Course Notes – IL & GEP: Equity and climate change governance

My students in both classes have been focusing on climate change governance this week. One of the key themes that emerges is the question of equity. Does fairness matter here? (A question I won’t directly address because it is a take-home exam question!). What are the politics of equity and how does that translate into legal texts? As one student posted on my International Law blog:

I would argue that the concept of equity and how to measure it is the underlying issue.

A great source on these issues is Parks and Roberts’ 2008 article, “Inequality and the global climate regime.” Inequality, they note, is relevant to the interests of states who vary in their production of emissions and their vulnerability to climate change, and their capabilities for action on climate change issues (decision-making power in international regimes, for instance).

What are the prospects for collaboration on climate change given such inequalities? As one of my students noted, there are mechanisms for side payments to developing countries, to make participation in these agreements more attractive:

One of the many obstacles to international environmental protection is the economic interests of poorer nations.  In working to eliminate CFCs, the international community managed to solve this problem by creating a fund to help developing nations

Another student, considering the Montreal Protocol and its side payments to developing countries, seems to wonder whether the reasons for treaty ratification should matter to us:

What would the compliance rate have been had the Protocol not provided for these incentives or provided assistance for developing countries? While some states signed the treaty out of real concern for the environment, it seems most states only did so for financial reasons and to avoid conflict.

One of my students makes an even bolder and (perhaps) more controversial claim about the rights of the current generation in developing countries:

The environment is important and I believe that the international community should take action to protect it.  However ensuring the welfare of people alive today is far more important than ensuring the welfare of the world’s future population.

The problem of inequality has been–and will continue to be for some time–THE main issue is negotiations about climate change and economic governance (where my IL class will turn their attention to next).