By Stefan C. Aykut
Translation: Cécile Fruteau
Passage au crible n° 133
In December 2015, Paris will host the 21st Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (CoP21). Great expectations surround what is advertised as the global governance’s major environmental event since the conference is supposed to secure an international agreement to cope with global warming. More than twenty years of discussions since the subject had been first broached at the Conference of Rio in 1992 were necessary to enable this issue to get its own given place on the international agenda. Yet, concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) have set records in 2013 and the international panel of experts on climate change (IPCC)’s fifth report states that global warming is bound to exceed the additional 2°C critical threshold. Highlights on why such a dismal failure occurred.
> Historical background
> Theoretical framework
Basically, the climate change debate went through three main phases. The first one starts with the signature of the Climate Convention in 1992 and is marked by the emergence of the climate regime. When the Berlin wall falls, a world where States cooperate with each other can indeed be envisioned. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol defines specific objectives for greenhouse gases reductions to be completed by developed countries and economies in transition alike. It also establishes three market-based flexible mechanisms enabling countries to pursue these goals at minimal costs. The second step begins in 2001 when the United States decide not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol handing any further negotiations over to the European Union. Hence, the Kyoto Protocol comes into power without the United States in 2005 whilst the less developed countries (LDC) rise and press forward matters of direct concerns to them. For instance, they are particularly concerned about finding ways to adapt to climate changes and securing the necessary technology and financial transfers enabling them to achieve economic development without heavily relying on carbon. This second phase ends up with the fiasco of the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. Whereas the signing of a new treaty in lieu of the Kyoto Protocol is expected, the conference only leads to a minimal agreement, which conveys a new deal where Europe is shunned and the United States as well as emerging countries can impose their views.
Subsequently to the Copenhagen Conference, a dual imperative shapes the post 2012 period. The first goal concerns the signature of a new agreement including all State actors before 2015 for it would allow it to come into force in 2020. The second imperative is about negotiating an agreement covering the time lapse up to 2020 and preventing LCDs from interrupting their gas emission reduction efforts for lack of appropriate funding. Now at the eve of the opening of CoP21, it is important to remember that the conception of an apolitical and global governance has known many drawbacks due to events such as the US war in Iraq, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. These latter were more or less connected to climate issues but forcefully terminated any wishful thinking on mutual and efficient ways to tackle them.
“political agreements, treaties, international organisations, legal procedures, etc.” structuring the world political stage on any given subjects (Krasner, 1983; Keohane, 1984). This concept also covers other disciplinary fields. Thus, in foucauldian work, it describes all cultural, institutional or other mechanisms constituting a “regime of truth” (Foucault, 2001: 160; Leclerc, 2001). Within the body of science and technology research, the notion includes the contemporary ways to produce scientific knowledge that are intricately linked to political and economic challenges (Gibbons et al., 1994; Pestre 2003). When applied to climate issues, these various conceptions overlap and define a multi-layered system where arenas and institutions gather an increasing number of States and stakeholders. This complex structure initiated new research practices as well as assessment and validation procedures. If it witnessed numerous clashes between opposite economic and political interests, it also led to novel connections between sciences, expertise, politics and markets.
1. Climate regime. In international relations, regime designs any “political agreements, treaties, international organisations, legal procedures, etc.” structuring the world political stage on any given subjects (Krasner, 1983; Keohane, 1984). This concept also covers other disciplinary fields. Thus, in foucauldian work, it describes all cultural, institutional or other mechanisms constituting a “regime of truth” (Foucault, 2001: 160; Leclerc, 2001). Within the body of science and technology research, the notion includes the contemporary ways to produce scientific knowledge that are intricately linked to political and economic challenges (Gibbons et al., 1994; Pestre 2003). When applied to climate issues, these various conceptions overlap and define a multi-layered system where arenas and institutions gather an increasing number of States and stakeholders. This complex structure initiated new research practices as well as assessment and validation procedures. If it witnessed numerous clashes between opposite economic and political interests, it also led to novel connections between sciences, expertise, politics and markets.
