Engaging Developing Countries in the International Climate Change Regime. “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”

by Ronja Maus (Author)

Term Paper 2011 17 Pages

Politics - Environmental Policy



1. Introduction

2. Setting the Context: The International Climate Change Regime
2.1 Historical Development of Climate Change Regime
2.2 Legal Framework of Climate Change Regime
2.3 The Position of Developing Countries in Climate Protection Negotiations

3. Theoretical Background
3.1 The Prisoner’s Dilemma Transferred on State’s Endeavours of Climate Protection
3.2 The Rambo Game Transferred on the Position of Developing Countries within the Climate Change Regime

4. Institutional Design & Compliance

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Only a few days before the completion of this term paper the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report. This document with the title “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Ad­aptation” warns against increasingly severe climate catastrophes caused by the global warming: Worldwide there will be climatic disasters like

“Wirbelstürme und Dürren, Hochwasser und Sturmfluten, starke Wellen, Küsten­erosion, Gletscherschmelze und Bergbewegungen, Sand- oder Staubstürme, Tau­wetter im Permafrost und dazu Veränderungen der großen zyklischen Wetterphä­nomene wie Monsun oder El Niño im Pazifik“ (Schmitt 2012).

These events will not only affect nature, but also have impacts on agriculture and econ­omy in general, and - even worse - also directly threaten the lives of many people, as consequences will be food crises, growing land scarcity, shortage of clean drinking wa­ter etc. Especially people in developing countries and inhabitants of small islands will be affected.

One single state is not able to solve the global climate problems. Instead, only an international cooperation compromising as many states as possible can contribute to a protection of a collective good i.e. a stable climate. This term paper examines the inter­national climate change regime. Keohane & Victor identify this institution as a “regime complex”, which compromises several institutional elements and initiatives as e.g. the UN Legal Regime, bilateral initiatives, clubs, experts assessments etc. (Keohane / Vic­tor 2011: 10). In my term paper I will focus on the element of the efforts undertaken by the United Nations. Although nearly universal in membership and probably the most famous, its success is so far rather limited, Keohane & Victor even describing it as “ul­timately symbolic” (Keohane / Victor 2011: 10). The reason for its ineffectiveness[1] is that many states still refuse to engage and agree upon binding commitments. The big­gest group of these defectors are the developing countries, who will be placed in special focus in this paper.

My key question will be: How should the regime be designed to engage states into the endeavour of climate protection? For soundly answering this question, in a first my selected section of the climate change regime complex - the UN Legal Regime - will be presented. After that the theoretical background will be introduced; the Rational- ist Cooperation Theory. Further two game-theoretical models are applied for examining issues of an international cooperation in the field of climate protection. Obstacles and reasons why some states refuse to cooperate can thus be explained. On the basis of the insights from this, this paper focuses on how the regime should be designed to guaran­tee an implementation of the goals of the climate change regime as well as the compli­ance of the treaty. How can reluctant states, especially developing countries, be engaged in an international climate change regime?

Before starting with the main part of this term paper, I want to note, that I am aware of the controversy about the term “developing countries”, as this term contains an evolutionist perspective. Nevertheless, as the finding of another useful term would go beyond the scope of this term paper, and also the term “developing countries” is con­stantly used in the literature, I will apply it as well, though keeping in mind its disputed character.

2. Setting the Context: The International Climate Change Regime

At least since the 80's the global climate change is in the focus of international politics. The trigger to commence this process of an intensified adherence of nature was accord­ing to Ott:

„Fortschritte in der wissenschaftlichen Erforschung des Klimasystems der Erde, das Er­scheinen politischer Akteure mit einem starken Interesse an der wissenschaftlichen und poli­tischen Problemlösung, die Sensibilisierung großer Teile der Bevölkerung in den westlichen Industrienationen und eine Serie außergewöhnlicher klimatischer Ereignisse“ (Ott 1997: 203)

In this chapter I want to outline the developments in the international policy con­cerning climate change, followed by a description of its main legal framework. Bo- dansky divides the history of the regime in five periods. Though, one has to keep in mind, that since the publication of his text in the year 2001 a lot of further developments have taken place, thus presumably adding new periods.

