ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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International Relations Impeding Equity and Global Climate Justice

By drawing heavily from neoclassical economics, game theory, and rational choice theory, mainstream international relations ends up adopting a managerial approach to the issue of climate change, wherein international politics becomes structurally similar to a market economy in which states are rational, self-interested actors. Consequently, cost–benefit calculations rule out the normative moral arguments for an equitable sharing of future carbon space that do not converge with the material interests of states.

At a recent major international conference on global cli mate change governance, Robert Keohane, an eminent political scientist from the United States (US), called for future research to focus on describing and explaining  political action on climate change rather than articulating a normative philosophical view of an ethical climate policy or criticising national or international policies on normative gro unds (Keohane 2016a). In a further clarification to this keynote address, he insisted that he was not dismissing the issue of equity from the agenda per se, but was instead encouraging scholars to focus on its trade-offs with effectiveness (Keohane 2016b). His rationale was that in the real world, falling short of justice or equity may be a consequence of the trade-offs  imposed by the difficult circumstances in world politics  (Keohane 2016b).

Several scientists and international relations (IR) scholars working on climate policy have expressed reservations about the adequacy of the voluntary commitments made under the Paris Agreement—in the 21st session of the Conference of the  Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—with regard to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius (McKie 2016; Victor 2016). This inadequacy, coupled with a diversion of focus away from justice and equity issues in climate change scholarship, is worrisome, especially because of the uneven and unequal  nature of the impact of climate change. Taking Keohane’s  remarks as a starting point, we argue that circumventing the normative dimension of climate change politics in favour of a more positive analysis is not a recent phenomenon in mainstream IR, which is dominated by neorealism and neo-liberal institutionalism. Instead, it has a long history and has been continually informing practice. Academics and negotiators (especially from the US) as well as think tanks and national governments have argued in the past, and continue to argue that, though equity considerations are important, they take  attention away from the more immediate problems of climate change governance.

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Updated On : 21st Jun, 2019


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