UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL POLITICS OF THE ENVIRONMENT (ENVS 525) Student Id: 201523674 Word Count: 2616 Discuss, using examples of international environmental agreements and the key principles of international environment law, why despite the almost universal acceptance of ‘common concern’ effective and meaningful global action is limited. Out of the 8 million species that inhabit the earth, Humans have had the greatest impact on the planet earth (UNEP 2011). And while human activity over thousands of years has impinged earth systems in deep rooted ways. However, over the last century, unparalleled human activities have had a palpable impact- there have been changes in sea level and global climate, acceleration of erosion and unusual movement of species across the planet unlike anything witnessed before (University of Leicester 2016). Scientists believe that we have officially entered the geological epoch of the Anthropocene in which the earth systems are significantly impacted by human activities. These changes in the earth’s systems have been accompanied by some major events in the socio-economic front as well. The use and abuse of natural resources has worsened with massive increase in water and energy use due to increase in population and changes in lifestyle. Another peculiar factor about this phenomena is what American planetary scientist David Grinspoon (2016) terms as self- conscious global change. Meaning that there is now a widespread awareness of the seriousness of environmental problems and their link with human activities although only a few grasp the complexities of the causes and effects of these issues. Due to the complex nature of environmental problems such as climate change, it has come to be understood that these are ‘political problems’. The nature of these problems is such that despite common concern, meaningful action is limited. There is contention regarding the nature, seriousness and relevance of these problems. Who takes action and what course of action to take are highly debated. In general, the contested nature of the problem, the involvement of various actors such as the state, civil society, scientists and markets add to the complexity of environmental problems. Stevenson (2018) notes how it takes a long time for political actors to recognise the seriousness of a problem and even longer to plan actions to address them. Furthermore, due to partial, delayed or sometimes abandonment, implementation fails and policies fail. However, policies continue to be made at the global, national and local level, and various actors are highly invested in mitigating or adapting to environmental problems. This paper looks at how at the global level efforts are formed and how they play out, in the context of global environmental politics. The North South divide One of the major factors that has played a major role in influencing the course of action and implementation is the North South divide. With developed countries of the Global North and underdeveloped countries of the Global South being at different developmental paths, and having immensely varied impact on the environment, a common plan of action has always been a point of contention. While preparing for the Stockholm Conference, developing countries showed reservations and threatened to boycott the conference. They feared for their economic development which could be impacted by the international environmental agenda. To address this concern, the Founex Report was commissioned. This report differentiated between the environmental problems of developed and developing countries. While nations of the Global North faced problems of industrial pollution, developing nations faced scarcity of clean water, sanitation, housing, nutrition, occurrence of diseases and natural disasters- problems that threatened the lives of their citizens. The report noted that the concerns of the developed countries were reflected in the ‘human environment issues’ of the time rather than any concerns of the developing nations. The concept of development was sought to be made more central to human environmental concerns and especially in the context of the Stockholm conference. It stated that development itself was the solution to the issues faced by developing countries. However, bringing together development plans and environmental conservation would not be without costs. Developed nations would have to play their part in ensuring their efforts for conservation would not impose further cost on developing countries. By bringing development to the centrestage, the conference attracted many poorer countries to participate. The conference recognised the differences between environmental problems that developed and developing nations faced and stated the importance of the movement of adequate financial and technological assistance to developing countries from developed nations. Global political climate Environmental multilateralism is affected by various factors such as geopolitical tensions, international mood and major world events (Stevenson, 2018). US politics has always had an important influence over global environmental governance. As George W Bush became president, environmental multilateralism weakened as he held a belligerent stance on international cooperation (Dietrich, 2015). In terms of environmental cooperation, US interest has been declining since the mid 1990s. During President Clinton’s tenure, while US diplomats continued to participate internationally for the negotiation of MEA’s, their view often clashed with that of the Congress. And often, the negotiations happened only at the international level and no action was taken at the domestic level. The position of US as pertaining to environmental conservation further declined with the republican administration of Bush Jr. he announced