Last year I attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (CoP) for the first time. It was an experience in dichotomies. The events on the periphery (side events) were energetic and forward-oriented. Al Gore did his thing updated with a little Greta Thunberg-esque ferocity, and presentations at country pavilions highlighted a ranging of exciting developments from new advances in wind turbine design to a novel way to visualize national and city level carbon emissions. The events involving the member parties to the UNFCCC were closed to observers (this was not always the case) but were, as we now know, largely a failure. The indications of the pending collapse of the talks were not difficult to discern. At a plenary updating participants and observers on the progress of various negotiations, the president of the CoP called for the participants to be ambitious at least half a dozen times—a clear indication that the negotiations between the UNFCCC parties were anything but. The reports from the various working groups almost uniformly reported limited progress and what we now know was a fruitless search for ‘landing pads’. The negotiations were mired in differences, petty and otherwise.
It seems like good times have come around again for realists. After decades in the theoretical and empirical doldrums (getting end of Cold War wrong, opposition to war in Iraq, terrorism and COIN) realism is back. The most recent U.S. National Defense Strategy renews a focus on great power competition, specifically with China and Russia. The Pentagon has offloaded MRAPs and is stocking up on boost phase interceptors, hypersonics, and other weapons platforms not all that useful against insurgents but great for peer competitors. Oh, happy days for the balance of power!
Dillon Tatum had an interesting post here last week, calling for a “radical” international relations. As Tatum notes, “radicalism intervenes in the political domain with the goal of fundamental transformation” and IR could function similarly.
What would that look like? I think many would imagine a radical IR as radical in its approaches and methods. That is, scholars would critically examine biases and assumptions, uncover power structures and erase them. In this envisioning of critical IR, conventional methods—quantitative analyses, positivist qualitative studies—are part of the problem. They limit the questions we ask and the type of answers we accept as valid.
But is this really the case? Must IR reshape itself to push back on the common wisdom and make the world a better place? I’m not sure. Looking at music, Frank Zappa was certainly radical, in both approach and implication. But Brian Wilson, while adhering to standard pop sensibilities, used the “rules” to produce music with far-reaching, shockingly radical implications. Maybe it could be the same with IR.
This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Robert Y. Shum, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at The College at Brockport, State University of New York (SUNY).
Does the Paris Agreement, and the likely withdrawal therefrom by the Trump administration, matter? On the surface, the current situation is not so different from George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Probing deeper, however, important differences come to the fore. Many independent observers saw the Kyoto Protocol as fundamentally flawed in its lack of obligations applying to developing countries, including China and India. In contrast, an understanding between China and the United States lay at the center of the Paris Agreement.
Critics of the Paris approach to internationally-negotiated national emissions targets nonetheless argue that its effectiveness is limited compared to that of policies made at and by domestic institutions, regardless of the Parisian promise to broaden participation at the international level so as to include developing-country emitters. With the prospect that US participation in the international climate regime will be reduced under a Trump administration, the question regarding the value of participation in international agreements now shifts to the effect of US (non-)participation on the global climate regime. Minimizing this effect has become a source of hope and optimism. Thus, ironically, following Trump’s election, the critical view of Paris takes on a new function as both consolation for environmentalists and apologia for skeptics.
Last week, at the invitation of colleagues in the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy I participated on a panel discussing the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the resulting Paris Agreement. My comments focused on thinking about the nature of success in international negotiations over climate change.
In a number of ways, if we go by the standard of previous environmental pollution treaties the Paris Agreement does not look like a notable success, hedging as it does in terms of a binding commitment on the part of the signatories. Continue reading
Late last month the New York Times ran an interesting piece about the power of language and climate change. Central to the story is the concept of a carbon budget. On its face, the concept is simple. Drawing on complex models of the atmospheric and energy effects of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases, climate scientists have proposed a global carbon budget: the amount of carbon dioxide (or, we should add, the equivalent in other gases which can be far more potent) that can be emitted into the atmosphere without breaking the two degree Celsius mark. Turns out the numbers are not pleasant (like just about everything else with respect to climate change). In the latest IPCC report (the fifth, 2013), climate modelers estimate that humans have a total carbon budget of about 800 billion tons, of which humans have used about 530 billion tons, which means we only have 270 billion tons left. Given the average emissions rate of 10 billion tons a year, looks like humans and the rest of the planet have a little less than 30 years left, and that assumes that carbon emissions stay constant. If they grow, of course, the time shrinks. Continue reading
Last fall, I wrote about how the U.S. government was insisting that any climate mitigation commitments agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate negotiations be non-binding political pledges. I argued that was appropriate because the high bar for treaty ratification in the U.S. Senate made legally binding commitments unlikely.
