Paradigm Shift


In my Religion and Modern Culture class, we have talked about paradigm shifts this semester which is directly related to the climate change conversation. The movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a, excellent example of a paradigm shift emerging. The movie, and the work of Al Gore, is an attempt at shifting the worldview of the climate change problem. The movie acts to summarize a brief synopsis of the problem and it does so in a way that can be easily understood to the general public and is easily relatable. Towards the end of the movie, Gore brings up the topic of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States originally signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it; this caused a huge global controversy that continued along with the US not ratifying the second commitment period to Kyoto. Where the visible shift can be seen is through initiatives in the United States being taken in California and the nine north eastern states banding together to take action. In Gore’s presentation, he shows a list of a multitude of major cities that are in support of the Kyoto. This is where the paradigm shift is starting to be seen, at the bottom-up level.

He also mentions, towards the end of the movie that he is doing his part by doing what he can. This entails giving presentations in major cities all around the world, addressing people at a more local level. His approach of conveying the message and the approach of the movie is extremely similar to that of James Balog and the film Chasing Ice. Sitting and chatting with Balog on a more personal basis and seeing his presentation while he visited Dickinson really put a lot of things into perspective. Balog, in the same way that Gore does, conveys his message in the best way he possibly can, through his photography. Both men express a sense of urgency and the need for further communication. Gore mentions that the issue of the ozone hole has been depleted; the climate change problem is not completely out of our grasp. What is needed, is a complete shift in cooperation globally, a paradigm shift. Not everyone is currently sitting at the table, but everyone is invited.

Eight years has passed since this movie came out and the shift is still continuing; there is power growing. I think the Peoples Climate March, the largest climate march in history, that took place recently is an extremely powerful example of the movement. Well over 400,000 people took the streets of Manhattan to express their voices and to take a stand. However, the shift needs to continue. Even here at Dickinson College, ranked in the nation among the most environmentally friendly schools, still needs change. There are people that don’t think anything of their actions throughout their day, perhaps they should. Everything we do in our everyday lives, literally everything, has an impact. The amount of times I hear students and friends say that their minute actions make no difference, that one or two things makes no difference, is literally sickening. The fact that people can leave their phone charger plugged into a wall while it is not in use and it is still emitting .5 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere per hour is again, a sickening thought. People NEED to be more conscious. The shift must continue.

The title of the movie is what it is; the issue of climate change that needs to be addressed is inconvenient in many ways. It has been ignored for so many for way too long because people would rather pretend the problem is not there than actually address it head on. The novel, Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes is a perfect example of doubt being used in many controversies over time. It is inconvenient both in that we have to deal with it and it’s impacts on today’s world, with some nations being more vulnerable than others. The definition of sustainability, to uphold the needs of today’s people without compromising the needs of future generations, relates to this inconvenience in that the paradigm shift must occur in order to comply with the needs of future generations.

Have your cake and eat it too with the “Mixed-track” Approach


The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) has two objectives taken on by two different workstreams. The goals of the ADP are to develop a new framework that will govern all parties under the UNFCCC by the COP 21 in 2015 and to close the ambition gap by ensuring the highest mitigation efforts by all parties. Keeping in mind the golden number, 2 degrees Celsius, is the limited amount of global temperature rise. The complexities of climate change involve multilevel governance. Finding the best approach towards climate governance is a heavily debated topic, given the difficulty of reaching a global agreement. Two opposing approaches are a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. These approaches are used to link the economy and greenhouse gas emissions.  Top-down involves a, “contractual approach favoring binding targets and timetables” (Bodansky, 1). While bottom-up involves, “facilitative approach favoring voluntary actions defined unilaterally”(Bodansky, 1). David Bodansky argues that an effective international agreement relies on multiple variables: stringency, participation, and compliance. However, “weakness along any of these three dimensions will undermine an agreement’s effectiveness” (Bodansky, 2). Which is why he argues both models should be merged in order to cumulate an effective agreement.


