Politics, International Relations and Climate Change

Politics, International Relations and Climate Change

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            The international system has over the past century been characterized by an increase in cases of interstate and intrastate wars.  Hefron (2015) emphasizes that the prevalence of war threatens the success of the international system.  The international system is increasingly being threatened by the prevalence of a realist political environment. Hefron (2015) emphasizes that the international relations theory, ‘realism has provided a solid discussion of states behavior and rationale for going to war’ (p.1).  Realists hold the view that countries or states exist an in international system that has progressively become anarchic.  To survive in such an environment, states have no option rather than to rely on their might and power in order to remain dominant.

In spite of the progression of an anarchic international system and the need to remain dominant within the political environment, states across the globe face a common challenge with regard to climate change.  Hollo, Kulovesi, and Mehling (2013) identify climate change as one of the notable phenomena facing the world today.  Considering the need for international cooperation, this paper entails a critical literature review whether it is possible for states to cooperate in dealing with climate change despite the progression of an anarchical international system.

Literature review

Motive behind states’ cooperation

As one of the major global issues in contemporary society, climate change impacts the lives and livelihood of all citizens and businesses in the international system (Hollo, Kulovesi & Mehling 2013). Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the prime causes of climatic change.  The increase in greenhouse gas emissions is triggered by human activities across the world such as an increase in consumption of non-renewable sources of energy such as petroleum (Habib 2008; Hickman & Banister 2014). In spite of the origin of greenhouse gas emissions, the impact is felt globally as evidenced by cases of draught and flashfloods arising from the melting of the iceberg.  The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change stipulates that climate change is accelerating and unequivocal (Hollo, Kulovesi & Mehling 2013).  It is estimated that the global average temperature has increased by approximately 0.74 degrees Celsius.  The report further affirms that the global average temperature will increase by 1.1 -6.4 degrees Celsius (Hollo, Kulovesi & Mehling 2013). The severity of draughts, desertification, land degradation, and intensity of tropical cyclones and floods will increase globally (Hollo, Kulovesi & Mehling 2013).

Cooperation amongst states

To successfully deal with climate change, a collaborative approach between states irrespective of their political affiliations is critical.  Available evidence shows that countries across the world are increasingly focused on formulating a climate change policy that will significantly lead to a reduction in individual states’ contribution to climate change.   As a global issue, dealing with climate change requires a global approach. Subsequently, the need for states to cooperate in formulating realistic climate change policies is critical.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is one of the notable agreements that underline the need for cooperation in dealing with climate change (Grundig 2006). According to Country Watch Incorporation (2010), ‘the Kyoto Protocol emphasized that ‘economically advanced nations must reduce their combined emissions of greenhouse gases, by approximately 5% from their 1990 levels before the 2008-2010 deadline’ (p.2).  Conversely, countries characterized by high carbon dioxide emissions such as the European Union countries; Japan, and the United States were required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a scale of 6-8%.  The Kyoto Protocol further required all economically advanced countries to depict demonstrable progress with regard to the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2005. Despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol did not set binding limits on developing countries, the Kyoto Protocol required the developing countries to be committed to reducing greenhouse gases. This underlines the fact that countries are focused on entrenching a collaborative approach in dealing with climate change.

The Cancun Agreement

Apart from the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol, cooperation amongst countries is further underlined by the Cancun Agreement, which underlines the need for a collaborative approach to dealing with climate change.  The Cancun Agreement is comprised of a collection of 26 different agreements and was consented to by 193 countries across the world (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2011). According to the Cancun Agreement, developing and developed countries have an obligation to minimize the emission of greenhouse gases. Under the Cancun Agreement, countries are also required to avoid deforestation and to support the Green Climate Fund whose objective is to enhance the proliferation of financial aid required by developing countries to deal with climate change at a global scale (Andersen, Boasson & Honneland, 2012).  The Green Climate Fund is managed by a board, whose membership is comprised of parties drawn from both the developing and developed countries. Through this approach, the Green Climate Fund is characterized by equal representation.  In addition to these issues, the Cancun Agreement further requires countries across the globe to integrate low-carbon or clean energy technologies.

To enhance the effectiveness of the Cancun Agreement in dealing with climate change, countries around the world have advocated for the integration of ‘enhanced action and international cooperation’. This has led to the formulation of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which is aimed at promoting efficiency with regard to constitutional support, and technical and financial support amongst countries (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2011).

Cooperative approach to financing climate change  

International cooperation in dealing with climate change is also evidenced by the fact that the developing economies are committed to offering the developing economies financial aid in order to enhance their effectiveness in coping with climate change. A study conducted by the UK House of Commons in collaboration with the Environmental Audit Committee affirms that dealing with climate change involves the incurrence of significant additional financial costs especially for developing countries (Great Britain 2011).

