The state of climate governance

General scientific consensus, and the majority of scientific studies now seem to prove, with little doubt, that anthropogenic factors such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and the continued release of industrial chemicals into our environment are rapidly heating the earth to temperatures that have not previously been experienced in global history [Johansen 2002]. As a result of these changes the issue of climate change, and associated global warming, is fast becoming one of the greatest challenges the human race has faced - socially, economically and environmentally. This has also highlighted a growing need for an effective way to ensure that actions are taken to reduce greenhouse gases on a global scale, and the implementation of international agreements and protocols is an issue that continues to divide both public and political opinion [Pickering and Owen 1997]. This sort of long-term warming has implications for not only our global environment, but also to our global economy. This has led many to argue that climate change is now 'one of the most challenging scientific and political issues of our time' [Bulkeley and Bestill 2003].

At the Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009 the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was to negotiate and establish an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol and lay down obligations to reduce Greenhouse-gas emissions for the time after 2012. As many have observed, this accord fell well short of the goals outlined two years ago in Indonesia, as no legally binding treaty could be agreed upon. Instead the 25 nations in attendance came up with the 'Copenhagen Accord', which outlines a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions on a global scale, in order to ensure that global temperatures do not rise more than 2C. It is hoped that this can be achieved by an increase in the funding for adaptation and mitigation measures by developed nations and for an increased level of responsibility on the part of the larger developing countries, who have been encouraged to submit their own schedules for these reductions, in a way that they deem to be 'nationally appropriate' in the context of their countries 'sustainable development' [Bodansky 2010].

Since the apparent failure of Copenhagen to deliver a formal and legally binding agreement to the regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions, many have questioned as to whether a global and basically universal framework is ill suited to an issue so vast and complex and whether more regional and localised initiatives would be more useful. There are also those who question as to whether we should now be presenting both developed and developing countries the same targets and limitations, and whether the idea of an internationally agreed measure of ecological debt would be fairer by helping to clarify the those nations that are guilty of a higher contribution towards greenhouse emissions and the associated enforced human vulnerabilities [Mukhopadhyay 2009]. The major problem with agreements such as the Copenhagen Accord is that the issue of climate change cannot be resolved with the will of just a handful of nations. International consensus will always be needed in order to move forward effectively, and that is why international protocol is required to ensure that the issue of climate change is dealt with on a global level. Many of the world's developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia, are some of those with the highest levels of greenhouse emissions. There argument is that they are somewhat reluctant to treat climate change as a priority considering the array of, what they consider to be, far more urgent development problems of their own. These developing nations also contend that those countries generally considered to be the 'rich' developed nations have, historically, been responsible for 70% greenhouse-gas emissions, and yet 70% of the effects of these emissions are seen in the developing world. Here we have an inverse relationship between cause and effect: whereby those that have been guilty of emitting most emissions historically are not those feeling the effects [Mukhopadhyay 2009].

Accords, such as that seen in Copenhagen do, perhaps have a tendency to overlook plans to reduce carbon emissions, and amend the legislative framework that continues to favour the fossil fuel industries. In asking those developing countries to reduce their carbon footprints, the developed nations continue in neglecting to provide the resources to do this. Renewable energy technologies continue to be overlooked in favour of traditional fossil-fuel energy sources, even in the developing African nations where currently, a lack of consumer access to the renewable energy sources means that Africa is faced with the paradox of experiencing a shortage of energy despite and abundance of energy sources [Painuly 2002].

It has become increasingly clear that many nation states will not be able to meet previously agreed commitments for addressing climate change without more explicate engagement with sub-national action [Betsill and Buckeley 2006]. The big question is whether the Copenhagen Accord will change these patterns. Although the Copenhagen Accord is a political rather than a legal instrument and has been criticized by some as inadequate or worse, it represents a potentially significant breakthrough [Bondansky 2010]. Perhaps the biggest achievement of the Copenhagan Accord is that, while the multilateral UN process is damaged, multilevel governance comprising regional, national and local climate policies worldwide is steadily gaining speed. The challenge to the academic community is to develop a composite measure of multilevel governance that captures aggregate public and non-state policy initiatives at various levels [Dimitroc 2010]. If the participating states actually carry through on what they negotiated in Copenhagen, the "bottom up" architecture of the Accord could help encourage and reinforce national actions [Bodansky 2010].

In asking whether these types of international agreements are 'needed', we need to avoid over simplifying the issues at hand, and the influence that these accords and protocols have. Stimulation of international debate raises awareness of climate change issues, consensus and agreements precipitate more action at local and regional levels, and more importantly summits such as that in Copenhagen, at least show an international commitment to the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, even if this commitment is not legally binding.


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