The Kyoto Protocol was expected to lead a long-term top-down approach for mitigating climate change. Developed and developing countries could not come to a consensus in the negotiation process. Instead, countries have taken on their own climate obligations through a bottom-up approach. The failure of the top-down approach through the Kyoto protocol allowed for alternative approaches to take way, such as the Cancun Agreements.  At Cancun, “the Brazilian government declared it would halt all deforestation in Brazil by 2025” (King, 2011).  A bottom-up approach essentially implements policies at the lowest level of organization. Thus, proposing the idea that action can be taken at every level. There are numerous municipal initiatives and cities that are the centers of innovation for more sustainable practices. While a top-down approach focuses its attention on mitigation, a bottom-up approach concentrates on adaptation and the notion of vulnerability. Local approaches tend to have more short-term results, whereas top-down methods involve long-term impacts.

A hybrid, or “mixed track,” approach will be necessary in order to establish absolute commitments. Both approaches have different strengths and weaknesses, but together the weaknesses are compensated. For example, bottom-up attracts participation and implementation but does not effectively enact regulations. On the other hand, top-down results show the opposite. Mitigation and adaptation are both equally important in combating climate change and can both be reached through a mixed track approach of governance. We must not only rely on global agreement and regulation, but also on local implementations and participation. A legally binding treaty would ensure compliance but in addition we need local projects and governance in order to take fast action. The combination of both top-down and bottom-up approaches will be the most effective route in achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action.

Works cited

David Bodansky, “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2012): 1-11.

King, David, and Achim Steiner. “Is a Global Agreement the Only Way to Take Climate Change?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, n.d. Web.

Climate Action Network: Progressing Climate Action


The Climate Action Network (CAN) contains over 900 non-governmental organizations (NGO) from more than 100 countries (CAN, 2014A). The CAN’s mission is “to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels…through information exchange and the coordinated development of NGO strategy” (CAN, 2014A). The CAN does an effective job of coordinating NGOs to submit comments to the UNFCCC on a broad range of topics. They are able to successfully orchestrate climate oriented NGOs to advocate for immediate and meaningful climate action as well as the advancement of human rights. By creating a network of organizations around the world, the CAN has been able to affect the negotiation by directly providing inputs on the negotiations through paper submissions, rallying NGOs around common talking points, and by convincing negotiators of their position.

Since its start in 1989, CAN has been part of the climate negotiation process and conversations (Duwe, 2001). Since then, CAN has continuously grown and become one of two lead parties within the ENGOs (Environmental NGOs) (Dryzek and Stevenson, 2014). They have submitted a large range of papers during and after each COP. CAN has several themes in their position statements, which advocate for greater climate action and for upholding human rights (CAN, 2012). Some of their themes include:

  • Strong mitigation measures, including reducing the use of fossil fuels (Voorhar, 2014) and ending subsidies for fossil fuels (CAN, 2009) while increasing investments in renewable energies (CAN, 2014C).
  • Quick action on climate change to keep warming to a minimum (CAN, 2012; CAN, 2014C; CAN, 2013B)
  • Developed countries need to have public financing in place to help promote renewable energy projects for developing countries (CAN, 2014C) such as the Green Climate Fund (CAN, 2014B; CAN, 2011)

These themes are strong positions for climate action and represent the way in which CAN is attempting to project their views and give input on the negotiations.

The CAN has played a crucial role in bringing together voices to push negotiators towards climate action. CAN works extensively with other network NGOs to develop joint positions on relevant issues to present a strong front to the negotiations (CAN, 2013A). The CAN was critical in aligning multiple voices to speak on behalf of ENGOs to push the Kyoto Protocol forward (Dryzek and Stevenson, 2014). The NGOs within CAN helped shape the Kyoto Protocol by persuading the EU to hold their emissions reductions as well persuading the US to be flexible with target-setting (Bulkeley and Newell, 2010). The CAN has been effective within the negotiations because they have been able to unify their network of NGOs under their statements and positions, giving power and voice to the submissions and ideas.