Ciplet (2015) asserts that the developed economies are cognizant of the fact that the developing economies are vulnerable to the impact of climate change.  This might negatively affect their commitment to dealing with climate change. This motivated a significant number of the developed economies to pledge their support for the developing economies during the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] held in Copenhagen, commonly referred to as the Copenhagen Accord (Great Britain 2011).  During the convention, the developed countries promised to offer aid amounting to US$ 30 billion for the period ranging between 2010 and 2012.  The developed countries promised to increase their financial aid to $100 billion annually by 2020 (Ciplet 2015).  In spite of the promised financial aid, some countries such as Sudan, Tuvalu, Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela, were opposed to the financial aid (Zahra 2014).  As a result of the lack of commitment by some of the countries, the promised financial aid was not recorded as a legal agreement under the Copenhagen Accord. This underlines the prevalence of sovereignty with regard to the approach adopted in dealing with climate change (Christiansen 2016).

Nevertheless, in recognition of the negative impact of climate change and hence the need to deal with climate change,   the developing countries agreed to financial aid during the Cancun Convention, which led to the formulation of the Green Climate Fund. The United Kingdom contributed approximately £ 800 million (Great Britain 2011). The rationale of the Fund was to provide developing countries with adequate financial support to deal with climate change. Countries’ cooperation in dealing with climate change is further underlined by the establishment of diverse Climate Investment Funds such as the DFID and DECC. These Funds are managed by the World Bank (Brown & Gravingholt 2016).


The prevalence of political differences between countries has been in existence for decades as evidenced by the prevalence of interstate, interstate, and war between superpowers.  The political differences have been spurred by the increased adoption of a realist political approach by countries, which is evidenced by the existence of anarchy amongst most countries. The prevalence of anarchy threatens the survival of international cooperation between countries. However, this paper reveals that irrespective of the prevalence of an anarchic international system, an increase in the rate of climate change is likely to enhance international cooperation.  This arises from the fact that climate change results in adverse consequences which impacts the lives and livelihoods of all citizens irrespective of their nationalities or economic status. Thus, climate change has become a global phenomenon that is motivating countries to cooperate.

Cooperation among countries is evidenced by the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol and the Cancun Agreement.  The ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and the Cuncan Agreement underlines the commitment by countries across the world to adopt a collaborative approach to dealing with climate change. For example, under the Kyoto Protocol, different countries, especially the developed countries were required to minimize their greenhouse gas emission. The rationale of the Protocol was to ensure that the developed countries were responsible with regard to managing their carbon emission. Through this approach, the developed countries would significantly minimize their negative impact on the developed economies.

Similarly, under the Cancun Agreement, countries are required to entrench green energy and energy-efficient technologies in an effort to minimize climate change. International cooperation is also evidenced by the provision of financial aid to developing countries in order to enable them to fight climate change.  In summary, international cooperation amongst countries in dealing with climate change is inevitable irrespective of their political system. Success in international cooperation among countries has been and will continue to be possible due to the formulation of international agreements.



Andersen, S, Boasson, L & Honneland, G 2012, International environmental agreement; an introduction, Routledge, New York.

Brown, S & Gravingholt, J 2016, The securitization of foreign aid, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Christiansen, S 2016, Climate conflicts; a case of international environmental and humanitarian law, Springer, Switzerland.

Ciplet, D 2015, ‘Rethinking cooperation inequality and consent in international climate change politics’, Global Governance, vol. 21, pp. 247-274.

Country Watch Incorporation: International policy development in regard to global warming 2010. [Online].

Great Britain 2009, Sustainable development in a changing climate, TSO, London.

Great Britain 2011, The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation; fifth report of session 2010-201. Stationery Office, London.

Grundig, F 2006, ‘Patterns of international cooperation and explanatory power of relative gains; an analysis of cooperation on global climate change, ozone depletion and international trade’, International Studies Quarterly, vol. 50, pp. 781-801.

Habib, B 2008, Climate change and international relations theory; Northeast Asia as a case study. [Online].

Hefron, D 2015, What do realists think about climate change. [Online].

Hickman, R & Banister, D 2014, Transport, climate change and the city, Routledge, New York.

Hollo, E, Kulovesi, K & Mehling, M 2013, Climate change and the law, Springer, New York.

PricewaterhouseCoopers: Sustainability and climate change 2011. [Online].

Zahra, A 2014, International climate change law and state compliance, Routledge, New York.

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