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Consensus rationales in negotiating historic responsibility for climate change
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research . Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1912-5538
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

On matters of substance, international environmental treaty making generally require agreement in consensus. This article explores strategies in consensus-making processes in international environmental diplomacy. Specifically it examines the consensus-making politics, in the case of negotiating historic responsibility within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In doing so, analytical concepts from the discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe are utilized to look for rationales that underpin agreement. To conclude, three rationales have dealt with conflicts over historic responsibility. While the first rationale hid conflict behind interpretative flexibility, the second reverted to “reasoned consensus,” excluding perspectives commonly understood as political rather than scientific. The third rationale has enabled equivocal use of the concept of historic responsibility in several parallel discourses, yet negotiators still stumble on how to synthesize these with a potential to foster future, more policy-detailed, consensuses with higher legitimacy. Understanding the history and current situation of negotiations on historic responsibility from this perspective can help guide policy makers towards decisions that avoid old pitfalls and construct new rationales that generate a higher sense of legitimacy.

Keyword [en]
Climate negotiations; consensus; legitimacy; historic responsibility
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-86871OAI: diva2:582999
Available from: 2013-01-07 Created: 2013-01-07 Last updated: 2015-09-22Bibliographically 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

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Mathias, Friman
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