Strategy and Universal Participation

In chapter 2, I argued that universal negotiations are not rational from the standpoint of effectiveness or efficiency, and it appeared doubtful that they were a strategic choice of the United States, designed to slow or stall the negotiations by adding extra negotiators and issues. The latter of these two possibilities is the stickiest issue. As the climate change issue rose in prominence in the late 1980s, it became clear that the United States did not favor aggressive action to address climate change (a reluctance discussed below). If we take the findings from positive political economy (or practical negotiation experience) to heart—namely, that large negotiations are inefficient and ineffective—then it does seem plausible that the United States would press for universal negotiations in order to slow/cripple a treaty that it did not desire in the first place. Further, as hegemon, the United States would have the power to sway the foundations of the global governance of climate change.

However, such is not the case. There are three major flaws in this logic. First, it is not clear that universal participation was a choice at all. The United States accepted the notion that climate change required universal participation from the very inception of the problem as a policy issue. Universal participation was not a choice in climate change as it was in the earlier ozone depletion negotiations; rather, it was an accepted point of departure for the overall U.S. position on climate change. Rather than being a choice of the hegemon, the universal participation norm structured the hegemon's choices.

Unlike the U.S. stances on emission reductions, there was no intraadministration deliberation on the notion of universal participation. Frederick Bernthal claims that even in 1988, "global" defined the climate change issue. When asked about the appropriateness of universal participation he noted that no other options were discussed and added, "I mean, what else would you do?"21 A notion of climate change as a global problem requiring a universal response preceded strategic thinking about how the United States should pursue its objectives in the climate change issue and what positions it should take in prenegotiation meetings and the negotiations themselves. Universal participation was part of the U.S. definition of climate change. It was not a negotiating position up for debate.

Second, and related, the role of UNEP and the UN in general as well as the actions of other states in the international community cast doubt on hegemonic/strategic explanation for the U.S. commitment to universal participation. Even if the United States desired to be proactive on climate change it likely would not and could not have effectively advocated limited negotiations. The notion of universal participation defined climate change for more than the United States; it pervaded the entire political context. The United States did not have to convince any other states or organizations about the importance of universal partici-pation.22 The South was poised to negotiate and had begun participating in earnest in 1989. The EU was committed to global action as well— a serious blow to the strategic choice argument. Applying the strategic argument to the EU, because the EU desired aggressive climate change abatement actions, it should have advocated keeping the negotiations small to promote efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, the EU had the same initial understanding as the United States and the rest of the world. Both those that favored strong action and those that opposed it defined climate change as a universal problem.

Further, the entities organizing the conferences and negotiations (UNEP, WMO, UN General Assembly) were also committed to universal participation. The forums they provided reified the appropriateness of universal participation, making other potential definitions untenable. The appropriateness and need for universal participation in the negotiations and actions was already accepted universally. Universal participation was not decided upon through deliberation in the United States or internationally. Instead, universal participation was a fundamental part of the initial definition of the global response to climate change, understood from the outset.

Finally, the actions of the United States in the ozone negotiations further belie a strategic call for universal participation in climate change. In the latter ozone depletion negotiations, the United States signaled that it understood the requirement for universal participation in global environmental problems. As noted in chapter 5, the Multilateral Fund was one of the largest obstacles to reaching agreement on the London Amendment to the MP. The United States was reluctant to agree to the Fund because of fears of the precedent that such a fund would create. The United States compelled the international community to include specific language proscribing any precedent from the London amendment because it saw the consequences of universal participation in ozone depletion and was worried about similar consequences in climate change—another global environmental problem.

By 1990, the United States had already come to assume that universal participation was the appropriate way to address these global environmental problems. The social context had "taught" the United States what was necessary and the United States was concerned about the implications of this new understanding. The United States was afraid that the South, now involved and participating, would push for a separate fund for each environmental problem. It desperately hoped to avoid establishing separate funds as the consequence of universal participation, a concern precisely because the United States and the rest of the international community already accepted universal participation as the appropriate global response.

The United States certainly desired to slow or stall the early climate change negotiations or at least stonewall the notion of binding emission reductions. The strategy, detailed in the following sections, was to dispute the European calls for binding emission commitments and accept the principle of development assistance, while arguing with the South about the practical implementation and conditions of development assistance. Crucially, these strategic actions were predicated on the understanding that climate change would be addressed through universal negotiations and responses. Again, the universal participation norm structured what the United States saw as possible and appropriate.

The United States defined climate change as requiring universal participation because it had internalized this new understanding and could not conceive of the problem in any other way. As with the rest of the world, the United States understood what a global response to climate change would entail. As Dowdeswell and Kinely noted:

In the early 1960s, we considered environmental problems to be purely local in nature. . . . In the 1970s, we came to understand that some environmental problems can be continental in scale. . . . In the late 1980s, we have entered the age of global environmental consciousness . . .23

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