Additionally, the CAN works to promote greater understand of the negotiations for individuals as well as delegates. The Eco-Newsletter, produced by CAN, provides a daily report about what is happen within the negotiations (CAN, 2014C). This allows outsiders to understand what is going on and gain an ENGO perspective into the negotiations. Many delegates will also read Eco-newsletters because they provide a summary of the on going negotiations (Duwe, 2001). Side events, of which CAN is only a small part, further help attendees and developing nations better understand all of the complexities of climate change and the negotiations (Hjerpe and Linnér, 2010). Being part of negotiation education is a crucial role filled by CAN and allows them to be a more effective transnational network by incorporating more people, organizations and ideas.

CAN has not only been successful as a larger organization, but many of the 900 daughter NGOs have helped them succeed in their mission. Yet, that many constituents can lead to a weaker message from the organization due to differing opinions. While that many stakeholders signify power and voice in numbers, they can also present an obstacle to efficient and bold decisions. Additionally, CAN-International is not well funded nor have they historically planned well as an organization, only releasing their first multi-year plan in 2013 (CAN, 2013). By engaging policy makers in the negotiation process, CAN has been able to impact negotiations in advocating for stronger climate action and can continue to improve these efforts with better funding, planning and consensus building.



Bulkeley, Harriet, and Newell, Peter. Governing climate change. Routledge, 2010.

Climate Action Network International. “About CAN” 2014A.

Climate Action Network International. “Eco-newsletters” 2014C.

Climate Action Network International. Adaptation and Loss & Damage Under the ADP. June 2, 2014B.

Climate Action Network International. Annual Report 2013. 2013A.

Climate Action Network International. CAN-I Submission on New Market-based Mechanism. March, 2012.

Climate Action Network International. Climate Action Network – International Submission to Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol Regarding Response Measures. April 24, 2009.

Climate Action Network International. Climate Finance under the ADP. June 2, 2014C.

Climate Action Network International. Submission on 2013-2015 Review. April 1, 2013B.

Climate Action Network International. Submission to the Transitional Committee for the Green Climate Fund. July 29, 2011.

Dryzek, John S., and Hayley Stevenson. Democratizing global climate governance. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Duwe, Matthias. “The climate action network: A glance behind the curtains of a transnational NGO network.” Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 10.2 (2001): 177-189.

Hjerpe, Mattias, and Björn-Ola Linnér. “Functions of COP side-events in climate-change governance.” Climate Policy 10.2 (2010): 167-180.

Voorhar, Ria. Climate Action Network International. Statement on UNSG’s Climate Summit by Climate Action Network and the Global Call for Climate Action. September 23, 2014.

Realism or Liberalism?

world flag travelling couple holding hands

It is undeniable that the current global climate crisis is unprecedented in international relations. It is an issue of critical importance as it affects each nation at varying degrees and each nation contributes to the problem, in extremely varying degrees. Global climate change, by its nature, necessitates strong, unified global action. However, there is a difference in international relations theory that attempts to understand how and if this transnational cooperation will happen. Realism is a paradigm that asserts that all international relations are based on a struggle for power between sovereign states in an anarchical world. This approach believes that nation states are only interested in their own security and so all actions are defined by the notions of “self- help” and the “security dilemma;” thus cooperation between states to create a system of global governance is impossible. However, liberalism is a paradigm that suggests that perhaps the opposite is true with a different set of international norms and institutions that would facilitate international relations based on cooperation not military might and power insecurities. According to Russell Bova, liberalism holds that, “as long as your state is better off as a result of cooperating with others, the gains of others should not matter” (Bova 19). Certainly, in the issue of climate change each nation would be better off by addressing the tragedy of the commons and cooperating to mitigate the problem. Actions and cooperation already in affect by the international community intend to deal with how to mitigate and govern global climate change, follow the paradigm of liberalism.


Global climate change has forced international cooperation on a smaller but quickly growing scale. There is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international scientific community to inform the policy makers on the science behind the problem. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a treaty created and being implemented by many sovereign nations attempting to cooperate to confront climate change. They also continuously further their cooperation to create better governance through the Conference of the Parties (COP). Out of this international process, the Kyoto Protocol was created in attempt to legally require international participation and cooperation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. There is much speculation on whether or not the Kyoto Protocol was “successful”, however, it is an example of a potential base line for future legally mandated international cooperation. There has also been further and more voluntary cooperation on global climate change, specifically by developing counties, attempting reduce greenhouse gas emission, through the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA). The fact that these actions were all voluntary and were not based on power play between nations implies that there is reasonable evidence that climate change can be regulated globally through continued mutual support and cooperation.