2.1 Historical Development of Climate Change Regime

First was the foundational period. During this phase first the scientific concern about the climate change process emerged. Awakened by publications like the discovery of the “ozone hole” or the Brundtland-Report also a large part of the general public began to show apprehension in questions of environmental issues (Bodansky 2001: 23-25).

The second period according to Bodansky is the phase of agenda setting. During this time, a “small group of environmentally oriented Western scientists” (Bodansky 2001: 26) took over the role as knowledge brokers or entrepreneurs promoting the topic of climate change on the international political agenda. The time from 1988-1990 is called prenegotiation period by Bodansky, this marking the phase of the involvement of na­tional governments: Whereas before this date, the climate change issue has almost only been in the focus of nongovernmental groups, now also governments showed concern in questions regarding climate change. The first ones were Western industrialized coun­tries (Bodansky 2001: 27-28). Next was the formal intergovernmental negotiations phase, ending in the adoption of the “United Nations Framework Convention on Cli­mate Change” (UNFCCC) in 1992. The tentative completion of the process is according to Bodansky the postagreement phase, which is marked by the “elaboration and imple­mentation of the FCCC and the initiation of negotiations on additional commitments, leading to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997” (Bodansky 2001: 24).

2.2 Legal Framework of Climate Change Regime

After having given an overview over the main historical developments, I will now pre­sent the most important legal documents regarding the international climate protection, these being the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

From June 3rd to 14th, 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the “Earth Summit” was held in Rio de Janeiro/Brazil. The central objective of this conference was to produce a treaty governing the greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, aimed at fighting global warming. Thus the UNFCCC was devised, which has the form of an international treaty but is not legally binding. It contains the five basic principles, enlisted in article 3 (United Nations 1992: 4-5). The UNFCCC does not give concrete and mandatory thresholds on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries. Nor does it comprise enforcement mechanisms. The treaty divides the participating states into three categories: “Annex I-states” (United Nations 1992: 23), which are industrialized countries and economies in transition; “An­nex II-states” (United Nations 1992: 24), compromised of developed countries which contribute for the costs of developing countries; and indirectly in “non-annex-states”, these being the group of developing countries. Participating developed states are hence­forth obliged to “adopt nationall policies and take corresponding measures on the miti­gation of climate change” (United Nations 1992: 6) and to provide regular reports re­garding their climate policy. Further the UNFCCC determines the establishment of regularly held Conferences of the Parties (United Nations 1992: 10). As many aspects of the treaty remained quite vague, the UNFCCC would be „updated“ by successional treaties, or protocols.

The most important of theses protocols is the Kyoto Protocol. Drafted in 1997, this document can be seen upon as another reached milestone in the field of interna­tional climate protection. Until today 191 countries (including the European Union) have signed and ratified the protocol. The USA, as one of the world’s major pollution emitter has not. For the first time under mandatory international law, this convention sets concrete limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual industrialized countries. 37-Annex I-countries collectively committed themselves to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 until the year 2012 (relative to the base year 1990) (United Nations 1998: 3). Further the Kyoto Protocol introduced three "flexible mechanisms", i.e. emis­sions trading (article 17) the clean development mechanism (article 12) and joint im­plementation (article 6) (United Nations 1998: 6-15). These mechanisms allow Annex- I-countries to reach their green house gas emission limitations by purchasing emission reductions credits from elsewhere e.g. other Annex-I-states or non-Annex-states. The Protocol does not provide any real form of sanction against non-compliance or viola­tions of the treaty, thus its enforcement is quite weak. It only determines that Annex-I- countries, who did not comply with their emission limitations, have to make it up the next time.

2.3 The Position of Developing Countries in Climate Protection Negotiations

The negotiations surrounding the conferences in Rio de Janeiro 1992 and in Kyoto 1997 made obvious, that in the international system of states many divergent positions of in­terests existed. Ott differentiates those positions into three interest groups: “die Progres­siven”, “die Bremser” und “die Unentschiedenen“ (Ott 1997: 205). To the group of the progressive actors he counts the European Union as well as the Alliance of Small Island States. Opposing to this he identifies a group of conservative states; this group is mainly composed of the oil exporting states from the Middle East as well as Russia and the United States of America. The developing countries together form the group of the un­determined states. This classification is for the most part far too simplifying, as it re­duces the reality: Many developing states were not at all undetermined, but had very clear interests and demands. In order to understand this very heterogeneous group bet­ter, the positions of developing countries will be illustrated in the following.

