. 10 September 2014.

 

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.

 

Works Cited

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.