Human Appeal Needed For Next Climate Change Treaty—Alice Huntoon

The three articles discussing climate change all point out that time is running short to address it. There is an underlying recognition of human nature and what it will take to motivate countries, who act like people, to start working on the problem of climate change with greater effort. All three articles argue that there has to be more of a human appeal rather than just scientific evidence and threat of enforcement to induce cooperation on climate change.

Joshua Tucker’s article, “The Fundamental *Political* Challenge of Climate Change”, points out the potential future crisis in that there will be a reduction in the world’s food supply due to climate change’s effect on agriculture at the same time there will be an increase in the demand for food due to the world’s population growth. This predicted future dilemma is from a recently leaked report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Basically the crisis can be diminished if strict policies (that will be costly) for emission cuts are enacted now. Human nature is such that people don’t want to pay or be penalized by paying for something today that they will never directly benefit from in the future. Tucker also points out the political difficulty in this as well. In democracies, old people vote more than youth, and are humanly selfish,no matter how much you can invoke the image of their grandchildren living in a dire world filled with food shortages and natural disasters. The impediments to establishing a more robust international institution to deal with climate change have been the internationally oriented demands that climate change treaties should follow other subject’s, past treaties’ framework requirements that bind all participants with negative consequences and some form of enforcement. The authors point out that cooperation is actually easier when commitments are not formally binding.

David Victor and David Shorr both point out in their articles, “Toward Effective International Cooperation on Climate Change: Numbers, Interests and Institutions” and “Think Again: Climate Change”, that the problem with past international agreements is that they get watered down to the “lowest common denominator”, or the country that is the weakest link in its commitment. Victor’s explanation of Underdal’s “Law of the Least Ambitious Program” is a bit cynical, but realistic. Both Victor and Shorr point out that the past approach to climate change agreements where there had to be global cooperation with the majority of countries participating and signing a binding agreement led more to failure than success.

As it is still in not all countries interest to fight climate change together, as much as the environmentalists would like to think so. Both Shorr and Victor suggest a path of “Just Do It” in that each country can still contribute something even marginally to start dealing with the impending crisis. As Victor points out, the top six carbon emitters in the order of amount of emissions, (US, EU, China, Russia, Japan, India) collectively produce 64% of the world’s emissions of C02. The top dozen carbon emitters (six more countries added to the previous six) are responsible for 74% of the world’s C02 emissions.  Participation by just these countries is what is critical at this point, the rest of the world can join in later, especially after they see the big six having some success, even locally with internal climate change defense policies.

The Kyoto Protocol failed because China and India were let off the hook and the US’s resulting withdrawal. However Shorr points out China and India are changing with their rapidly increasing pollution and are willing to participate more on climate change, and can be brought in with incremental steps of locally demanded change without prohibitive national expense and international condemnation.

Both Shorr and Victor point out that countries can find ways to help combat climate change locally with ‘non binding institutions’, and have small success that will lead them to participating in international forums on climate change once they have gone through the behavior of dealing with the problem domestically. A small success will motivate them to participate more, as they will have gone through the process of working through a climate change condition at a smaller level. Voluntary participation in international climate change conferences is ok. Shorr and Victor also say that the next treaty on climate change to be negotiated in 2015, as the Kyoto protocol is about to expire, can point better out what success looks like for each country, clarify how measurements are done, be satisfied with voluntary reporting (for at least the country is participating), and start with non-binding agreements that will build later to a binding, universal agreement. Shorr succinctly states, “an agreement that is animated by the progressive development of norms and expectations rather than by the hard edge of law, compliance, and penalty has a much better chance of working.”


One thought on “Human Appeal Needed For Next Climate Change Treaty—Alice Huntoon”

  1. The Author’s seem to have mixed opinions of how to deal with the issue of getting countries around the world to cooperate with a global warming initiative. They discuss the fact that the mental image of future generations suffering from the choices we make today is not motivating today’s voters and governments to fight for the environment over the issues that confront them today. This follows human nature, as the authors say, our survival comes before that of others. The problem they really need to discuss is how to we come up with a way to change their priorities. Philosophers for centuries have been trying to understand human nature and how it is possible to change it. But today this is not a question to ponder for our own interests, it needs to be answered in order to save our environment and, down the road, ourselves. We need to be able to find a method of informing not only the public, but our governments about our concerns over the environment.


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