Climate Change: Universal Accountability with No Universal Solution in Sight –Anthony DeSantis

It is increasingly difficult to escape blame for climate change. Culpability lies in the land we allocate to urban development, in cars we drive, and even in many of the manufactured goods we enjoy. Culpability is also not specific to the developed world. China and India do not trail so far behind the U.S. and the EU in the share of global emissions toxic to the environment. We must recognize that climate change is something to which many-if-not-most people around the globe are contributing. However, as scholars like David Victor have pointed out without tire, universal “solutions” drawn up through the conventional international institutions are unable to provide us with sufficient climate governance. Instead, a looser framework relatively lacking in universality and binding institutions seems more likely to succeed in reducing the risk calculus for world-wide, climate change-induced disaster.

Victor finds fault in the demand, supply, and organization of cooperation on good climate governance. For him, this translates into diverging interests, into incorrectly-played numbers games with regard to the number of states party to such governance attempts, and into attention mistakenly given to creating binding international law for the purpose of wide-sweeping success. Realism is not new to our discussion on global governance. Along that line of thinking, states will agree to cooperate with each other when they “have promised to do what they would have done anyway.” When there is little to cooperate on, say the example of Russia having a vested interest in its climate warming for the purpose of increased agricultural output, it should come as no surprise that such cooperation is not delivered. Beyond the factors limiting shared demand for a multilateral approach to climate change, Victor notes that agreements with large scope have large “costs include[ing] notably, the complexity of negotiating package deals among countries whose interests are highly diverse. Complexity probably rises exponentially with membership because each new member creates new nodes in a network of relationships (and thus complications).” And furthermore, as the U.S. clearly demonstrated with regard to the Kyoto Protocol, vast commitments to international law on an issue as controversial as climate change essentially “scare” domestic actors into pulling their state out of agreements entirely, whereas the world could probably have stood to gain by a partial commitment on the part of the U.S.

Given these notions, we must strive toward an approach targeted at succeeding where we have previously failed. Victor pushes for “club of a small number of important countries” that cannot work through the traditional United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I personally believe a great deal in this approach. Chinese and Indian refusals to give up their emissions as they seek to develop on the one hand, the aversion of domestic U.S. politics to making concessions that are not in accordance with its interests (or with the popular opinion of constituents) on the other, new ideas on how to foster climate governance cooperation should be welcomed. The sensational appeal of Joshua Tucker’s article in the Post which argues that we must essentially learn to think of the “grandchildren” in our cost-benefit analyses makes sense. That said, it is the critical, change-driven work of those willing to renovate the mechanisms of governance that will prevail. If that  interest in a better life for our grandchildren can be framed as beneficial to us in the here and now, and if that interest can be framed as attainable through institutions that do not alter the sway of sovereignty at work in domestic politics, it seems to be me that we will finally be on the path toward more effective global climate governance.


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