Conjectures End Of Universal Participation

Of course, the United States did not withdraw from the KP process directly because of universal participation. The Bush administration was skeptical of climate science and convinced that the costs associated with addressing climate change far outweighed the benefits. However, normative understandings must not be ignored. Clearly, the United States maintained a different vision of a global response throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and the United States (under both Clinton and Bush II) did not find it appropriate for the United States and the rest of the Northern states to take on the costs of combating climate change alone. Had the United States succeeded in destabilizing the North-first variant of universal participation and catalyzing a critical mass and cascade around the notion of universal commitments, the governance story may have been very different. Thus, it remains crucial to understand how norm dynamics unfold—the path that the international community constructed back in the ozone depletion negotiations (common but differentiated responsibilities, North-first action, Northern support for Southern activities) continued to structure the governance of climate change even in the face of a significant challenge from the hegemon. What remains to be seen is whether the current vision of a global response can survive the exit of the United States over the long term. The events of 2003 and 2004 do not lend confidence in the survival of a global response based on the Kyoto Protocol and founded on universal participation.

The recent process of negotiating a global response to climate change also raises interesting questions about what happens when the hegemon acts as a norm entrepreneur. One would think that significant lock-in would result. One would think that this was a low complexity situation that would result in a very stable norm that matched the hegemon's wishes. At this writing the result of the norm dynamics remains unclear, although the United States has certainly failed, to this point, to catalyze norm change. The United States is still alone in its interpretation of universal participation.

In the last decade, understandings of who should participate in the governance activities for climate change have fundamentally shaped how that governance should proceed. The question of who should participate was answered early and internalized by all states—everyone should participate. This fundamental understanding has led, in the 1990s, to some of the more contentious debates about how states should participate. Different variants of the universal participation norm have led to the most contentious debates on the governance of climate change. Debates may well have been contentious otherwise, but this particular path of history has been conditioned by the initial understanding of universal participation.

Where is the governance of climate change likely to go? What is the likely impact of the U.S. pullout of the Kyoto process? Has the United States abandoned universal participation? Will the norm erode through U.S. actions? The United States still nominally views climate change in with universal participation lenses. Both the Clinton administration and the second Bush administration understood that climate change was a global problem requiring universal participation and each based their strategizing on that understanding. However, the contest and the shift in U.S. climate change positions in 2001-2002 did serve to destabilize the normative context enough to hinder the conclusion of a successful governance outcome. The intersubjective consensus at the foundation of the earlier negotiations eroded during the negotiation of the KP and disappeared altogether following the ascension of Bush II.

The exit of the hegemon from the process was the result of the norm contestation—a curious result given expectations about hegemonic entrepreneurs discussed in chapter 4. The United States has begun to experiment with a new understanding of climate change—unilateralism (and in foreign policy more generally) and adaptation to the effects of climate change (rather than mitigation of climate change)—and returned to the skepticism of the early 1990s. The rest of the world is still adhering to the North-first variant of universal participation, yet the United States is a dominant actor. Does the hegemonic exit signal that participation requirements may not remain locked in to universal participation? Is it a critical mass by itself, able to alter the social context to such a degree that other states will take on the universal commitment suggestion? Will the U.S. entrepreneurial activity destabilize the system to such a degree that the universal participation norm erodes altogether? It is too early to tell, but the contestation over this norm is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and the global response to climate is likely to remain in flux.

Table 7.1 COP 1-3 at a Glance

Debated Issues COP 1

Debated Issues COP 2

Debated Issues COP 3


Going beyond the FCCC

Including Southern commitments


Mandating binding emissions cuts

Including Southern commitments


Amount of reductions

Whether to include commitments for Southern states



Discussions on launching pilot program


Implementation/ Emissions Trading

Flexible implementation mechanisms

Implementation of Commitments

Mechanisms: ET, JI, CDM Sinks: sequestering carbon Bubbles: Reducing emissions in blocks

Hot Air: Increased emissions for some states

Outcomes COP 1

Outcomes COP 2

Outcomes COP 3

Berlin Mandate

Agreed to discuss further Northern, not Southern commitments, long-term goals, and launched pilot JI program

Geneva Declaration

Agreed to negotiate binding emissions reductions for Northern, not Southern states

Kyoto Protocol

Mandates binding reductions of about 5% below 1990 levels by 2012

Allows for use of sinks Allows for flexible implementation and trading No new Southern commitments

Source: Author constructed table with information from UNFCCC 1995e; 1996b; 1997a

Source: Author constructed table with information from UNFCCC 1995e; 1996b; 1997a

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