Paul G. Harris
Many actors, institutions, and forces influence the foreign policies of governments and hence the course of international relations. This is as true of environmental issues as it is of other matters facing the international community. Indeed, with regard to global warming and resulting changes to the Earth’s climate, the variables are even more complex, disparate, and contentious than in many other areas of foreign policy. The chapters in this book examine many of those variables in the context of East Asia. 1 This chapter serves as a primer for those studies by looking at two broad issues that permeate debates about climate change policy and politics: (1) the anticipated and perceived ecological and socio-economic impacts of climate change for the countries of the region, which of course in large measure precede and dictate much of the international negotiations and subsequent actions by individual countries (Harris 2000a: 4-18; 2001a); and (2) critical questions of international justice (what some prefer to call international equity or fairness) associated with global warming and efforts to deal with its consequences (see Harris 2001b: 1-88). 2 These two broad issues are unavoidable considerations for efforts to address climate change, and they are central to helping us understand why and how countries respond to it at the national, regional, and international levels. The impacts of climate change drive concerns among countries, to be sure. But they are not the only considerations. Demands for justice affect the willingness of countries to join and implement the climate change regime, and the extent to which those demands are fulfilled will often determine the ability of many countries to undertake the measures that are necessary to limit global warming and to deal with the adverse consequences of resulting climate change.
In this chapter I summarize reports on global warming and the potential impacts of climate change in China and East Asia. While these reports vary somewhat in their findings and their degree of certainty, the preponderance of evidence is clear: Climate change presents the region with major challenges, most of them unwelcome. Subsequent chapters look in greater detail at impacts in particular countries. I also briefly introduce some underlying ethical considerations with regard to climate change justice and equity before summarizing how justice is part of the broader international politics of climate change, the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), its 1997 Kyoto Protocol