liu.seSearch for publications in DiVA
Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Historical responsibility for climate change: defining aspects
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies. Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research . Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, Rossby Centre, Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute/Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Since 1990, the academic literature on historical responsibility for climate change has grown considerably. Over these years, the approaches to defining this responsibility have varied considerably. This article demonstrates how this variation can be explained with reference to combining various aspects in defining of historic contribution and responsibility without always explicating them. Scientific knowledge that takes choices among defining aspects for granted is likely to become a foundation for distrust, both within science and among negotiators under UNFCCC and elsewhere. On the other hand, for various reasons, not all choices can be explicated at all times. This article is intended to guide those who need to evaluate the assumptions underlying specific claims regarding historical responsibility. As such, the article aims to map, review, and analytically classify the academic literature on historic contributions to and responsibility for climate change into categories of defining aspects. One immediately policy--‐relevant conclusion emerges from this exercise: Coupled with negotiators’ highly divergent understandings of historical responsibility, the sheer number of defining aspects makes it virtually impossible to offer scientific advice without creating distrust in certain parts of the policy circle. This conclusion suggests that any scientific attempt to establish historical responsibility will have little relevance to actual policy unless policymakers first negotiate a clearer framework for its establishment.

National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-86869OAI: diva2:582995
Available from: 2013-01-07 Created: 2013-01-07 Last updated: 2013-01-29Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Historical responsibility: Assessing the past in international climate negotiations
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Historical responsibility: Assessing the past in international climate negotiations
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Assessments of the past are essential to the struggle over the right to define the normative position of history under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Despite this importance, attempts to analyze the use of history in this context are rare. This thesis aims to investigate how assessments of the past are used in UNFCCC negotiations on responsibilities to act, focusing on negotiations on historical responsibilities. The research questions concern how discourse on historical responsibility: 1) can be structured, 2) is influenced by UNFCCC negotiating practice, 3) has been structured in the UNFCCC, and 4) has enabled agreement despite considerable conflict. Official UNFCCC documentation between 1991 and 2011 was studied using discourse analysis. This study suggests: first, the UNFCCC discourse on historical responsibility conveys two main assessments—a proportional and a conceptual one—of how the past could be used to differentiate responsibilities to act. Second, the strong consensus focus necessitates rationales underlying an “agreeable history” that is neither too flexible, allowing arbitrariness, nor too rigid, reducing Parties’ likelihood of ratifying. Third, as the past evolves, new situations challenge discourse that potentially engages policy makers with a need to rearticulate history. Fourth, if the context changes, so may the importance ascribed to particular assessments of the past. If the stakes increase over time, even more effort is required to reach agreement, which simultaneously becomes more important in solving problems of common concern. Fifth, power seems difficult to circumvent, even by means of cleverly designed negotiating practice. If so, multilateral environmental negotiations could increase the legitimacy of outcomes among Parties in two principal ways: first, by identifying the core conflict that drives negotiations and, second, by evaluating how multilateral environmental negotiations handle conflict. Obscuring or ignoring conflict will likely only reduce the legitimacy of the negotiations. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2013. 71 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 569
Historical responsibility; UNFCCC negotiations; discourse
National Category
Social Sciences Humanities
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-86920 (URN)978-­91-­7519-­712-­8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-02-15, K1, Kåkenhus, Campus Norrköping, Linköpings universitet, Norrköping, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2013-01-29 Created: 2013-01-07 Last updated: 2015-09-22Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

No full text

By organisation
Department of Water and Environmental StudiesCentre for Climate Science and Policy Research Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Social Sciences

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Total: 62 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link