Generally one can say, that the global climate change is not exclusively an envi­ronmental problem, but is also an immense risk for human development. Climate change is an issue, which of course touches all countries, but especially developing countries will be affected the worst by it. A report launched by the European Commis­sion lists e.g.

„[die] zunehmende Nahrungsmittelknappheit, der Wassermangel, die Ausbreitung von Krankheiten auf neue Gebiete, Schäden durch Überflutungen und Zwangsmig­ration aufgrund der Verwüstung und Versteppung von Ackerland sowie der Anstieg des Meeresspiegels zu den wahrscheinlichsten Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf die Entwicklungsländer.“ (Europäische Kommission 2008: 5)

This report continues, forecasting that poor countries whose national economies are determined by economic sectors dependent on ecological production (such as agri­culture, forestry and fishery) will be most affected (Europäische Kommission 2008: 5).

Historically, the biggest share of the climate change had been caused by industrial­ized countries, as their Green House Gas emissions contributed most to the global warming. This has changed during the last couple of years. The traditional difference between “developed” and “developing” countries has blurred. Today among the fastest growing national industries are countries like Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa and South Korea, who were in the Kyoto Protocol counted to the non­Annex I-countries. Thus, one argument might be, that the responsibility no longer ex­clusively rests on the Annex I-countries, but should be widened to the so-called MDEs (Major Developing Economies). Statistics say that in the year 2009 “two-thirds of GHG emissions [...] are accounted for by economic activities in non-OECD countries” (Mur­phy / Tirpak / Drexhage et al. 2009: 4), with tendency to rise. This explains why integrat­ing developing countries into climate protection will be crucial for reaching the UNFCCC goals.

Nevertheless, there are some obstacles to engaging developing countries into an international climate change regime. First important to mentions are technical obstacles, such as “lack of capacity, infrastructure and financial resources” (Murphy / Tirpak / Drexhage et al. 2009: 2). Secondly, in developing countries there are also political- economical objections to concentrating too much on climate protection: Many of these countries prefer to “prioritize traditional economic development priorities“ (Murphy / Tirpak / Drexhage et al. 2009: 2), meaning that they first want to make a considerable progress in even higher economic growth and thus also an enhancement in the standard of living. The problem related to climate change is, that reducing Green House Gas emissions will be economically disadvantageous for some industry sectors in develop­ing countries, this leading to less international economic competitiveness. Especially the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries try to demur the nego­tiations on further commitments on CO2 reductions. They strongly demand developed countries to reduce their Green House Gas emissions by 25-40% (Murphy / Tirpak / Drexhage et al. 2009: 3).

Still, in some developing countries, there is a constructivist atmosphere to contrib­ute as well to climate protection. However, they insist on voluntary actions (Becker 2011) as temporarily devised in the legal documents: The Berlin Mandate (article 1) declares the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (United Nations 1995: 4), this legitimatizing the exclusion of developing countries from mandatory re­ductions. This principle is effective until today.

A report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada claims, that “incentives will be required to convince developing countries to undertake the required GHG emission reductions.” Further, it strongly assumes, that „developing countries will not go forward without major developed countries al­ready engaged and agreeing to international binding mitigation commitments. Strong action and leadership will be needed from developed countries and without such leadership the prospects of expecting significant actions by developing coun­tries would be next to nil.” (Murphy / Tirpak / Drexhage et al. 2009: 3)

Within the group of developing countries, many states have already developed (or adopted) national climate change plans. Summarizing, the group of developing coun­tries is quite diverse, with many positions worth to consider. In order to have a stronger position in the UN negotiations surrounding climate change, they work together in the G77, a loose coalition of developing countries, opposing mandatory reductions.

2 Compare the preamble of the UNFCCC: “Noting [original] that the largest share of historical and cur­rent global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in devel­oping countries will grow to meet their social and development needs” (United Nations 1992: 2)


[1] For a useful definition on „effectiveness“ in the field of climate protection compare Mitchell 1996: 69.


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University of Bamberg
Climate Change Regime Developing Countries Prisoner’s Dilemma Rambo Game Gefangenendilemma Klimaregime Klimaschutzregime


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    Ronja Maus (Author)


Title: Engaging Developing Countries in the International Climate Change Regime. “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”