This kind of soft “pledge and review” approach to climate change first emerged at the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations, often derided by observers as an unsuccessful meeting. Quite the contrary, as I argued in a 2010 piece for the Council on Foreign Relations, Copenhagen actually set the stage for main emitters finally to make more credible commitments to take action. This is the tenor of a number of recent articles and interviews with David Victor, Andrew Revkin, Eric Voeten, among others. One thing that all these authors underscore is the importance of domestic politics going forward. Recent experiences in Australia, South Korea, and Brazil, as well as the United States, all demonstrate the fragility of domestic climate policies. Continue reading
The annual climate negotiations are wrapping up in Lima, Peru tonight or likely tomorrow. Negotiators are working through the night in overtime as they seek to hammer out a blueprint that will serve as the negotiating template for next year. This is the meeting before next year’s big meeting in Paris when expectations are high for a new climate agreement that will establish the targets and actions countries are willing to make for the 2020 period and beyond. So, what’s going on? What’s at stake? What are the key outcomes? Points of dissensus and consensus? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Here is one live negotiation tracker and what I believe is the proposed text that the chair proposed just as I went to bed.
In the lead up to the APEC summit about to start this week in Beijing, China’s leadership undertook a series of emergency measures to avoid the continued embarrassment of a string of poor air quality days that had bedeviled the country over the previous year. The government reinstated the familiar practice of restricting car travel to certain days of the week based on license plate numbers. Government workers and schools were closed for an “APEC holiday” to reduce traffic. Factories have been ordered to shut down during the summit. Interestingly, those plans seemingly backfired as companies anticipated the later forced work stoppages by working overtime in advance of the later down hours they would be offline during the summit.
Thus, in October when Beijing often enjoys clear skies and cool weather, the city was cloaked in a devastating haze. Some of the world’s best soccer players from Argentina and Brazil were in town for a friendly, only to be confined to their hotel rooms for most of their visit, save for training sessions that left them gasping for breath. Later in the month, photos (see above) captured the spectacle of the Beijing Marathon being run amidst this foul air, with many participants clad in elaborate gas masks as they ran the course. Of course, while foreign visitors are exposed to this pollution during short stays, this is the air quality the people of China experience all the time. A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) concluded that seventy percent of the country’s population live in areas that exceed air pollution levels recommended by the World Health Organization. That pollution was estimated to be responsible for 670,000 premature deaths in 2012 from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and pulmonary disease.
At this point, China’s bad air isn’t news (see my earlier posts here and here). However, China’s unfolding “war on pollution” is news and may ultimately improve both air quality and address climate change. Continue reading
As I mentioned in my previous post on climate and security, I went to Colorado College last week for two talks that Andrew Price-Smith organized. The second talk covered the theme of global climate governance (slides here). Last month, both Jennifer Hadden and I wrote about the People’s Climate March and the renewed optimism about possible international progress on climate change that accompanied the UN leaders meeting in New York.
I wanted to expand on the theme, not simply because of the talk in Colorado. The strategy for next year’s climate negotiations has been in the news of late. Just last week, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern laid out in a talk at Yale the potential U.S. strategy for next year’s 2015 Paris climate negotiations, emphasizing that only parts of the agreement should be legally binding. Elsewhere, UCSD’s David Victor argued that the 2 degrees Celsius target that negotiators previously embraced as the ceiling for warming is unrealistic and unworkable. Both are provocative and potentially helpful ideas. Here’s why.
It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.
By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading
This is a guest post from Jennifer Hadden, who is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. She guest blogged on the Duck before on global climate negotiations. She also has a forthcoming book from Cambridge on climate advocacy called Networks in Contention: The Divisive Politics of Climate Change.
The largest climate change demonstration in history took place on Sunday. According to organizers of the People’s Climate March, an estimated 400,000 people participated in the protest in New York. For comparison, the size of the march was comparable to the scale of the February 15 anti-war demonstration in 2003. The demonstration at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 mobilized about 100,000 people, but US demonstrations at that time generally mobilized fewer than 1,000 people. The People’s Climate March was also a transnational event: during the march a giant video screen outside Times Square projected images of demonstrations all over the world, totaling 2,808 events in 166 countries.
How does a protest on this scale come about? And what does it mean for the future of the global climate movement? Continue reading
On Tuesday September 23, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is hosting a meeting of world leaders to discuss the issue of climate change. The aim is to build pressure and support for action in advance of the climate negotiations to be held in Paris in late 2015. In advance of Tuesday’s climate meeting, activists are holding on Sunday, September 21st the People’s Climate March, what aims to be the largest march of its kind with a core march in New York and satellite marches in major cities around the world. The hashtag #Climate2014 is capturing much of the news about the upcoming meeting and marches.
While the news in other spheres has been rather dire of late, activists I’ve talked to are optimistic that 2014 and 2015 may be the most propitious time for successful climate action in years. With the worst of the financial crisis behind us, there may be scope for real commitments and concerted action. There are dark clouds of course: emissions reached an unprecedented high last year and some key leaders, notably those from China and India, are skipping Tuesday’s meeting, but there is also hope. In this set of links, I try to provide some context for the renewed sense of anticipation for this meeting and 2015. Continue reading
I hope she brought her SCUBA gear.
