The Evolution of Universal Participation and the Governance of Climate Change

The FCCC was only the first step in governing climate change, and it was recognized by most as an inadequate first step. The governance of climate change would begin in earnest in the mid-1990s as the international community would grapple with more concrete and binding ways to address the problem. Rafe Pomerance (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Development) observed that "[a]s part of the 'bargain' struck in Rio between those who advocated more stringent commitments and those wary of moving too quickly, the parties agreed that the adequacy of [commitments] would be reviewed at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties . . ."1 The negotiations that followed the FCCC would prove to be more contentious than those that led to its creation. Agreeing to the rather vague goals of stabilizing the climate and voluntarily freezing emissions would prove a relatively easy task compared with agreeing to a set of binding regulations designed to make those goals a reality.

This second stage of the global governance of climate change involved both philosophical and technical debates. On the philosophical side, the negotiations dealt with issues similar to those addressed in the FCCC negotiations:

• Does addressing climate change require more restrictive measures?

• And if so, what states should undertake restrictive measures?

• How should the responsibility for climate change be delineated and how should responsibility match with actions?

The negotiations that answered these questions coincided with more technical negotiations than were seen in the FCCC proceedings. Once the first question was answered in the affirmative, numerous technical details had to be decided upon—how much to reduce, how to accomplish reductions, how to measure reductions. Thus, larger stakes, and more contentious and difficult negotiating, accompanied this next step in the governance of climate change. When the international community decided to move beyond principles to actions, economic interests came to the fore and vied with environmental interests much more acutely. Even so, the universal participation norm was still at the foundation of these more recent global governance activities and still influenced them in crucial ways by structuring the debates that arose over the second two questions. This chapter focuses explicitly on how these questions were answered in the post-FCCC negotiations and how the process of answering them shaped the governance outcomes in the 1990s and 2000s.

Of course, at some level it is entirely artificial to separate out the technical from the philosophical in the governance of climate change. Debates over carbon sinks (the use of biomass to sequester carbon) as a means for reducing emissions, for instance, was a technical debate but it cannot be divorced from the philosophical debate over which states should take on restrictive measures. Should the U.S. companies get credit for planting trees in Brazil? Is this a Southern commitment or a Northern one? However, for the sake of analytical clarity, this chapter will concentrate on the debates that surrounded participation in order to demonstrate how the universal participation norm continues to shape the governance of climate change.2

At one level, universal participation shaped the post-FCCC negotiations by again determining what states were at the table and what issues were on the table—Southern states were powerful negotiating voices, development remained a key aspect of the debates, and equity concerns were of primary importance.3 The universal participation norm shaped the post-FCCC debates, as well as U.S. strategy and behavior, and in this sense the influence of the universal participation norm was similar in the post-FCCC governance process to what it was for the FCCC itself. In the lead-up to Rio, the universal participation norm framed what a global response to climate change should look like and gave Southern issues a legitimacy and primacy unwarranted by the "objective" bargaining leverage of the South. Because all states internalized universal participation, it shaped important aspects of the governance process—state strategies and behaviors, as well as governance outcomes. Universal participation was at the foundation of the FCCC process because this intersubjectively held idea structured what states considered appropriate and even possible. The FCCC itself reified an understanding of a global response defined by universal participation that entailed North-first actions, and Northern support for Southern participation.

In the post-FCCC process, the universal participation norm would play the same role, structuring states' expectations and actions. There were also, however, subtle differences, as its influence stemmed not only from intersubjective agreement about that norm but also from the contestation over different interpretations of universal participation. In the first stage of the climate governance process, universal participation provided a foundation for global governance, though the seeds of contestation emerged with U.S. positions on universal commitments. In the second stage, contestation between two variants of a universal global response would provide a foundation for a key debate that would significantly complicate the governance of climate change.

In this chapter, I explore the continuing influence of the universal participation norm and I trace the second (and ongoing) transition in the meaning of a global response. I continue the story of the coevolution of the normative political context and U.S. rule models. Whereas chapter 6 demonstrated how universal participation structured the initial global response to climate change, this chapter explores how the universal participation norm both continued to have influence on the global governance of climate change and evolved over time through the governance activities. Universal participation served to structure both important aspects of what was taken for granted during the governance process in the 1990s (all states participating, common but differentiated responsibilities, Northern support for Southern actions) and important aspects of what was debated in the 1990s (universal commitment versus a North-first approach). The norm structured expectations because universal participation was an ingrained facet of climate change inherited from past governance outcomes. Normative contestation arose in the different interpretations of universal participation from the FCCC negotiations.

Thus, this chapter also explores the notion of norm competition and evolution, even as it continues to detail how social norms form the foundation for the global governance of global environmental problems. The United States emerged as a hegemonic norm entrepreneur, suggesting and advocating a global response that entailed universal commitments.4 In many ways the governance of climate change in the last decade has been shaped by this entrepreneurship and the international community's response to it. However, in contrast to success enjoyed by Tolba and UNEP, U.S. entrepreneurial activity has thus far failed to catalyze a critical mass of adherents; instead, it has caused instability at the foundation of the global governance of climate change.

I first briefly discuss norm contestation, elaborating how an internalized norm can change. I then detail the initial conditions of the second stage of the governance of climate change—what states understood a global response to mean in 1992. The next section details the coevolution of the normative context and U.S. rule models, highlighting contestation over universal participation that emerged and examining the governance processes that produced the Kyoto Protocol (KP). The following sections then examine the aftermath of the KP—the U.S. withdrawal and the potential failure of the KP process. The chapter concludes with conjectures about the future of universal participation and the governance of climate change.

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