his intention to withdraw US from the Kyoto protocol just a few months after coming to office. The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and subsequent terror events realigned the international agenda as focus moved away from environmental concerns. In 2009, as Obama came into power with the democratic party, there was hope that the US would pave the way for effective environmental policy and cooperation as cutting domestic GHG emissions and global cooperation on climate change were oft mentioned in Obama’s campaigning (Broder 2008; Revkin et al. 2008). However, with Donald Trump’s presidency, any effort previously made was pulled apart. At present, the COVID-19 pandemic has once again overshadowed the environmental agenda as personal protection equipment and surgical masks have become key to survival but also add to non-biodegradable waste. International Law Many have questioned the efficacy of international law as regardless of several multilateral developments throughout the 20th century, the state remains the highest authority. Nevertheless, when it comes to international agreements, the strength can be distinguished in terms of soft laws and hard laws. Resolutions, guidelines, declarations, action plans and roadmaps that are drafted in meetings with state representatives are soft laws. These texts are not legally binding and are voluntary, however there can be political consequences if states fail to comply. Hard law on the other hand like treaties are legally binding obligations. The process of producing a treaty is recognised as a law-making process by states. For instance, in the US, the president can sign a conference declaration without any special procedure, but for a treaty, approval from two-thirds of the country’s senators is required before it can be ratified. The global scenario of environmental action has become even more complex as in the recent decades, the participation of non-state actors has become noticeable. The role of non governmental organisations and business as important pressure groups is now being recognised at the global level as states themselves share power with these actors. These more informal connections have also tried to forge their own systems, standards and goals towards bringing change in environmental policy making and implementation. Climate Change and global environmental politics Climate change has perhaps been one of the most contested environmental concerns of today. Be it the nature, the magnitude or ways to tackle it, climate change has been a highly debated phenomena. There have been disagreements within the scientific community itself. For instance, in the late 2000s, the aspirational numerical target for global climate change policy was 350 ppm. However, 400 ppm or even 450 ppm has been accepted as a more feasible target by diplomats. This reflects what is politically possible and what is socially desirable. Some others have debated about a temperature target being more meaningful rather than an atmospheric concentration target. Each target, each number, has a different consequence and a different risk and none could be called as ‘objectively’ correct. Due to this convoluted nature of climate change, some scholars call it a ‘wicked’ policy problem. A wicked problem is one which is hard to diagnose or apply a straightforward solution to (Stevenson 2018). Economic and cultural systems as of now require the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change requires urgent action- the longer we take to mitigate emissions, the worse their impact becomes and it becomes costlier to mitigate or even adapt. Climate change is defined by several stakeholders in their own ways and their responses are according to their own interpretations and vested interests. Hence, the ‘solutions’ proposed may not be the most effective. International negotiations have also been fraught with challenges as noted in the next section on the UNFCCC. Responding to a wicked problem at an international level- UNFCCC During 1991 and 1992, in 16 months the UNFCCC was negotiated. The notion that the industrialized countries should bear responsibility and leadership wasn’t disputed. But the parties (states) differed on how to designate ‘developed’ and ‘developing’. Some countries simply wanted to list them in each category while others based on per capita threshold. Towards the end, the came up with three categories concluding that not all developed countries are the same: The most prosperous countries were under Annex l; ‘Economies in transition’ were defined as Annex ll countries (Europe’s post-communist countries) and the rest were defined as non-Annex l countries. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was established in the convention. Most industrialised countries accepted ‘taking the lead’ by reducing domestic emissions. The US, on the other hand, resisted it stating that it was too rigid and did not consider the county’s unique circumstances. The oil-producing states supported the US in pushing for a convention based on more general national programs and strategies. A compromised approach of ‘pledge and review’ was put forward by Japan, where states would pledge to limit GHG emissions by strategies which would later be assessed by an expert panel (Bodansky, 1993: 486). Towards the end, mostly qualitative commitments such as compiling national emission inventories, national strategies, and reporting were listed. In Article 4.2, A fairly loose collective target was agreed upon which instructed industrialized countries to adopt and report on national policies 'to return individually or jointly to their 1990 (GHG) levels' (UNFCCC, 1992). It was the first step forward to a more detailed multilateral agreement. It went into force in 1994, and the negotiations began on what would be called the Kyoto Protocol. The US and