Politics Of Environment Essay

3205 words - 13 pages

Environmental problems do not respect State boundaries. This fact has been recognised for several decades now, particularly since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (the Stockholm Conference) in 1972, which is often credited as the birth of international environmental politics. However, Chasek, et al. (2010), argue that it was not until the 1980s that most governments began to see global environmental problems as anything more than “minor issues, marginal to both their core interests and to international politics in general” (p1). Nevertheless, an improved understanding of ecological processes has led to a situation where the “interaction between economic development and ...view middle of the document...

The ‘ultimate objective’ of the UNFCCC, and therefore the Kyoto Protocol, is to achieve “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UN, 1992). While the UNFCCC laid down this objective and the general framework it was not until the Kyoto Protocol that quantified commitments were made to emissions reduction targets and a timetable for their achievement (Sands, 2003, p370). Essentially the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC share identical principles, objectives and aims, however not all States that have ratified the UNFCCC have gone onto to commit to quantified targets by ratifying the Protocol. Underpinning both the Convention and the Protocol are the fundamental principles of ‘sovereignty’ and of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. The following paragraphs will discuss the meaning, application and limitations of both of these principles to the UNFCCC and more specifically the Kyoto Protocol.
Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, where the formal State system was born, the principle of absolute sovereignty of States within their respective territories has existed (Nicholls, 2010). State-based sovereignty today ‘forms the basis of international law’, acting as a golden thread running through any international negotiations or agreements (Nichols, 2010). Indeed, Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration (1992), recalled in the preamble of the UNFCCC (which also applies to the Protocol), confirms that “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environments of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” (UN, 1992, p1). Also ‘reaffirmed’ in the preamble, is “the principle of sovereignty of States in international cooperation to address climate change” (UN, 1992, p1).
In practice, this gives every State the freedom to choose whether they would like to take part in international agreements, and also the right to negotiate the level of their own commitments should they wish to participate. Speth & Haas (2006) affirm that “The principle of sovereignty guarantees that all nations are equal in the limited sense that no nation can be bound by a treaty without its consent” (p84). The ‘primary function’ of any sovereign State is to protect the well-being of their citizens and economy, which naturally can cause a whole host of problems when negotiating global environmental policies. “As it stands” Nicholls (2010) claims “national interest will more often than not override the good of the global commons” (p111). Essentially, “on issues of the economy versus the environment … imminent economic considerations are far easier to...

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