Academic journal article Global Governance

Responsibilities in Transition: Emerging Powers in the Climate Change Negotiations

Academic journal article Global Governance

Responsibilities in Transition: Emerging Powers in the Climate Change Negotiations

Article excerpt

The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) play an increasingly prominent role in global climate negotiations. Climate governance spotlights burden-sharing arrangements, asking countries to take on potentially costly actions to resolve a global problem, even as the benefits are generally indivisible public goods. This article examines the BASIC countries' own Joint Statements and their individual and collective submissions to multilateral climate negotiations to identify the rationalist and principled arguments they have made about the climate burden-sharing requirements that developed countries, developing countries, and they themselves should face in global climate governance. It argues that their expectations for their own role are particularly unclear, with greater national action than international commitments to do so. Keywords: climate change, emerging powers, power transition, burden sharing.

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In the twenty-first century, there is little doubt that the emerging powers are transforming the institutions and habits of global governance. They are seeking and gaining new influence on global rule making in areas from trade to finance to poverty reduction. In contrast, they spent much of the 2000s trying to avoid notice in global climate change negotiations, even as other countries were looking to them to play a larger role. At the Copenhagen negotiations in 2009, however, the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) began to coordinate their positions and made their first promises to reduce at least the pace of the rise of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Their ministers have met quarterly since then to discuss their climate positions, even as the grouping has kept a low collective profile in the formal negotiations. We argue that examining the BASIC countries' evolving positions after 2009 regarding their responsibilities and capacities in the climate regime provides important insights into the role of emerging powers in global governance, especially in burden-sharing regimes such as climate change.

The fact that climate governance spotlights burden-sharing arrangements is a key structural feature that provides a window into how the emerging powers will engage in the future provision of global public goods. Most studies of the emerging powers have focused on economic arenas where burden sharing is balanced by significant power sharing. (1) Power sharing usually results in tangible economic benefits for the participant, including influence in rule setting that may open new economic opportunities. In contrast, climate change negotiations often focus on the zero-sum task of distributing obligations to reduce emissions while benefits are generally indivisible collective goods. Thus, countries are asked to take on substantial upfront costs in exchange for much more diffuse benefits.

Climate change is also one of the first burden-sharing arenas that involves explicit demands by the North for a subset of actors in the South to share the costs of providing a global public good. Yet studies of climate politics are only beginning to direct attention to the emerging powers in these negotiations. (2) In this article, we review the positions of the BASIC countries on governance issues requiring costly contributions to the provision of a global public good, climate stability. Rational interest calculations stress the incentives for national shirking in the global commons of the atmosphere. (3) Yet the challenges go beyond that. A number of different burden-sharing arrangements could meet the material requirements of reducing GHG emissions sufficiently to reduce the rate of global warming. Behind rationalist debates on free riding and burden sharing thus lies another set of debates about how any burdens should be equitably distributed: what kinds of actors have what kinds of burdens and obligations to provide this global public good? What, if any, obligations do emerging powers have? …

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