When it comes to climate change, national interests outweigh international mandates


The potential impact of climate change is not a core national issue that outranks economic, military or other key national policies for most countries. Thus, organizing a global, legal agreement at the UN Climate Summit in Paris in late 2015 will not be easy. Though most countries will adopt some measures to comply with UN mandates, they are unlikely to put other national interests in jeopardy. As with many bilateral or multilateral deals, countries will prioritize their domestic interests above all else.

UN member nations are often hesitant to sign legally binding deals. It is hard for a country to predict the challenges its economy or society will face in 2025. Therefore, signing a legally binding agreement that limits coal consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, while setting firm targets for renewable energy standards for 2025, limits the ability to counteract unforeseen problems. This is why setting a target remains tenable, but making it strong and binding is problematic.

While future economic challenges are unpredictable, so are the effects of climate change.

The scientific community largely agrees that the world’s climate is changing and that human activity is a factor, but significant uncertainties remain about the exact degree of impact on climate change humans make, and the overall severity of the phenomenon, especially at the regional level. This makes it difficult for individual countries to enact environmental standards meant to combat or limit the effects of climate change 20 or 30 years in the future. The risk versus reward in decision-making on climate policy is difficult under these circumstances, meaning it is safer to make judgments based on the known economic constraints of new climate policy than on the vague future effects of the changing global ecosystem.

The Kyoto Protocol—the first binding international agreement on emissions—showed that significant compromises must be made to reach a deal that everyone can agree to.

Although the Kyoto Protocol can be considered successful in the sense that several countries hit their targets, it did not result in the slowing of global emissions, lacking real enforcement for its mandates. Ultimately, climate change policy can be seen as a spin on the classic prisoner’s dilemma: No single country can single-handedly impact global emissions levels, so unilaterally reducing emissions does not make sense unless the rest of the world does so as well. However, developing countries—including seven of the eight most populous countries in the world—could massively increase their per-capita energy consumption as they develop. This expansion in energy usage means that while the goals of the 2015 Paris climate summit may be well intentioned, the results will be largely ineffective.


Publishing by The Manila Times of these graphics and analysis is with the express permission of STRATFOR.


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1 Comment

  1. Vicente Penetrante on

    The tower of Babel is to be blamed. After the people were dispersed with different languages, they never saw eye-to-eye again. The UN is but a start to have common dreams again.