A Regime in International Climate Protection

Theory and Praxis of International Regimes and their Application in the Field of International Climate Protection

by Kai Nehen (Author) Tobias Heck (Author)

Seminar Paper 2010 25 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Environmental Policy



1. Introduction

2. How Do We Know a Regime when We See One? - A Definition

3. The FCCC and the KP

4. Analysis
4.1 Realism and Neorealism
4.2 Neoliberal Institutionalism
4.3 Constructivism

5. Conclusion

6. References

7. List of Tables

8. List of Illustrations

1. Introduction

Not just since the failure of COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 we know that dealing with climate change, its reasons and its consequences, is anything but easy. Climate protection is a small part of a wider image: The fight of humankind against any form of environmental degradation. No matter if it concerns the hole in the ozone layer, forest decline caused by acid rain or the distinction of species, firm action is required. Climate falls in the same category, but moreover it is much more difficult to handle: As a common good climate affects every state on earth, equal if it is being destroyed or protected. Moreover, at first glance investments in climate protection seem to be curtailments in economic development and only having effects in the far future. Hence, we can consider climate politics on national and especially on international level as a hot subject where failures are easy and successes are rare, but where action is required.

We target to investigate if the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol (KP) compose an international regime on climate change and how well various international relations approaches are able to explain the actual outcome. In the first part we start with the question: How do we know a regime when we see one? Subsequently, we depict the road to the adoption of the FCCC and the KP, respectively. Finally, we present different approaches in explaining the formation of regimes and use them to determine their predictive efficiency by applying them to our case study.

2. How Do We Know a Regime when We See One? - A Definition

Nearly every essay or book on regimes starts by introducing different definitions (Young 1980; Haas 1982; Haggard/Simmons 1987) and without a doubt it is very important to differentiate between some of them to clarify the content of this term.

Despite of a universe of definitions, science on regimes stands nearly unified behind the definition of Krasner who defines regimes “as sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors ’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations (1982, 186, emphasis added). Though this definition is widely accepted (Sprinz 2003, 251), there are modifications and amendments that we can’t miss to mention.

For Ernst Haas regimes “are arrangements peculiar to substantive issue-areas in international relations that are characterized by the condition of complex interdependence” (1982, 211, emphasis added). Haas continues by distinguishing between two different types of regimes: “regimes of common interest” and “regimes of common aversion”. In the first case the states know that all actors are better off cooperating on a specific issue than acting on their own, hence they opt for policy collaboration. On the contrary, in the case of the regime of common aversion the actors do not collaborate on certain policy issues, but merely coordinate their policies, since there is no agreement among the actors which is the best policy to be pursued, but they agree on a certain policy they all wish to avoid. The bottom line of this arrangement is that regimes can either constitute a way to collaborate on certain policy issues or a way to coordinate them (Haas 1982, 210-212).

Oran Young sees in regimes “social institutions governing the action of those interested in specifiable activities [and as such] recognized patterns of practice around which expectations converge” (1980, 332, emphasis added). This definition takes the origin of regimes into account: They are implemented in the society and depend on expectations, opinions and values. He outlines regimes as “human artifacts” who are “easy to construct or simple to reform on the basis of deliberate planning or social engineering” (1982, 279).

Capturing the essence of all three definitions, we define a climate change regime as a set of implicit or explicit principles, norms and rules and decision-making procedures that constitute recognized patterns of practice and around which expectations converge in the climate change issue.

3. The FCCC and the KP

To test the explanatory power of the aforementioned approaches relating to the question if a climate change regime actually evolved and how well the outcome can be explained by the different approaches, we focus on the FCCC and the KP, since it is broad consensus that only with the FCCC and the subsequent KP a climate change regime has been installed (Bodansky 2001; Brunner 2001; Rowlands 2001). In the following section, we will give a flashback on the evolution of the climate change regime. In doing so, we draw on Bodansky to divide this process in five different time periods (2001, 23 - 24).

The foundational period

Even though the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius developed the greenhouse warming

theory over a century ago (1896), global warming was not put on the international political agenda until the mid-1980s. This was due to the fact that as a first step it was necessary to raise scientific concern about the issue. Even though already back in 1972 states dealt with environmental issues on an intergovernmental basis (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, also Stockholm Conference) and established the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a part of a first wave of rising scientific interest, all of these actions were primarily concerned with local, acute and relatively reversible forms of pollutions. On the contrary, the climate change issue is part of a longer-term, irreversible and global development. Until then little merit had been done on behalf of the mitigation of climate change. It needed a deeper scientific understanding of how the greenhouse problem actually evolved and of its effects to tackle the problem effectively.

Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an initial growth of scientific concern which was mainly due to the establishment of the so called Keeling curve, which demonstrated for the first time that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) actually increased (Keeling 1960). Furthermore, scientists used the steadily increasing abilities of computers to create more complex models of the atmosphere, which improved the confidence of the scientific community in its predictions on global warming. Until the mid- 1980s, global warming was an issue primarily associated with the emission of CO2. Now, scientists recognized that a lot of other trace gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides caused important anthropogenic emissions, too (Bodansky 2001, 23 - 26).

All these developments led to an increasing scientific concern and served as the basis for future developments.

The agenda-setting phase

As scientific concern increased significantly, the public and political sphere could not help but notice the importance of the issue. In a timespan of three years (1985 - 1988), the climate change issue was transformed from being highly dominated by the scientific community to an issue of broad public concern. This was partly due to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985 and the confirmation that it resulted from emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (Farman et al. 1985). On top of that, the publication of the Brundtland Comission report “Our Common future” in 1987 also had a strong impact on the public discourse, laying out for the first time the idea of sustainable development (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987). Finally, the North American heat wave and drought in 1988 supported greenhouse warming proponents´ view on the issue, especially in the United States and Canada (Bodansky 2001, 26 - 27).

