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Climate change is now a significant concern for almost every government, many major international organizations, industries of every variety, thousands of nongovernmental organizations and many millions of people around the world. Climate change has moved from being a minor scientific issue in international relations, national politics and human affairs to being, as we move through the 2020s, one of the most high-profile political issues globally. In short, climate change is now high politics. Governments have negotiated agreements to study climate change and to put in place policies that limit the greenhouse gas pollution that causes it. All of this has been driven to a great extent by climate science. However, despite the high profile of climate change and actions around the world to address it, the responses of countries and other actors, including businesses and individuals, have failed to keep up with the increasing pace of change. Special interests and climate denial have gotten in the way.
Collectively, developing countries are the source of one-third of the global pollution causing climate change. If one classifies China as a developing country, then all developing countries combined currently produce about two-thirds of global greenhouse gas pollution. Their emissions are on course to rise without far more effective governance measures. Thus, the future of climate governance, and indeed of the climate crisis, will very much depend on whether more attention is given to what is happening in developing countries. Vitally, many of these countries are the most vulnerable to climate change. For some of them, climate change is becoming an existential threat, as it certainly will be for millions, and potentially hundreds of millions, of their citizens. Developing countries are in precarious positions in the context of global climate governance. For a few economically emerging countries, such as India, their contribution to climate change is very substantial, but the least developed countries of the world, and many small and highly vulnerable island states are often hapless victims of a problem created almost entirely by others.
National politics will determine which interests are given priority in climate governance. More often than not, climate action never makes it to the top of the list of governments’ priorities, and at the very least that action is watered down. For most countries, climate governance is very largely a function of domestic political considerations. This chapter describes how the pathologies of national politics have manifested themselves in the United States and China. These two countries are examined in some detail here because they are the largest national sources of greenhouse gas pollution, together accounting for about 40 percent of the global total. These countries’ experiences tell us much of what we need to know about the pathologies of national politics and how those pathologies interact with the pathologies of international relations. They demonstrate the degree to which the pathologies of national politics have infected climate governance around the world. In both countries, there have been some efforts to govern climate change, but vastly less than what the science demands, and indeed far short of what other countries have demanded.
If the pathologies of international relations (described in Chapter 3), especially those that derive from the nature of the international system, are not remedied, effective international cooperation to address climate change much more effectively will be elusive. If the pathologies of national politics (described in Chapters 4–6), especially narrow and short-term conceptions by states of their interests, are not modified to better comprehend the collective interest in mitigating the climate crisis for the benefit of people around the world, other attempts to govern the problem will be insufficient. If pathologies of human nature (described in Chapter 7), particularly overconsumption, continue to manifest themselves in the developed countries and spread metastatically to the developing countries, greenhouse gas pollution will be extraordinarily difficult, and probably impossible, to bring down to the degree, and with the speed, that is needed to avoid or at least mitigate dangerous climate change. This chapter conducts some diagnoses of the pathologies and explores some potential therapies for climate governance.
This chapter explores the pathologies of human nature. It describes why human population matters for climate governance, especially insofar as it is associated with voluntary material consumption. Consumption almost invariably involves the direct or indirect use of energy, which globally still comes disproportionately from fossil fuels and thereby contributes to greenhouse gas pollution. This means that, while the size of the human population matters greatly for climate change, what matters even more is how many people are consuming more than necessary to meet their needs. This chapter also describes some of the individual, social and economic forces that stimulate people’s consumption behaviors. One of the contemporary pathologies of human nature is increasing materialism and overconsumption. Finally, the chapter highlights how the impact of human nature on climate change and its governance is being exacerbated enormously as more people around the world obtain the economic resources to consume much like people of the developed world. The globalization of consumption is a growing force that has made effective climate governance extraordinarily difficult.
This book is for readers who are frustrated with the chronically slow action by governments and other actors to stem climate-changing pollution and to deal effectively with its manifestations and future consequences. Much as a physician diagnosing a patient with multiple diseases would aim to treat the most life-threatening pathologies before moving on to lesser problems, the focus here is on the most important pathologies of climate governance – those that are vital to understanding and identifying therapies and remedies. (Much of climate governance up to now has focused on many significant but lesser pathologies.) A few of the remedies for climate governance that are proposed here may at first appear to border on the idealistic. However, they are practicable because they are premised on promoting the interests of the actors involved. They will not harm the interests of states or their citizens; to the contrary, they will promote their long-term security and well-being. Promotion of self-interest is not the only thing that motivates governments, corporations or individuals to do the right thing. But it helps.
A picture that emerges is one of national interests being perceived, for reasons arising almost exclusively from national politics, in ways that effectively discount the threat of climate change. Climate change has been on the national agenda for decades, but national politics has repeatedly prevented it from being interpreted as a vital national interest by most national governments. Most countries still perceive the risk of acting to address climate effectively as being a threat to their economies, or at least to powerful economic actors. This does not necessarily cause them to ignore climate change, but it does result, at best, in watered-down climate policies. A question is whether this picture of national politics reveals widespread pathologies of climate governance in developed countries. This chapter aims to start answering this question by looking at the governance of climate change in the European Union, Russia, Australia, Canada and Japan. This gives a picture of how pathologies of national politics influence climate governance globally. Climate change is perceived to be a national interest to the extent that national politics determine it to be so.
Earth's climate is in crisis. Climate governance has failed. This book diagnoses climate governance as if it were a sick patient, uncovering the fundamental factors causing the worsening climate crisis. It distils decades of global climate negotiations to reveal the features of international relations that are impeding climate action, and it identifies political obstacles to climate governance across a variety of countries in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The psychosocial aspects of climate change are explored to show how human nature, overconsumption, and global capitalism conspire to stymy climate action. Remedies are suggested for how to overcome hurdles to effective climate governance internationally and nationally, with ideas provided for individuals to help them align their own interests with those of the global environment. Covering all of the major recent events in climate politics and governance, this is an accessible book for concerned readers who want to understand the climate crisis.
The climate crisis – the worsening climate crisis described in Chapter 2 – and the failure of governments and other actors to govern it effectively are very largely a consequence of the pathologies of international relations, national politics and human nature described in Chapters 3–7. These interacting, overlapping and self-reinforcing pathologies are extraordinarily persistent because they have deep historical, institutional and psychosocial roots. What is more, they are premised on anachronistic assumptions and perceptions of the interests of the actors whose behaviors cause and exacerbate the climate crisis, and whose changed behaviors are needed to mitigate climate change. As such, alleviating the pathologies of climate governance requires a variety of prescriptions, as considered and outlined in Chapters 8 and 9. The prescriptions point to the types of policies and approaches to climate governance that will be required. This chapter outlines what some of those policies might look like and considers the potential prospects for climate governance going forward.
This chapter describes the basic features and lasting influence on climate governance of the international system of states. When the problem of climate change became apparent, countries responded to it through diplomacy leading to international agreements for collective action. This chapter describes major aspects of this process. It summarizes how countries have negotiated a regime of international agreements and institutions intended to address climate change collectively and individually. A quarter-century was devoted to top-down measures – internationally agreed conventions and protocols setting out allowable greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries. More recently, the focus has been on bottom-up measures – nationally determined contributions to wider global efforts to govern climate change. While these efforts have resulted in a wide array of actions around the world to address climate change, they also demonstrate concretely the ways in which the international system, and the countries operating within it, have precluded aggressive collective action.