Global Climate Governance and Climate Politics

Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) are the central mechanisms for global environmental governance Andonova et al (2009). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the associated Kyoto Protocol (KP) govern global cooperation in response to climate change and global warming. The UNFCCC is undergirded by three key principles – the Precautionary Principle, the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR), and the commitment to sustainable development – which define cooperation between countries and also condition national and sub-national climate policies. Global climate governance has been characterized by a standoff between developed and developing countries, and among developed countries, which has prevented the emergence of a legally binding climate governance framework. This standoff appears to be continuing, and taking on new dimensions in the build up to Paris 2015.  The main areas of contention in the design of the global climate governance framework revolve around questions of attribution (common but differentiated responsibility), equity (financing climate mitigation and adaptation, including technology transfer and capacity building), and emissions reductions.


While non-nation state actors (NSSAs) have become increasingly important in climate governance, the development and implementation of adaptation policies and strategies remains dominated by state actors. Civil society organizations and local communities have so far played a limited role in the formulation of national climate change adaptation policies and strategies. This is a highly contradictory reality, and reflects the uncertainties in the changing balances and configurations of power between states, civil society (including the market), and international organizations. Climate change constitutes an arena in which power shifts between different actors and interests are expressing themselves in many complex ways. The need to understand how the different power relations act out, and the implications of these interaction on climate governance at local, national and global scales is urgent. 


The original remit of the UNFCCC was to manage mitigation. Adaptive capacity was considered to be an indicator of the extent to which societies could tolerate changes in climate, and was not seen as a policy objective.  Adaptation emerged from this context to deal with the impacts of non-mitigated greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in an “impacts-based” approach to climate change risk. This impacts-based approach requires external scientific and technological expertise to define climate change problems, and formulate technological adaptation solutions, based on specific knowledge of future climate conditions.
The principal current climate change concern for Africa is its implications for development and the wellbeing of societies and ecosystems. The governance of climate change adaptation on the continent thus requires a review of the nature and trajectory of growth and development processes, the democratization of global systems to achieve equity, and the realignment of decision making processes to facilitate greater public engagement in the formulation of global and national responses to climate change.


Africa contributes only 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, yet Africa’s countries are among the most vulnerable to global warming. The global climate governance framework seeks to achieve an equitable and democratic climate response which allocates historical responsibility and also mobilizes resources to support national and sub-national responses to climate change. However, commitment to the global framework has proved to be variable, with some countries repudiating the KP and others similarly withdrawing from global climate agreements See e.g. Karlsonn-Vinkhuyzen (2013). The UNFCCC is increasingly characterized by contestations over its legitimacy, issues of institutional fragmentation, and significant differences in the interpretations of key principles of the convention and the KP. These contestations are indicative of the highly political nature of global climate governance.


Leading up to Paris 2015, UNFCCC Parties are negotiating a new climate agreement under the Convention that will be applicable to all parties.  This agreement — in the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force — is to be agreed by the 2015 Paris COP and to come into effect by 2020.  The two main issues currently under discussion are in relation to the “elements” of the agreement (whether it will cover mitigation, adaptation, technology, finance, capacity and transparency, and how) and “contributions” (the scope and information to be provided in the “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs by Parties to the new agreement).  


Major issues include whether the post-2020 agreement will cover all the elements in a balanced and comprehensive manner, or focus asymmetrically on mitigation, carbon markets and transparency or “MRV" to the exclusion of adaptation, finance, technology or capacity (all of which are important to Africa). Concerns with the latter approach is that it will result in a weaker international regime than the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries, and a stronger one for developing countries, without adequate provisions for support.


The African Group of negotiators is calling for a comprehensive agreement covering all elements in a balanced way, with general commitments and global objectives, specific commitments by parties, operational mechanisms and provisions on accountability, compliance and review. On “contributions” the Group has stated that these must be in conformity with the Convention, respect differentiation between developed and developing countries and build on established Convention obligations. Developed countries should put forward contributions addressing adaptation support, finance, technology and capacity (as well as mitigation) as failure to do so will limit prospects for a balanced outcome in Paris.


The ACT debates will explore global climate politics and the implications that questions of power, equity and ethics affects the principles of the UNFCCC. The dialogues will seek to elaborate an African position on the founding principles of the convention and ways by which these principles should be reflected in the post 2015 climate agreement. The dialogues will also address global climate governance dynamics and the implications of these for Africa’s development pathways.