The efforts to govern climate change mitigation through a liberalist mentality have certainly been present in the last couple of decades. While the results have largely been nominal in actually preventing or lessening climate change, the fact that it is happening at all, and is building off of itself to continuously create better cooperation is promising. The prisoner’s dilemma for realists is a way of explaining how parties will inevitably act in their own self-interest, to assume the least consequences. However, the liberal interpretation ends in a scenario that is already playing out in the global action and negotiation of climate change. In this prisoners dilemma the results and ability to cooperate improve after each round of conversation and negotiation. The level of trust increases and the relationships strengthen; the process is one that builds off of itself to create improved cooperation each time. The evidence of the various international organizations and agreements suggest that this process of the prisoner’s dilemma is currently taking place. Realism is perhaps a more appropriate response when dealing with the consequences of climate change, while liberalism is better suited to create insights in how nations are attempting to solve climate change through international relations.


Work Cited:

Bova, Russell. How the world works a brief survey of international relations. New             York: Pearson Longman, 2010. Print.

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing climate change. London: Routledge,             2010. Print.

Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag. Climate governance in the developing             world. Cambridge: Policy Press, 2013. Print.


Rash Realism


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.


Works cited

**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)

Climatic Change: Connecting Humans Through Sheer Awe

International relations paradigms exist to provide of a framework to begin to understand the way in which the world functions.[1] Claims made from those who think along a certain paradigm generally will clash with the claims or beliefs of another. For instance, realists claim that cooperative global responses to the global environmental crisis that is currently bearing down upon our society and the planet are not possible, given the human track record for working alongside cultures different from our own. Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century political philosopher, attributed this inability to work together to the lack of a “common power” that would “keep all in awe.”[2] This common power or common law has not been seen throughout the course of human history; different sovereign states have had their own common law, but have constantly come into contact with groups of others who do not share their same beliefs. This has for the majority of human history led to war and conquest, slavery and cultural destruction. Without a common law, there is only “man against every man.”[3] Hobbes was right in his claim. How can cultures with completely opposing ideological beliefs live alongside one another without some sort of conflict? They could come together and put aside their differences and work together on building a sustainable society. This is the sentiment most of us are taught at a young age while going through grade school in the United States. However in the globalized world we now find ourselves, this type of collaborative effort has not been seen. I think this has in part been due to a lack of what Hobbes was referring to as the common power. Unlike the realists I think that global climate change, the common power to keep us in awe to allow cooperative efforts based around one subject, will lead to and has been leading to global cooperative response. This is because global climatic change does not carry a flag different from your own, it does not speak a different human tongue, it does not infringe upon national security, it is a threat to the very existence of our globalized human society. It is for this reason that I think the paradigms that oppose the realists, liberalism and constructivism, offer solutions to the threat that protect “human security” instead of simply “national security.”[4]

HS vs NS

Liberalism and constructivism both stem from the utopian-themed idealism paradigm. They do share the same key factor, peace on a global scale, but use different methods to achieve this. This could be where splits in international climate change agreements and negotiations are seen, such as with the differing opinions on whether or not legally binding agreements for emissions reductions are the solution. Both legally and non-legally binding documents have begun to appear on different scales within the global theater. The Montreal Protocol was one legally binding document that helped bring our species away from being burned up by intense UV radiation. The Kyoto Protocol is one legally binding document that appears to have led to emissions reductions for its signatories that decided to ratify, and for those that did not ratify reductions were not seen. On the other hand the recent Cancun Agreements are an example of progress towards emissions reductions without legally binding agreements.

