Liberalism Influences In The Paris Agreement

In this paper, I argue that liberalism is the best theory to explain the origins of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To support my claim, I first argue that this agreement has taken place within the (FCCC) Framework Convention on Climate Change located within the (UN) United Nations, an international institution which is a liberal construct to reach a common goal, which in this case is to combat climate change collectively. Secondly, liberalism is apparent in this agreement as it ensues democracy by giving participating Parties the freedom to submit (NDCs) nationally determined contributions that are aligned with their national interests, as long as initial guidelines are met. Moreover, this agreement has liberal undertones as it fosters economic interdependence as seen in its financial support measures towards developing country Parties. Lastly, criticism on liberalism’s lack of coverage on nationalism is discussed to provide contrasting views.

To start, I argue that the Paris Agreement would not be possible if it were not for the formation of international institutions.

With liberalism, it ensues a worldview that places importance on international institutions to effectively implement shared goals (Keohane and Nye [1977] 1989, cited in Richardson 2011: 55). To illustrate, a few predecessors came before the UN: namely the (ITU) International Telegraph Union formed in 1865, followed by the (UPU) Universal Postal Union in 1874, the emergence of the (PCA) Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1902, and lastly the League of Nations founded in 1919 (The United Nations 2015). The participating nations’ sheer determination to form a working international institution is proof that liberalism was the acting catalyst, one of Balch’s aspirations for a new world ever since World War I erupted (Gwinn 2010: 177). Aside from that, a few climate change agreements took place within the FCCC before the Paris Agreement came into play: Kyoto Protocol in 1997, followed by the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 and the Cancun Agreement in 2010 (FCCC 1998: 4-6, 2010: 4-10; 2011: 2-4; The C2ES 2017). From this, it is obvious that participating nations are persistent in curbing climate change cooperatively, which aptly describes liberalism. Simply put, liberalism foregrounds the significance of international institutions to achieve an agreed goal under cooperative conditions, akin to Paris Agreement’s genesis.

Secondly, liberalism encompasses democratic values as seen within the Paris Agreement’s clauses, therefore making it a relevant theory. As explained by Richardson, democracy ensures a peaceful worldview where diplomatic means of negotiation is necessary between states in order to settle their differences amicably (Doyle 1983, 1986; Russett 1993, cited in 2011: 54). To prove this, participating Parties are free to refine their contributions according to their domestic interests, as long as any foreseeable changes in contributions are communicated in a timely manner (FCCC 2015a: 4-6). Moreover, the ratification of this agreement equates to Parties giving ‘consent’- a clear indicator of liberalism (Mehta 2003, cited in Barnett and Duvall 2005: 64). This means that explicit power exchange will cease to exist, therefore negating chances of war happening. For example, Article 15 states that failure in complying with NDC related guidelines will result in a consultation of affairs through a professional, conducive and cooperative committee to ensure personal objectives are met whilst being aligned with the agreement’s main objectives (FCCC 2015b: 19). This shows that powers are equally distributed between parties, hence nullifying realists’ war theory on power dynamics. In short, liberalism is evident in the Paris Agreement as it upholds democratic values.

Moreover, I argue that liberalism brings into play the importance of economic interdependence between nations, parallel to existing clauses within the agreement. According to Rosecrance, world peace is attainable through economic relations between states, and has been a recurring theme in liberalism ever since its illumination during the 19th century (1986; cited in Richardson 2011: 56-57). To prove, the need for supportive financial measures by developed Parties in response to financial hardship experienced by developing Parties is clearly outlined (FCCC 2015a: 8-9; 2015b: 13-14). Although these measures will take time in tackling climate change, it adheres to Pogge’s global justice theory. A former follower of Rawlsian liberalism, he strongly argues that effects of globalization in policy making must be taken seriously, in hopes of effacing social inequities that stemmed from human’s violent history (Pogge 2005: 2-3). Fortunately, the Paris Agreement does not fall short on this, considering that keywords like “support” and “developing country Parties” have been mentioned 42 and 36 times respectively (FCCC 2015b: 1-20). In a nutshell, economic interdependence between Parties in the agreement denotes liberalism’s influence.

Lastly, one of liberalism’s critiques claim that the prevalence of nationalism in non-western countries is heavily overlooked, which renders liberalism an incomplete theory. Richardson briefly mentioned that Chinese and Islamic cultures are prone to dismissing liberal regimes as it undermines their sense of cultural identity (2012: 60). In reference to the agreement, the status of ratification shows inconclusive findings as China was one of the early adopters in 2016, holding Richardson’s claim partly untrue. This leaves Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey and Yemen as the only countries that have not ratified this agreement (UNTC 2016: 1-3). Interestingly, an empirical study found a positive correlation between predominantly Muslim states and deterred democracy (Potrafke 2012: 191). This leaves Angola, Eritrea and South Sudan’s motives open to further scrutiny as they do not fall into the prior category. To put it bluntly, this criticism of liberalism requires an extensive framework to overcome any intricacies in studying this subject matter, as watering it down under the guise of nationalism is too simplistic.