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International Relation Policies and Climate Change


In the 21st Century, climate change (global warming in particular) has perhaps been the greatest challenge facing world leaders and international communities. Scientists and environmental experts have sounded louder warning of rising dangers to humanity and the environment as whole following greenhouse gases emission resulting from burning of forests and fuel fossils. However, international conferences convened by the international and global bodies have never been successful in advancing a common and generally acceptable solution to these global challenges. For instance, like the earlier conferences, the 15th Climate Change Conference failed to produce desirable, legally binding and equitable agreements. Though the conference discussed ways of reducing ambitious emissions, technological advancements to the problem, and methods of financing the policies, it was in vain. In the end, The Copenhagen Accord was neither a comprehensive framework which demands effective, responsible participation from all the leading stakeholders (governments, financial institutions, and the civil society groups) nor was it a collective effort aimed at combating climate crisis in a more integrated manner. The differences in the positions held by the delegates in solving international disputes are best explained by the international relation theories such as realism, liberalism and constructionism.

Background to the problem

A scientific reported from the United States resource and environmental conservation department indicated that in 2011, the global emissions from greenhouse gases; mainly carbon dioxide reached a decade record high. According to the report, global emissions increased by 3% in 2011 and were expected to jump further by 5.6% come 2012. The department further warned that the situation is likely to worsen in the years to come, if not attended to immediately. The figures also show a decline in the level of emissions in developed economies such as United States and Russia. This decline apparently is a reflection of economic weakness, environmental consciousness (e.g. use of renewable power sources), and transfer of manufacturing industries to developing countries. Unfortunately, the decline in the industrial emissions from the advanced economies significantly falls below the increasing rate of emissions in the developing countries, which care less for their contribution to the global warming. Low-income countries whose low income population heavily depends on carbon-intensive fuels such as coal increasingly pollutes the environment.  Emissions from low-income countries alone accounts for about 80% of the greenhouse gases. 

Since 1945, the United Nations has been on the fore-front fighting for the restoration and conservation of the global environment. The UN has organized for a number of conferences focusing on climate change. The fifteenth conference was held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The CoP15 (The 15th Conference of the Parties) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was therefore described as a failed policy as no binding agreement was arrived at. The aim objective of the conference was to discuss and propose polices which would be essential in keeping the average world temperature rise slightly below 2oC. Partisanship and self-interest resulted into two groups of the UNFCCC: Annex I and Non-Annex I countries which represented different interests. Annex I was composed of the 40 industrialized and transitional countries non-Annex I countries was made up of developing economies.

Climate Change, Environment & IR Theory

The early concerns on the implication of politics on the environmental degradation mainly stemmed from the appreciation of human society and the bounding ecological climates, which would be socio-economically, be depleted in case of breach. Generally environmental depletion and degradation which results into global warming, depletion of the ozone layer and drastic climate changes are results of humanity and negligence, which would have been prevented or regulated had there been a strong international relationship and political good-will among these countries of the world. If international and diplomatic relationships between countries had been relatively stronger and stable, then solving environmental challenges through multi-lateral environmental negotiations or agreements would not be very challenging as it is today, neither would there be fallouts or collapses in the discussion and conference. These differences can be explained using primary international relation theories of liberalism, constructivism and realism.

Impact of climate change

The changing world climate adversely affects the agricultural and food industry of many countries, especially Northeast Asia. The rising average global temperature results into decline in agricultural production and decline in land productivity. Besides, erosion and increase in cases of pest and diseases have led to a significant decline in food production from the agricultural sector. This in turn has resulted into food insecurity. As a result of decline in foods, the prices of essential food stuffs have accelerated over the same period, forcing the world into starvation. Health-wise, incidence of malnutrition and other deficiency diseases have been on the rise amid free access to Medicare.

The global climate change has had a great effect on the industrial productivity of many factories. The decline in the water level due to drought has pushed the cost of hydro-electric power up, thus, an increase in the cost of production of essential industrial products. 

The theory of ‘closed finite system’ asserts that the resources at our disposal are limited while the demand for these resources is unlimited. This is the onset of resource depletion as the limited resources have to be efficiently allocated among the competitive needs. It is at this point that politics and international relationship theories come in to explain the difference in the political and social ideologies of different countries of the world. Climate change focuses on the ontological question about the relationship between human nature and climate. The ontological assumption that underpins industrial society and humanity is that the existence of humanity and the world are two different entities with distinct features and control over natural world and resources. Therefore, it is evidenced that human-induced environmental and climate changes alters the natural state of the world, thus a shift in the international socio-political dynamics. Therefore, this relationship can best be explained by the ontological broadband of international relation theory. It is under this approach that the international relation tries to explain and source a realistic solution to global warming and climate change.