2. A “schism of reality”. German political scientist Oskar Negt (2010) introduced the notion of “schism of reality” in his reference work on political education to describe on an analytical level the early signs of serious constitutional crises that were overlooked because of a deceivable continuity in the democratic process. By analysing the paradigms of both the Roman Republic before the Principate and the Weimar Republic before the Nazis took over, Negt concludes these phases presented two forms of coexisting legitimacy. The first one is intrinsic to the democratic process and is based on rules of decorum and civility as well as on rhetoric and parliamentary debates. The second one relies on military power, violence, and the occupation of the public space. The consequent hiatus that Negt calls Wirklichkeitsspaltung or schism of reality after a concept borrowed from psychology, then gradually increases. Citizens still go out and vote whilst democratic decorum remains in place. In these conditions, perceiving any warning signs tends to be challenging.
A similar hiatus seems to be affecting the climate governance. Historically, the schism takes place in the late nineties when the neo-conservative movement imposes its views on the United States leading them to bet on military power and to reject multilateralism processes . In 1997, the famous Byrd-Hagel resolution approved by the Senate reflects their hostility toward a treaty that would enforce constraints on Americans without implementing “comparable” pressure on LDCs (Senate 1997). At the same time, while the two Gulf wars (1990 and 2003) and the conflict in Afghanistan are raging, Washington protects American vital interests in terms of security and oil supply, enticing the American way of life to go unchanged. Neither the deeper meaning of these conflicts nor the sudden American decision to disengage from the Climate process has been substantially studied.
Such segregation in the negotiations can be analysed on a more structural level. Research on how international regimes interplay (Oberthür and Stokke, 2011) gives evidence that the Climate regime does interfere with many others, which all have their own proceedings and specialised institutions. A key component of the schism is how far removed the climate discussions are from other institutions. As a matter of fact, the World Trade Organization (WTO) does not distinguish between polluting and non-polluting activities, which contributes to a generalisation of a pro-carbon economy. Furthermore, the World Bank still heavily finances large infrastructure projects as well as an industrialisation that leaves little room for environmental concerns . Even worse, the Kyoto approach tends to separate two energy regimes: it indeed promotes discussions and measures on GHGs and CO2 thus trying to solve output issues, but it does not tackle the input aspect of the problem, namely, the extraction and burning of energy resources. By targeting gas emissions instead of addressing patterns of economy development or international trades or even global energy systems, the Climate regime only managed to build “fire walls” (Alvater, 2005: 82) isolating climate challenges from other regimes.
Hence, a schism does separate two realities. On one side stands a world of global economy and finance, unbridled exploitation of fossil energy resources and stiff competition between States. On the other side, a world of negotiations and global governance gets more and more isolated. The conference opening in Paris can only succeed if the different stakeholders acknowledge such segregation and open up the debate, finally coming to an end with their lack of awareness concerning other critical issues that have been impeding previous discussions.
Altvater Elmar, Das Ende des Kapitalismus, wie wir ihn kennen, Münster, Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2005.
Foucault Michel, Dits et écrits, Paris, Quarto Gallimard, 2001.
Gibbons Michael, Nowotny Helga, Limoges Camille, et al., The New Production of Knowledge. The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies, London, Sage, 1994.
Keohane Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy, Princeton (N.J.), Princeton University Press, 1984.
Krasner Stephen D., (Éd), International Regimes, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1983.
Leclerc Gérard, « Histoire de la vérité et généalogie de l’autorité », Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, 2 (111) 2001, pp. 205-213.
Negt Oskar, Der politische Mensch. Demokratie als Lebensform, Göttingen, Steidl Verlag, 2010.
Oberthür Sebastian et Stokke Olav Schram, (Éds), Managing Institutional Complexity: Regime Interplay and Global Environmental Change, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2011.
Pestre Dominique, Science, Argent et Politique. Un essai d’interprétation, Paris, Inra, 2003.