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Prenegotiation period

The year 1988 truly marked a watershed in the development of the climate change regime. Until then, the scene had been dominated by nongovernmental actors, namely environmental scientists. However, with the transformation of the climate change issue, it became an issue of intergovernmental concern. At this juncture, it is essential to spell out that this transition was by no means an abrupt one. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a case in point. Established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UNEP, “in part as a means of reasserting governmental control over the climate change issue” (Bodansky 2001, 28), it most influential work was the IPCC First Assessment Report published in 1990. Naturally, one would assume that the IPCC was dominated by governments. The opposite is the case. The preface states that the report reflected the technical assessment of experts rather than government positions (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1992, VII).

Further important developments include the 1988 UN General Assembly resolution on climate change, stating that “climate change is a common concern of mankind, since climate is an essential condition which sustains life on earth” (United Nations General Assembly 1988), the 1989 Hague Summit, which proposed the idea of developing a blueprint of a future institutional authority to combat global warming, the 1989 Noordwijk ministerial meeting, being the first high-level intergovernmental meeting dealing with the issue of global warming, the May 1990 Bergen Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Development in preparation for UNCED (United Nations 1990), and at last but not least, the November 1990 Second World Climate Conference (Bodansky 2001, 28).

Formal intergovernmental negotiations phase

Anticipating the fact that negotiating a climate change regime would not be a piece of cake, the UN General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC/FCCC) in December 1990 in order to facilitate the negotiation process. To understand the negotiating process (February 1991 May 1992), it is crucial to take the following facts into account: Given the public visibility of the negotiation process through media coverage, the June 1992 UNCED deadline led to substantial pressure on governments. Furthermore, the wish for consensus decision making dominated the delegations and gave certain countries notable leverage over the final outcome. During the first phase of the negotiations, little progress was made and states debated procedural issues and stuck to their opinion without seeking the necessary consensus. Real negotiations started only a few months before the June 1992 deadline. The point of departure was the “framework agreement” already used in the preceding decade for the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

The negotiations were hallmarked by sharp bargaining about several contentious issues: First, the issue of targets and timetables led to a polarization of proponents of more or less strict Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QUELROs) during a specific commitment period (namely the EU and the Alliance of Small Island States [AOSIS]) and opponents of this idea (namely the USA and the oil-producing countries). Second, the issue of financial assistance and technology transfer was a highly contentious one. Developing countries opted for establishing a new fund, while developed countries pursued the idea of using the Global Environment Facility (GEF). At last but not least, institutional matters and matters of implementation were further major points for discussion. Generally speaking, the OECD countries sought to establish strong implementation mechanisms, while developing countries preferred the less strict framework-convention approach (Bodansky 2001, 31 - 34).

Despite all these controversial subjects, the UNCED conference adopted the FCCC on the 9th of May 1992, and it entered into force on the 21st of March 1994. It included four basic principles: First, the FCCC defined climate change as the “common concern of humankind” (Secretariat for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change1 1992, 1). Second, it acknowledges the intergenerational equity and hence states should protect the climate for the benefit of present as well as future generations (Secretariat 1992, article 3.1). Third, any actions fighting climate change should not be constrained by any given scientific uncertainty (Secretariat 1992, 4.1). Finally, the FCCC acknowledges the differentiated responsibilities of the states (Secretariat 1992, article 4.1). With regard to decisive measures the FCCC put forth, there is little to say. Even though all of the parties to the FCC are obliged to fulfill certain obligations in terms of reporting, communications and general actions, only Annex 1 countries2 are subject to the aspirational aim of mitigating national emissions, but since there are no binding emissions targets or timetables, the FCCC remains preliminary in the nature of its commitments (Breidenich et al. 1998, 318).

As Bodansky states the FCCC “reflects a carefully balanced compromise”, he continues by saying that “the Convention represents not an end point, but rather a punctuation mark in an ongoing process of negotiation” (Bodansky 2001, 34). Article 2 of the FCCC clearly exhibits this point by stating that “the ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve [...] stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system” (Secretariat 1992, article 2; McGivern 1998, 22).

Post-Rio Developments and the Negotiation of the Kyoto-Protocol

Among others, the FCCC ruled out that all the parties to the FCCC should meet on an annual basis at the Conference of the Parties (COP), “in order to elaborate and implement the reporting and review procedure, to address unresolved issues [...] and to begin consideration of the next steps beyond the FCCC” (Bodansky 2001, 34). The first COP took place 1994 in Berlin (COP-1) and decided among other things to establish an ad hoc committee to strengthen the FCCCs commitments through a protocol or other legal instrument (AGBM: Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate). This ad hoc group produced a draft text that served as the basis for negotiations at the COP-3 in Kyoto (Bodansky 2001, 31 - 37; Breidenich et al. 1998, 318).

The KP then established for the first time legally binding QELROs for FCCC Annex 1 parties with the exception of Turkey. The QELROs are set against specific base year emission levels, for most parties being 1990 the official base year. However, these reduction targets were not evenly distributed.


1 Hereafter the short form “Secretariat” is applied for the author Secretariat for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

2 The term refers to all „developed country Parties and other Parties included in Annex 1“ (Secretariat 1992, article 4.2). The Annex 1 is composed of OECD member states and various countries that were undergoing the process of transition to a market economy at that time. Non-Annex 1 countries are all country parties not listed in Annex 1.


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Title: A Regime in International Climate Protection