I just happened upon a Foreign Policy piece from May 6 of this year framing climate change as a ‘Clear and Present Danger’. To summarize, the author argues that Obama’s plans to address climate change are a political non-starter in the US: Republicans are generally more opposed to carbon control policy than ever and the public is out to lunch on the subject. The solution, according to the author, is to invoke national security and get the military—a key Republican constituency—talking about how much climate change imperils national security. As a scholar of international security who does research on climate change (in collaboration with Janelle Knox-Hayes), my interest was immediately piqued.
The IPCC released the Working Group III summary report for policymakers on Sunday. I wrote about the Working Group II report on impacts on The Monkey Cage. Working Group III covers climate mitigation, that is the challenges of reducing greenhouse gases. Tonight, I read through the report and tweeted my sense of the main findings in an 11 part series that I embed below. My short take: there is not nearly enough in the 33 page document on barriers to implementation and international cooperation. I’m really looking forward to the release of the longer chapters. In the meantime, I encourage interested readers to take a look at five sectoral reports from my research group on the Major Economies and Climate Change. Continue reading
International Politics Reviews is a new reviews journal bundled by Palgrave with International Politics. Michael J. Williams of Royal Holloway is the editor, and I’m an associate editor. I recently curated a recent roundtable exchange on Michael Levi’s book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future with contributions by me, Jesse Jenkins, Emily Meierding, regular Guest Duck Johannes Urpelainen, and a response from CFR’s Levi himself. Palgrave has granted us ungated access to the reviews (right here), which will be up for several months. I wanted to continue the conversation here on the Duck, and my fellow contributors may also weigh in. Continue reading
Following on my round of links on Thursday, this is a guest post from Jennifer Hadden from the University of Maryland who is in Warsaw at the global climate negotiations (follow her on Twitter here).
Yeb Saño, Climate Change Commissioner of the Philippines, opened the annual negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last week by making an emotional appeal to delegates to “stop the madness” and act decisively on climate change. As of Thursday evening, there have been two three walkouts by the G77/China on the issue of ‘loss and damage’ and a substantial and broad-based civil society walkout over the general lack of progress in the talks.
Skeptical observers might wonder if this is not just the usual COP drama. Are these meetings becoming nothing more than a symbolic opportunity for developing countries to air their grievances while developed countries listen politely (or in the Australian case, impolitely)? Don’t NGOs always behave theatrically in order to draw attention to themselves? Does anything even really happen at these meetings anymore? Continue reading
The annual climate negotiations are going on at the moment in Warsaw, Poland. For long-time observers of the process, they have a Groundhog Day-esque quality to them. Every year the same issues seem to come up again and again, and it’s unclear if there has been any meaningful progress or if each negotiation is more or less a replay of what transpired the previous year, with divisions between developed and developing countries almost always ever-present.
Rich countries aren’t doing enough while poor countries and environmental activists are demanding greater action because there is a climate crisis. Somehow, 10,000+ activists descending upon delegates of nearly 200 nations doesn’t seem to do much, yet the annual dance. This year is no different, though it is an interim meeting before a new and improved climate agreement with some legal form set to be negotiated in 2015. In the meantime, here is what’s going down this year…
At least since the Copenhagen summit of 2009, global climate negotiations have stalled. Both academic researchers and policy analysts have recently emphasized the need to develop innovative strategies to break the negotiation gridlock. One such argument is that if major emitters show ‘leadership’ by adopting ambitious national policies, they can build trust and move the negotiations forward. This argument was recently made in a joint report authored by Terry Townshend and Adam C.T. Matthews for the Climate & Development Knowledge Network and GLOBE International. They argue that “[n]ational climate change legislation is not just something that should underpin an international agreement after it has been reached, rather it is an enabler that creates the political space for a deal” based on an observed positive association between domestic legislation and climate policy positions.
There is an obvious flaw in this argument, given that both domestic legislation and climate policy positions could be driven by some third factor such as green public opinion or interest group pressure. However, the argument itself is worth considering. According to the report, domestic policy action could spill over to international climate negotiations and create a critical mass of key countries willing to commit to emissions reductions. The authors conjecture that ambitious national actions will ultimately prove popular and successful in their countries because they produce co-benefits such as improved energy security and energy efficiency, and this change allows national negotiators to engage in meaningful bargaining without crippling domestic constraints.
At the same time, domestic national actions can also undermine bargaining. David Victor argues in his recent book Global Warming Gridlock that if countries implement national policies that are unconditional, they give away their bargaining leverage. When the European Union chooses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions regardless of what other countries do, other major emitters have few incentives to negotiate with it. If Europe’s contribution to climate mitigation does not depend on what China and the United States do, the outcome could be that the latter two decide to free-ride on Europe’s actions.
Unfortunately, it is really hard to evaluate the balance of these two countervailing forces. This is ultimately an empirical question, and it is not as though there is a huge statistical database of past climate negotiations that one could build on. Evidence from other international treaties, such as the Montreal Protocol against ozone depletion, is also suspect because of differences in the context. The current debate is useful in that it characterizes the arguments and highlights the relationship between national action and international climate agreements, but I have serious reservations about declaring victory for any of the arguments based on the available evidence.