New Thinking Blog: Climate Governance Compromises and their Impacts

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on Jan 21, 14 • posted by

New Thinking Blog: Climate Governance Compromises and their Impacts


Climate Governance Compromises and their Impacts

Caroline Kuzemko, IGov Team, 21 January, 2014

About Caroline:



Last week I spent Thursday and Friday at a youth hostel near Milton Keynes (and yes, I did see statues of cows) at an extended workshop on climate governance. This was organised by Dr Chris Shaw, of the Environmental Change Institute, as part of an on going, ESRC funded project: #climatecrunch. The themes of the workshop were ‘risks, rights and responsibilities’ and, although I learnt a huge amount over the two days, there were a few issues that really stood out for me, and that chime also with work that we do at IGov, Exeter. These have to do with the kinds of compromises that are made and what impacts these have in practice.

What became clear on the theme of rights from a number of presentations, but especially those of Professors Peter Newell and Jouni Paavola, was that climate governance organised at the global level has varied, and often not positive, consequences for local communities. One contentious issue is the lack of genuine consultation with local communities across a range of different carbon market projects (often Clean Development Mechanisms). A recent paper, co-authored by Professor Paavola, gives the almost unmake-up-able example of a project in India where consultation was ‘open’ but conducted entirely online (in an area of extremely low internet access) and only in English.

There were other contentions that arose. In seeking overall to reduce carbon dioxide emissions many of these projects failed to take account of other impacts within the local communities. Through close (on the ground) analysis of a wide range of projects impacts such as environmental pollution, aggravation of existing conflicts and inequalities, and imposition of social burdens were identified. These very real, locally felt outcomes of such projects tend to go unmeasured at the global level but send certain messages about climate action locally.

There are three issues at play here that are worth expanding. The first is this tendency to measure ‘success’ almost entirely in terms of a calculation of emissions reductions without taking these other impacts into account. What this quite technical approach means in practice, and in addition to questions of justice, is that the communities that actually experience ‘climate’ projects may well associate action on climate change with negative outcomes. This does little to encourage support for climate change mitigation whilst embedding carbon emissions, in these instances, as the principal and/or only measure of sustainable development.

The second issue is one of ‘scale’ – rules are being decided and set, and success often measured, by people sitting at desks hundreds or thousands of miles away from where localised experiences of climate action take place. Furthermore, many of these market mechanisms are in place so that Western nations can offset their own emissions (as if they don’t have enough opportunity given imports of many high carbon intensive goods from developing countries). We were reminded that early on in the UNFCC process Brazil had proposed a climate fund that all countries would pay fines into if they missed targets – a fund that would then be used to pay for sustainable development projects. Simple. The US, however, wanted to avoid this command-and-control approach and pushed heavily for market instruments (emissions trading and CDMs) and then, ironically, didn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The third, and last, issue discussed here ties in with work that we have done at IGov that seeks to better understand the inter-actions between economistic decision-making and energy and climate governance (see also a useful piece on this issue here). What is happening at the global, as well as UK level, is that instruments designed to cut carbon emissions are constrained and compromised by still relatively dominant ideas about the role of markets. The preference for market instruments ties in with an interpretation of climate change as ‘market failure’ to be solved by intervention in markets. Fixing this interpretation at global level then tends to reify a governance approach that all but ignores local politics and society.

This, as with the issues outlined above, suggests that many current global climate instruments are reflections of existing alignments of power within the world system. Although there is a relatively new global governance ‘norm’ – to cut carbon dioxide emissions – the methods used to do so often reflect the dominance of economistic interpretations and instruments. This compromise may, if the case studies analysed within these research projects are anything to go by, cause many to question the new norm of climate action

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