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close this bookThe Global Greenhouse Regime. Who Pays? (UNU, 1993, 382 p.)
close this folderPart IV Conclusion
close this folder14 Constructing a global greenhouse regime
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentConditionality and additionality
View the documentTechnology transfer
View the documentMulti-pronged approach
View the documentImplementation procedures
View the documentRegional building blocks
View the documentNorth-'South' conflicts
View the documentConclusion
View the documentNotes and references

North-'South' conflicts

The archetype of southern politics - UNCTAD - was built on polarized political blocs organized around adversarial and conflict-prone economic relations between the poor and wealthy states. In the 1980s, however, the unity of the South's Group of 77 (G77) had been severely stressed already by the rise of the newly industrialized countries in Asia which heralded the end of the (third world'. The end of the second Cold War combined with the steady decline of the 'South' es a unified entity may make it easier to de-link old debates from new agendas such as climate change.

Thus, even the concepts of 'South' and 'North-South' conflict may be obsolete and irrelevant in the climate change arena. Indeed, since late 1991, negotiations over climate change have resulted in a fractured and pragmatic set of political axes. Completely new alignments of cooperation and conflict emerged that are still fluid but no longer mirror the old North-South cleavage. Thus, in 1991 Anne Kristin Sydnes identified at least five groups from the 'South' in the climate change negotiations. These were:

1 radical, like-minded activist states (eg Bangladesh and Maldives) which view climate change as a major threat to their national existence;

2 potential, like-minded activist states (eg Mexico) which see climate change as a good way to extract additional concessional aid;

3 energy-consuming, hardliner states (eg Brazil, China, and India) which support more research but object to costly commitments and actions;

4 energy-exporting, hardliner states (OPEC states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by Australia) which object to potential market shrinkage and trade impacts;

5 unpredictable 'transition' states (eg Taiwan, South Korea, and some Eastern European states) which are already ambivalent as to the North-South cleavage given their position in the world economy and international hierarchy of states.

By December 1991, the G77's unity had virtually collapsed at the greenhouse negotiations in Geneva. A breakaway Group of 24 (G24) proposed that developing countries consider acting on greenhouse issues while awaiting action by the OECD. Two other southern strains also emerged in addition to the centrist G24, namely, a group of energy exporters which backed the United States in stalling agreement; and the AOSIS island states which joined the European Community, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in calling for a strong convention. The AOSIS states believed that the dilatory and ideological stance of the hardline, big poor states in G24 jeopardized their chance of obtaining any resources from the OECD. A fourth group of still uncommitted countries emerged, including Argentina and Mexico. These divisions continued up to the signing of the Climate Change Convention in June 1992 and are reflected in its text. It is difficult to believe that the state elites of the G77 can reconstruct their solidarity while negotiating protocols to the Convention now that they have discovered that their interests diverge fundamentally in relation to climate change.

Geoecological power?

The fragmentation of the South places developing countries in a weak bargaining position on the central issues of financing, technology transfer, and compensation payments that are still to be addressed in the Convention. The greenhouse issue exemplifies a general dilemma that developing countries face in global environmental politics. Global and regional environmental predicaments present them with new demands on scarce resources for regime and national survival as well as new bargaining opportunities with the OECD states. It remains to be seen exactly how southern elites will respond to these pitfalls and opportunities in the greenhouse arena.

On the negative or threatening side of their security, environmental problems could shift the priorities of wealthy trade and aid partners away from political and social stability in the South to global dilemmas of less concern to the southern elites. They also confront new and unruly domestic social movements often aligned transnationally with powerful counterparts in OECD states.

Vulnerable states could launch ideological campaigns against environmental issues in an attempt to wrest the political initiative away from the OECD states in the international arena. Polarization around issues such as climate change between the big, poor states and the big rich states block rather than foster international cooperation. Conflicts at a global and regional level on environmental issues could spill over into geoeconomic and geopolitical dimensions of interstate relations salient to climate change, thereby gridlocking ongoing negotiations.

