Universal Participation and the Framework Convention on Climate Change

Climate change rose quickly on the international agenda in the late 1980s on the heels of the ozone depletion negotiations. Though both problems stem from atmospheric pollution, the complexity of the climate change problem eclipses that of ozone depletion by orders of magnitude. The causes of climate change (or global warming) are ubiquitous in all societies (industrial or otherwise), and virtually all biological, agricultural, and industrial activities contribute to the problem. Similarly, the potential effects of climate change promise to have an impact on most of humanity, altering sea levels and weather patterns.

Climate change officially became an international policy issue in December 1988 when the UN General Assembly, at the behest of Malta, passed a resolution calling for cooperative action.1 By this time the international community, through UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), had already created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and charged it with building consensus on the science of, potential impacts from, and possible responses to climate change. In addition, a conference at Noordwijk, Netherlands, in November 1989 and the Second World Climate Conference (SWCC) in October 1990 set the stage for the official negotiations of a framework convention. These negotiations took place through all of 1991 and into 1992, culminating in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), which was signed at the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro) in June 1992 by 154 states.

Chapter 5 explained the emergence of the universal participation norm using the NLC and the insights from the computer modeling exercises. In this chapter I explore the influence of this norm—how the universal participation norm influenced the very manner in which the United States and the international community defined and approached climate change. Universal participation was the point of departure for all actors involved in the climate change issue because the ozone depletion negotiations altered perceptions of an appropriate global response to environmental problems such that they required universal participation. This understanding was at the foundation of the early governance activities for climate change and it influenced:

• The Agenda—Southern issues (right to development, financial assistance, and technological transfer) were crucial issues even though the Southern states did not (objectively speaking) have the bargaining leverage to force their inclusion on the agenda.

• The Debates—crucial issues discussed during the FCCC negotiations concerned emissions reductions, Southern commitments, and funding for the South. While the emissions reductions debates were arguably a North-North concern (United States and EU), debates over Southern commitments and funding were a direct result of the universal participation norm structuring the appropriate notion of a global response.

• U.S. Strategy—The United States, recalcitrant from the beginning to the end of the FCCC negotiations, built its stalling strategy upon a prior understanding that the governance of climate change required universal participation. It is impossible to fully grasp U.S. behavior in these negotiations without understanding how the universal participation norm structured what the United States saw as possible.

Again, as discussed in chapter 2, the factors typically relied upon to explain the universal scope of the climate change negotiations—characteristics of the problem and strategic choice—fail to account for universal participation. Objectively and rationally, a universal global response does not necessarily make sense. There were (and remain) good reasons to limit participation in the negotiations—an option that was never considered. Instead, as predicted by the NLC and demonstrated in the model, the United States and the rest of the international community committed to universal participation as part of the definition of the climate change problem without serious consideration. The international community was locked in to universal participation, affecting the foundations of the global governance of climate change.

However, this chapter is not only a story of the influence of a particular notion of a global response to climate change. The NLC does not cease to have influence and social norms do not remain static. The early climate change negotiations (1990-1992) also saw states grappling seriously with universal participation—what it entailed and the proper interpretation of universal participation. These initial governance activities foreshadowed the second major transition in participation requirements that would fully emerge in the mid 1990s. Internalized norms are not static, but rather they continually evolve as states behave, strategize, and strive for goals. While all states began and left the FCCC negotiations understanding that a global response required universal participation, the FCCC negotiations themselves engendered the seeds of the dispute over the interpretation of universal participation that would dominate the governance of climate change in the post-FCCC period.

Thus, this chapter continues the investigation of the coevolution of U.S. rule models and the normative context. I present evidence that the United States took the universal nature of climate change for granted from the beginning as a direct consequence of the previous ozone experience and I demonstrate how this perception was at the foundation of the global governance of climate change during the crucial initial phase from 1990 to 1992. I begin by unpacking what is usually considered obvious—the universal nature of climate change. I return to the alternative arguments presented in chapter 2 and demonstrate in greater detail that the scientific/objective characteristics of the problem did not automatically warrant universal negotiations and that the preference for universal participation in the U.S. was not a result of strategic choice. I further present evidence of the role of the ozone negotiations in shaping the intersubjective understanding of the required level of participation for climate change. I then turn to a discussion of the initial political context for climate change, and articulate the early U.S. rule models/positions on the climate change issue. The understanding of climate change as a universal issue is clear in both.

As in the model, the agents in the international community continued to use a successful rule—universal participation—in subsequent "rounds." The United States and the international community locked in to universal participation when the climate change negotiations began as the universal participation norm provided a stable set of expectations for the climate change problem. The United States was in a situation of low social complexity, and the appropriateness of universal participation was clear. I follow the exposition of the U.S. rule models with a discussion of the pre-negotiation period of 1987-1990, exploring the consequences of the universal participation norm in shaping U.S. strategy and the emerging structure of the negotiations. Finally, I examine the climate change negotiations themselves, tracing the U.S. actions in the negotiations and illustrating the debates that crystallized, the compromises reached, and the dynamism associated with the universal participation norm. I conclude with thoughts on the influence of universal participation on the governance activities as well as some observations on the transition in universal participation that these activities foreshadowed.

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  • conrad
    Is climate change a universal?
    10 months ago

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