Climate Change’s Super Hero Power is the Ability of Interpretation

phone interpretacion



Everyone can interpret a sentence differently whether it’s in a poem, textbook, short story or even a UNFCCC article.  Although the UNFCCC report’s tone was concise and scientific, I was still able to create three different interpretations from the same two sentences.  The sentences contained both understandable ideas and contested elements, which could result in Parties having conflicting opinions about the same passage.

The overall message from the passage is that the needs of the climate system should be addressed if we want it to survive for the future generations to come.  If we use up earth’s resources and suck out all of its natural beauty, what will be left to benefit our future generations?  Another clear idea is that countries that have contributed the most to climate change should be held the most responsible for finding a solution to climate change’s issues.

There are specific words and phrases that are vague and within the context could be interpreted very differently. One contestable phrase is “respective capabilities” for each country could argue it is not capable of handling the major issue of climate change in addition to the country’s own domestic and international issues. Another main implication from this passage is that is calls for “developed countries to take the lead in combating climate change”, but it should be a collective effort when fighting climate change and its effects.  If the developed countries take the lead, they have the ability to manipulate the ways in which climate change will be combated and by whom.  Developed nations have contributed the most to climate change and should be the main compensators, but the role of developing countries should not be underestimated.  This phrase affirmed the tone for climate change negotiations and simultaneously gave developed nations control.

In addition, referring to countries as “developing” seems disrespectful and creates a hierarchy, causing commonalities and differences between developed, and developing countries.  Another word that I found to be problematic was “protect” because the context allows for free interpretation. It is not specified what the parties need to “protect” climate systems from, however, it most likely pertains to the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions  Furthermore, the language barrier could result in varying interpretations because there are English words that don’t exist in another language or that do not translate with the intended meaning. Overall, it is evident that interpretation is something to be cautious of when dealing with climate change



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.


Who put the “real” in realist?

The UNFCCC official seal
The UNFCCC official seal

By Elizabeth Plascencia

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[1] 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” [2] 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.


[1] 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).

[2] 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).


Works Cited:

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.


Hobbes vs. Rousseau: The State of Nature


Philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a pessimistic view of mankind; he argued that humans are naturally self-centered. On the other hand, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau takes a more opportunistic approach and argues that humans are innately good and it is civilization that is destructive. What does this have to do with climate change? Hobbes would say that the greedy nature of mankind drives us to deplete our natural resources. Whereas Rousseau would say that capitalism is the root of evil! So which philosopher should we take after? Will changing the greedy systems within society put an end to global warming or will other issues arise? Or do we change humankind to be less self-centered?

Climate change has a global effect regardless of which countries are contributing or emit the most greenhouse gases. Historically, changes in the environment were not of a geopolitical concern until changes in the natural weather patterns were discovered. Since then, climate change has been a topic of international politics. The consequences of climate change are going to affect each region of the world differently. When these issues arise there becomes a more important question of who takes responsibility, who pays for action, and who bears the cost all without furthering inequalities between nations. Climate change has the ability to widen the inequality gap between nations, especially developing nations who are the most susceptible to the adverse effects of global warming. Action on climate change has mostly been focused on the industrialized world, for example the UNFCCC states developed countries should take initiative towards climate change, but should developing countries be allowed to continue to emit greenhouse gases in order to gain a higher socioeconomic status?

As a globe, we share the environment therefore there should be a global effort at cooperation. There are different approaches to international regime such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Realism is driven by self-interest and power, comparably a Thomas Hobbes perspective. According to Dr. Russell Bova, “For realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history.” (Bova 249-250) The liberalist approach involved a more mutual understanding of sharing the costs and interests, advocated by Rousseau. Constructivism is a knowledge-based approach that analyzes climate change at a social level. If we take the liberalist approach then we must question societal structures that create this constant competition for power and wealth. In a world without forces of competition we could reduce our emissions and potentially live in a better world. In order to fight against climate change, we, as a global community, must take a more selfless approach and start making sacrifices because we are in this  together. Dealing with global climate change is essentially a problem of cooperation and solving issues of interest and power. We must all be allies and prevent global warming from turning into world war III.      iStock_000019699158XSmall

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.

US: political agreement, not a legally binding treaty

The New York Times reported yesterday that President Obama is seeking an international agreement that would be based on voluntary pledges that would not be legally binding (Obama seeking climate accord in lieu of treaty, Aug 26, 2014). This is a critical question for the UN climate negotiations that we will attend in Lima in December, and one that we will discuss during the semester. Many Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) take the view that, for international efforts to be effective at preventing ‘dangerous’ climate change, nations must make commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are legally binding — similar to the approach embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, but with more stringent commitments that would apply to all major emitters of GHGs, if not all nations. Other Parties have promoted a different approach in which nations make pledges to take action on climate change. The US is an important proponent of this approach, and has been for some time. Under this alternative approach, each Party would, within some agreed parameters, decide the form and stringency of its pledge. This approach is embodied in the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements of the UNFCCC. Enforcement would not be through international legal channels, but through political pressure brought to bear by other nations, and a desire on a national government to create or maintain a reputation of being true to its word. The Obama administration has referred to this as “name and shame.”

Later this semester we will read a paper by Daniel Bodansky of the University of Arizona that compares these two approaches, and recommends that Parties to the UNFCCC draw on both in seeking a way forward. See his paper The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement, from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

When you read the NY Times article, also read some of the comments. You’ll see that the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ have been effective at seeding confusion and misinformation about climate science.