Big, poor states may also use environmental issues to extract concessions from the OECD states in long-standing geoeconomic and geopolitical arenas. The greenhouse issue is unique in that the South influences a global asset that is greatly valued by the North: Earth's climate. Negotiations to date have been stalled by ideologies transposed from prior North-South conflicts into the greenhouse arena. But the elites of big, poor states have also tried to play a climate destruction card in a slow motion game of global climate change poker.

This strategy may fail, however. As Dallas Burtraw and Michael Toman have explained, most negotiations have two phases. The first phase is the bargaining over terms and content of agreement, which was partly completed at Rio. The second phase now underway is concerned with ratifying and implementing the agreement. 'Any proposed outcome that cannot be credibly implemented in the second phase of the game,' they note, 'cannot be credible in the first phase of the game.

Due to weak administrative and market institutions, states such as India, China, or Brazil may be unable to abate in accordance with global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - with or without transfers of resources from the wealthy nations. In addition, poor states are more vulnerable to the economic and social impacts of climate change than wealthy states. For these reasons, it is likely that the leaders of the OECD will be unmoved by implicit threats from the developing countries to destroy the earth's climate system unless the rules of international commerce are reformed.

Ironically, demands by big, poor states for massive resource transfers undermines the credibility of such threats for two reasons. First, it suggests to donors that the problems are so large that aid recipients may not be able to deliver the abatement, even if they receive additional support on a large scale. Second, to the extent that large-scale resource transfer achieved abatement and stimulated development, it would increase the dependency of southern elites on this source of external support. Recipients who defected from the regime would be sawing off one of the branches supporting them. It is not surprising therefore that the elites of the big, poor states are not persuaded that cooperating in the climate change arena helps rather than harms their prospects of staying in power.

A new power game

The potential economic impacts of mitigation and adaptation strategies have elevated environmental concerns from low to high politics, on a par with traditional economic and military preoccupations of the great powers. In contrast to the nuclear arms race, for example, no single state or group of states so predominates in emissions or abatement capability that it can impose an international regime on everyone else. The potential candidate the United States - abdicated from its potential hegemonic role in this regard at Rio by refusing to commit itself to reduction targets. Moreover, unlike the geopolitical and geoeconomic domains of interstate relations, there are as yet no widely accepted ideologies that frame geoecological issues such as climate change.

Consequently, ecological alignments in international relations remain fluid and unpredictable. No single state or group of states can lead or coerce other states to join a greenhouse regime or to build an oppositional grouping. It remains an open question whether governments will construct a meaningful greenhouse gas regime. Faced with this agnostic prognosis, there are three reasons to be optimistic about the medium- and long-term future of a greenhouse regime: technological innovation, the contribution of scientists to elite and popular understanding of climate change issues, and social movements.

Technological innovation

Rising energy efficiency is closely associated with technological dynamism, in turn an attribute of competitive firms and economies. Domestic and international competition drives technological innovation that will reduce the cost of greenhouse gas reductions, even at high levels of abatement. Governments can impede or encourage this phenomenon, but they can't stop it in the long run.

Nonetheless, an international climate change agreement that sets the ground rules for investors and states would enhance this phenomenon. Relatedly, bilateral and regional initiatives to demonstrate the technological feasibility and economic attractiveness of greenhouse gas reduction will be an important immediate step toward a greenhouse regime. It is crucial to identify the costs of abatement above the 20-30 per cent level of reduction for which data is available today. Only when the true cost of preserving the world's climate is known will political leaders be able to respond meaningfully.

Scientific research

Scientists will continue to develop a common stock of scientific knowledge on greenhouse issues out of which political elites can forge consensus on policy issues over time. Environmental regimes reflect not only interests, including the influence of domestic stakeholders in international affairs, and legal authority flowing from or ceded to international institutions, but also different world views. The smaller the common understanding and commitment to shared values, the weaker the regime. Thus, consensual knowledge is critical to overcoming the divisions of interest, authority, and belief systems that militate against international agreement.

