Policy Debates

To illustrate the lack of sustained explanations of climate politics, consider the following policy debates. One good example would be the debate over tradeable permits. This scheme would involve states being allocated permits to emit a particular quantity of CO2 (and possibly other greenhouse gases [ghgs]) per year which would then be tradeable. The number of total permits distributed could decline over time to achieve overall global abatement targets. The point of the scheme would be that (for most allocation criteria) an industrialised country which emits more than it is given permits for would be able to buy permits from a developing country, should this be cheaper than reducing its own emissions domestically. This would be an economically optimal method of pollution control (by the standards adopted by neoclassical economists), and would facilitate North-South transfers, in the process possibly promoting development in the South which would not be based on fossil fuels. Much of the international policy debate has focused on the relative merits of tradeable permits over targets or carbon taxes, largely with a view to establishing which is the most economically efficient.3 However, there is little in the way of discussion of the political context of the negotiations through which such schemes would have to be introduced. Grubb (1989) provides a notable exception, but even here it remains at a 'common sense' level.

Another example would be the debate about equity and North-South relations.4 Some of this literature draws explicitly on traditions concerningjustice; for example, the work of John Rawls figures prominently. Oran Young would be representative of many of these writers when he asserts that 'the availability of arrangements that all participants can accept as equitable...is necessary for institutional bargaining to succeed' (1989a: 368). But as Grubb, Sebenius, Magalhaes and Subak (1992) point out, concerning global warming there are a number of viewpoints on this question. These positions include: 'polluter pays' rationales based either on current emissions or historically accumulated contributions to global warming; an equal entitlements approach, that all individuals have an equal right to use the atmospheric commons; a 'willingness-to-pay' justification derived from welfare economics; that each participant should shoulder a 'comparable' burden based on their situation; simply that the distributional implications of any agreement should be taken into account (a position which draws explicitly on John Rawls [1973]); and a conservative position that starts with the assumption that the status quo is legitimate in the sense that present emitters have established some common law right to use the atmosphere as they at present do (Grubb et al., 1992:312-13). However, it would again be reasonable to claim that this literature is underdeveloped regarding the political context into which such schemes would be placed (although it is politically more sophisticated than the debate over tradeable permits or institutional questions), and would benefit from a more detailed political analysis regarding that context.

A final example would be the debate over institutional questions. Many of those writing about global warming, and UNCED more generally, suggest that creating new international institutions with particular functions and powers would contribute significantly to ameliorating the problem (e.g. French, 1992; Gardner, 1992; Imber, 1993). But institutions are often conflated with organisations, and there is little analysis of the particular ways in which they can affect political outcomes. For example, Richard Gardner writes that 'A critical question throughout the UNCED process was what kind of new or improved institutions should be created to assure the implementation of the Agenda 21 program' (Gardner, 1992:42, emphasis added), implying that institutional arrangements can in some simple fashion assure the implementation of such a huge programme. Hilary French (1992:31-8) argues forcefully for the strengthening of UN institutions to improve the international response to environmental problems, but without any clear analysis of what strengthening means, or what institutions, such as an environmental dimension to the Security Council or a reformed UNEP, could achieve. And Mark Imber (1992) engages in a purely technical account of the changes involved in establishing the Sustainable Development Commission and the resultant changes in UNEP's role, assuming the importance of these changes without any explicit justification.

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