Source: World Meteorological Organization

The Montreal Protocol is a legally binding agreement to completely phase out- not just reduce- ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It was the result of a previous framework decision laid out in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to it as “perhaps the most successful environmental treaty to date.”[5] Its impact can be seen today as CFC concentrations continue to decrease through this century.[6] The Kyoto Protocol is a similar legally binding agreement that is not meant to address ozone damaging gases, but rather human emissions of greenhouse gasses that are responsible for global warming trends. The Kyoto Protocol was not as successful as the Montreal Protocol.[7] Unlike the Montreal Protocol not every signatory nation-state, including the US, ratified the Kyoto Protocol in the end and this led to it being seen largely as a failure. However, for the countries that did ratify the agreement, total emissions reductions were met. Had the United States ratified the agreement it would have been seen as significantly more successful. This is a piece of evidence for the realist theory that cooperative response is not possible and negotiations will end in a nation-state choosing to protect itself before those outside of its borders. In this situation the US acted in favor of national security, not wanting to risk damaging the US economy simply in the name of reducing GHG emissions.

Funds gathered from the Parties for climate change related use, as a result of the Cancun Agreements

That was around the turn of the millennia and now it would seem that the common power that Hobbes wrote of is being felt and seen across the globe. The threat of climate change is no longer some prediction, it is here, and the earth is fundamentally different.[8] For this, collaborative efforts based around this notion of “human security” before “national security” has been on the rise. In 2010 the UN Climate Change Conference was held in Cancun, Mexico. During this, the 16th Conference of the Parties, a non-legally binding agreement was formed and became known as the Cancun Agreements. It established a fund to assist poorer countries in financing emissions reductions and adaptation. It was expected to grow to $100 billion by the year 2020. While the Cancun Agreement has received criticism for its inability to expressly state how the funds will be used, it was surely a positive step towards reducing emissions- especially when compared to the failure in Copenhagen the year before.[9] These non-legally binding agreements are surely representative of a shift in thinking. After Copenhagen many nations must have felt the pressure to ensure some sort of deal be made so that progress could continue to build.

While these examples are not nearly of the scale needed to shift the warming trends currently being seen, they are a start. And while no change in emissions has resulted from one nation standing up and saying that they would be willing to do whatever it takes to help halt emissions now and adapt to shifting climates, that does not mean it is not yet to come. While betting on that happening is not the safest decision, it would appear that the trend for cooperation is beginning to emerge. This year’s decisive COP and next year’s will surely be a time for the “cooperation trend line” to shift up starkly if we are to begin to curb emissions and limit climate change’s impact on human health and security.




Works Cited

The Economist Newspaper. “Atmospheric pressure.” The Economist. (accessed September 10, 2014).

Biello, David . “Dangerous Global Warming Closer Than You Think, Climate Scientists Say.” Scientific American Global RSS. (accessed September 10, 2014).

Bova, Russell. How the world works: a brief survey of international relations. 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2012.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 20 Questions. 2010 Update. Section IV CONTROLLING OZONE-DEPLETING SUBSTANCES Q16. 48-51. (accessed September 10, 2014).

Rogelj, Joeri, Julia Nabel, Claudine Chen, William Hare, Kathleen Markmann, Malte Meinshausen, Michiel Schaeffer, Kirsten Macey, and Niklas Höhne. “Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry.” Nature 464, no. 7292 (2010): 1126-1128.


[1] Bova, 27

[2] Thomas Hobbes, 1651

[3] Thomas Hobbes, 1651

[4] Bova, 239

[5] Bova, 247




[9] Copenhagen Accords pledges are paltry.

Are we doomed? How doomed?


Realists, believers that international anarchy means unavoidable conflict, predict a bleak future in regards to climate change. This paradigm in the study of international relations regards power as the driving force in nation state interactions. Realism tries to understand the interactions and conflicts that arise. Through this lens, nation states act out of self interest in the unrelenting pursuit of power. Cooperation among nations is limited; there is no higher order in international governance to enforce agreements among countries.[1]