Political scientist Peter Haas calls this influence 'epistemic' because scientists have been able to shape the images held by politicians and diplomats as to what is at stake in negotiations. He notes that scientists have already provided an ecological basis to international agreements in the Mediterranean Action Plan and the Vienna Convention to stop ozone depletion. There is little doubt that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has and will continue to play exactly this role in goading governments to grapple with the problem of global climate change.

Social movements

The inability of governments to concur in immediate stringent greenhouse gas reductions under the Convention may stimulate even greater efforts by social movements to address the issue of climate change on a global basis. In the developed countries, these organizations prefigure emerging social trends, are paradoxical in that they represent contradictions in the social order, and often transform the status quo. In many developing countries, non-governmental organizations are among the few wellsprings of social activity that are not dominated by government or administrative structures. Non-governmental organizations are able to pioneer creative and innovative solutions to many problems that stymie governments.

Although local citizen groups are the bedrock of social movements aimed at increasing accountability and participation in decision making of governments, they have invented new ways of communicating across cultural and institutional barriers, both within and between countries. Citizen groups provide a unique interface at the intermediate level of society to link national governmental policies and programmes with local realities via a host of social, economic and political organizations at the provincial and district level, including federations of cooperatives, trade unions and businesses, institutes, and churches. In many developing countries, this level of civil society is weak and must be strengthened to complement efforts to decentralize national public bureaucracies onto local, autonomous governmental institutions.

Another hallmark of environmental politics is the role of strong national, regional, and transnational social movements concerned with environment, development and social justice. The Climate Action Network exemplifies this trend. Established first in Western Europe, North America and Australia, the Network now includes vibrant and self-reliant regional networks in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The Network marshalls scientific information to present policymakers with strong recommendations and backs up these positions with strong political pressure on national governments and in the course of climate change negotiations.

Many citizen groups are starting carbon abatement projects without waiting for governments to reach international agreement. They are the key to reaching the millions of decision makers and billions of people who must change their daily routines if greenhouse gases are to be reduced to ecologically acceptable levels. They can inspire, complement and (when necessary) circumvent governments to initiate shifts in popular and elite world views. Non-governmental networks increasingly cross national boundaries to generate common positions on issues that divide their respective governments, including the old North-South divide. They can also monitor the implementation of the agreement and trumpet loudly when governments fail to meet their commitments. The production of independent inventories of greenhouse gas emissions is an important contribution in this regard which has already had an impact on international negotiations on climate change.

An important component of an international greenhouse strategy in the short- to medium-run is to increase the participation of non-governmental organizations in private and public international financing of energy and environmental investment projects. The participation of non-governmental organizations in the project cycle of the World Bank's Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an important first step in this direction. In Mexico, the EMIR (Eficientacion Mexicana de Iluminacion Residencial) project began in l 991 when the

International Institute for Energy Conservation working with US scientists and the Comision Federal de Electricidad (the Mexican electricity utility) proposed to the GEF that it lend $10 million to Mexico to improve the efficiency of residential lighting by promoting CF (compact fluorescent) lamps. Over its life, each 16 watt CF lamp that costs $10 to install will save about $33 of electricity and $9 of incandescent lamps, and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about one fifth of a tonne of carbon.

Citizen groups are also pushing for a direct role in the funding decisions of multilateral banks. At the NGO Global Forum that was held at the same time as the governmental 1992 Earth Summit, they committed themselves to urge the governments of developed countries to provide adequate, new and additional funds on concessional terms to developing countries, and to ensure that they participate in expenditure decisions and implementation of funded projects to ensure that these resources are well spent.

The creation of an NGO consultative committee by the GEF is an important step in this direction, and one that other organizations, especially the regional developments banks, should emulate. Indeed, by December 1992 citizen groups had produced already a positive, even visionary reform agenda for the GEF.