Global climate change raises specific ontological issues: nature of causality in regard to international politics, constraint versus agency of individuals with respect to structural systems, and the relationship between international systems and political systems. In the event of casualties, it is hard to pin down all these institutions because of the non-linear responsibility path and multi-partnership. Thus, in such a context, it is very unclear how the international anarchy structures are the realms for developing suitable policy framework for solving climate changes.

Realism Theory

Realism is one of the dominant paradigm which attempts to explain the relationship between different countries of the world, especially in the modern society. This is because principally, realism offers a deeper insight into the regularity and control of international conflicts between these countries. This is a fact which cannot be refuted in the historical books of record. All the policies about realism are based on similar assumptions on how international system operations. Realists perceive sovereign states as being ten primary parties or actors in the anarchic international institutions, where there is limited power or supremacy of a country to arbitrate or adjudicate the interstate relationships. In case of lack of supreme authority, the relationship or interstate disputes are determined by military strength and material powers. As a result, such international negotiations are pervaded by insecurity which further breeds continuous power and survival struggle between countries. 

Realism therefore breeds insecurity and mistrust between countries in the international scene. As described by the theory of ‘security dilemma’ in the Northeast Asia, where there was great mistrust between international diversities which further stems from historic animosities, political and social differences, building of hostile alliances, and military coups, realism is a defensively motivated security theory. Under this international theory, building of trade block and international negotiations takes an offensive-defensive mechanisms and counter threats. This result into the creation self-fulfilling prophesies and counter-attacks as the conflicting sides intend to secure their environments, thus, raising tension between the sides. Realism theory of international relationship provides a fundamental reasoning for the collapse of the global climate conference of Copenhagen as different representatives and delegates were after serving personal interest in the CoP Accord.  Similarly the mistrust among the congress members with resulted into the collapse of the talk can also be explained using realism theory.  In theory, it is the inevitable desire for power maximization which created the resistance of the hegemonic aspiration of the rivalry enflamed by security dilemma plus consolidation of strong alliance blocks.

Liberalism Theory

As opposed to realists, liberals perceive international relationship as an optimistic move in the global climate change and restoration sanity in the environmental arena. Though they also concurred with the realism position that international systems as being more of anarchic, it is possible for the international community to escape the threatening security dilemma. They opposed the position held by realists that the interstate warfare were inevitable, and instead asserted that mankind had the ability to transcend these conflicts through use of specifying influences on the economic variables and interdependence or by using liberal democratic and international institutions to negotiate for peace and understanding among the conflicting countries. As argues O’Neal and Russett, economic interdependence, democracy, and international institutions acts as "virtuous circle," of reinforcing positive feedback which makes international systems and institutions more stable and specific. Therefore, it is these systematic interventions that eliminates or subdue the security dilemma, thus, a dramatic decrease in the interstate international conflicts.

Liberal international theory of relation lies on three pillars; institutional, economic interdependence, and democratization. These fundamental liberalistic pillars are likely to be diluted by the impact of the global climate change predicted by the IPCC.  Besides, liberal version of international relations is also founded on political and economic transformative power of the developed and the public accountability moderation effects on policy changes. Liberals therefore, alludes that capitalism can effectively operate in an economy characterized by political stability, sound legal institutions, and transparency in the entire economic process. Countries with limited political freedom and controlled information dissemination are restrained economically given the competitive nature of the global markets. Democratic accountability reduces the chance of expansionist military adventures or civil wars. Interstate dependency theory is therefore a critical step in promoting unity and relation between countries. It is this theory that non-Annex I members delegates of the 15th climate conference of Copenhagen, founded their reasoning when they advocated for the adoption of the CoP Accord on climate change.


The UNDP analysis of the Cop15 held in December 2009 in Copenhagen fell short of the comprehensive for finding reasonable and realistic solutions to global warming. This was because different parties to the conference were after serving their personal interests, thus, differences in political and social ideologies. The differences represented in the conference between the Annex I and non-Annex I was based on the international theories of relations; realism and liberalism. However, notably, a deal would have reached had not for differences in the political ideologies and philosophies among the attending delegates. Nevertheless, the subsequent Climate Change and Environmental Conferences offered little break through under the negotiations such as AWG LCA and AWG–KP.