Realism is only one of many paradigms with which to view the world in the study of global politics.  Furthermore, paradigms do not explain every historical and future event. These lenses are explainers and predictors in their most pure, almost exaggerated, form.  Unlike the hard sciences, these paradigms can co-exist; in some situations, some models will be more helpful than others in analyzing the causes of an event.  Other major paradigms include liberalism, constructivism, feminism, and neo-Marxism. Neo-Marxism is the only one that, like realism, dooms the world to inherent conflict. The others believe that with certain circumstances, cooperation can replace conflict in global politics. However, neo-Marxism sees economics as the driver of politics and, in an inherently unequal system, conflict is inevitable and cooperation is fleeting.[2] When considering the current handling of climate change, neo-Marxism is the best lens with which to predict the outcome of the international effort to attempt to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Looking at the debate around mitigating climate change, most of the conflict has been due to disparities in economies. The United States refused to ratify out of the Kyoto Protocol because China, as a non-Annex 1 nation, did not have any legally binding restrictions on emissions. This meant that the U.S. would have a distinct disadvantage in the global markets. China would be able to produce goods more cheaply, without having pay for the externality of emissions. They would also be more attractive to multinational businesses looking to lower the expenses of regulating pollution in production. Because of this conflict in economy, nation states could not cooperate and the Kyoto Protocol launched into effect without the ratification of the (then) largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States.

When negotiating climate change mitigation strategies on a multinational scale, the barrier to cooperation is often economics. The fossil fuel industry is seen as so fundamental to the culture of development, that restrictions and regulations are often perceived as a direct threat to jobs and income. It is true, we must suffer a reduction in GDP now in order to prevent more dire losses in production in the future. According to the Stern Review, in order to stabilize greenhouse gases at around 500-550 ppm, the world would suffer an annual loss of 1 percent global GDP by 2050. However, this cost is low relative to the cost of inaction. A 5-6ºC warming could cause a 5-10 percent reduction in global GDP.[3]  Nations struggle with making legislation that reduces GDP, even if it is a better long term solution. This creates tensions between actors as they attempt to negotiate the boundaries between scientific warnings and short term economics as they collaborate in a global arena.

The economies of the many nations involved in these negotiations are central to the climate change policy debate. Non-Annex 1 nations perceive it unfair to have imposed policies that could slow their growing economies. Forcing developing nations to pay for more efficient technology in order to combat a problem they historically did not cause seems unfair. These issues are now crucial sources of conflict in the policy debates. Which economies should pay to reduce global emissions? How do we weigh the luxury economies of the North to the survival economies of the South when determining cuts? Which economies will suffer the most from the effects of climate change? Questions of weight and fairness create large fissions when working among nations of differing amounts of wealth and responsibility.

Unlike realist perceptions that inherent conflict between nations stems from military power struggles, the neo-Marxist approach cites differing economies as the intrinsic barrier to global cooperation. This paradigm fits the current international negotiation surrounding climate change. However, does looking at the global mitigation of climate change through a neo-Marxist lens mean that the earth is doomed? The world might not work together as well as the climate scientists are saying they must, but the future is simply uncertain. Neo-Marxism only states that international cooperation is difficult, not impossible. The question is whether nation states can act together quickly and forcefully enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change upon their citizens. It is a mystery as to whether the international community will cooperate well enough to prevent the great conflicts and deaths that will arise from the new, hotter earth we are creating. What are important, regardless of the outcome, are the serious actions that citizens and governments take now in attempt to avoid disaster.



[1] Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism and its critics” (pp 3-37). In R. Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.

[2] Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism and its critics” (pp 3-37). In R. Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.

[3] Stern, N. (2006). “Summary of Conclusions.” Executive summary. Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change (pre-publication edition). HM Treasury.


Which international relations theory will you choose?

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?

Realism vs. Liberalism in International Climate Governance

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.



Works Cited

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.

“A Carbon Neutral Ethiopia by 2025.” Make Wealth History. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

“Essential Background.” Essential Background. UNFCCC. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag. Climate Governance in the Developing World. Print.

“Kyoto Protocol.” Kyoto Protocol. Sendeco2. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

“Kyoto Protocol.” UNFCCC. UNFCCC. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Reynolds, Paul. “Kyoto: Why Did the US Pull Out?” BBC News. BBC, 30 Mar. 2001. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

China's energy intensity has decreased since 1990
China’s energy intensity has decreased since 1990


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.

[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.

[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.