Germany both shared the idea of ‘more advanced developing countries’ to restrict emission growth from China, Brazil and South Korea. This united the developing countries with the argument that wealthy countries should show leadership as they were the ones who created the climate change threat. But the Kyoto Protocol pushed them to increase strong action. By mid-1990s the negotiations focused on efficiently reducing global emissions without interrupting economic growth. This gave way to the idea of flexible mechanisms. It facilitated action in developing countries and minimized the cost of meeting targets in industrialized countries. The developed countries invested in GHG mitigation in lesser developed countries or buy emission credits through a trading system. In the Kyoto Protocol, three market-based mechanisms were agreed: Emission trading (buying and selling of emission permits), Joint Implementation (claiming credit by investing in reduction projects in other countries), Clean Development Mechanism (claim emission credits by investing in projects should contribute to sustainable development in developing countries). Together they are called global ‘carbon market’. It's irrelevant to rely on a carbon market at a precise location, mitigation can be pursued if it is cheaper to reduce emissions in some countries. Wealthy economies which are fossil fuel-intensive, need to decarbonize their economies but carbon markets do not emphasise on this process making a false impression of countries becoming sustainable. Nevertheless, A global reduction target of 5% below 1990 levels was agreed by the parties by 2012. -8% for rich European countries, -7% for the US and zero growth for Russia (UNFCCC, 2017). Developing countries had to participate in the carbon market and manage their emissions but all this wasn’t enough to make the Kyoto Protocol successful. Countries found the task of reducing GHG emissions too expensive and difficult. The US withdrew in 2001, Canada was unable to reach target and Russia and Japan did not sign new targets. In 2012, the Kyoto Protocol ended. The UN’s climate change regime and responsibility of mitigating climate change were questioned. When GHG emissions from China began to eclipse those of rich nations, it was unrealistic to exempt them from emission reduction commitments. But wealthy nations had failed to limit their emissions and technological and financial commitments under UNFCC and Agenda 21. Plus the per capita emissions in developing countries was much lesser than that of developed nations. In 2009, at the Copenhagen climate summit nations were unable to reach an agreement on mitigation, finance, adaptation and technology. Rule of consensus and expectation of universal participation in multilateral negotiations were the two roadblocks. The US gathered with Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa (BRICS) for their interests. The European countries were annoyed by this and argued that this would endanger the environment and missions of people (Stevenson, 2014). The consensus remained the only way of making decisions as parties in UNFCC never agreed on formal rules of procedure (Yamin and Depledge, 2004: 432–3). The ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was a frail piece of soft law inefficient in delivering effective action on climate change. After six years, in 2015, the Paris Agreement was introduced. Political ambition and trust in the UN were rebuilt with China and the US leadership (40% of GHG emissions). It was welcomed as US leadership had adversely affected climate change negotiations and China made comparable commitments. All 188 countries that were producing 95% of global emissions were there (Ivanova 2016: 414). The 5% emission reduction target and individual targets for developed states within that limit under Kyoto was replaced by ‘pledge and review’ model. States could now pledge their own goals and be reviewed by a UN committee. This did not allocate countries into developed and developing countries but still refers to them as such. Developing countries should gradually make mitigation efforts to reduce emissions and developed countries should reduce GHG emissions. After coming to force on 4th November 2016, states were asked to give in plans for climate change which would be reviewed every 5 years by UN expert panel. But it didn’t have any legal obligation to execute the pledge and no penalising if it was broken (Falkner, 2016). It aims to restrict global temperature increase to 2 C above pre-industrial levels and points to the 1.5 target worth going for (UNFCCC 2015a). But the flexible nature and the bottom-up approach makes it impossible to ensure that the goals can be achieved. It depicts a new chapter in the global climate regime. Widening the responsibility to states and non-state actors and actions being taken out of the UN system. The nature of environmental multilateralism, the priorities of participating member countries, geopolitics, major world events, and the political economy of addressing environmental issues as discussed above have meant that despite common concern, effective and meaningful action is limited. References 1. Bodansky, D. 1993. ‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:A Commentary’, Yale Journal of International Law 18: 453–558. 2. Broder, J.M. 2008. ‘Obama Affirms Climate Change Goals’, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/us/politics/19climate.html?_r=0. Last accessed 7 December 2016. 3. Dietrich, J.W. 2015. The George W. Bush Foreign Policy Reader: Presidential Speeches with Commentary. Abingdon: Routledge. 4. Grinspoon, D. 2016. ‘Welcome to Terra Sapiens’, Aeon, 20 December, https://aeon.co/essays/enter-the-sapiezoic-a-new-aeon-of-self-aware-globalchange. Last accessed21 December 2016. 5. 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