During the past two decades, negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been the central forum for the organization of global climate governance. However, when it comes to decision-making, the UNFCCC is indeed a rather odd bird in the UN family. The UNFCCC is an independent treaty body that entered into force in 1994 and has yet to adopt rules of procedure, especially with respect to the role and function of voting. In the absence of voting procedures, all decisions have required, if not unanimous agreement, at least consensus in that there are no declared objections (Depledge 2005).
Depledge (2005) underscores that states’ understanding of UNFCCC consensuses as legitimate is particularly important: if the process fails to build consensuses that are judged as legitimate, UNFCCC outcomes are unlikely to be effectively implemented. In this connection, Hurd (1999) argues that there are three reasons for sovereign states to obey international law: coercion, maximized selfinterests, and legitimacy. The first two have, according to Hurd, gained a disproportionate amount of attention in international relations studies. However, it no longer seems controversial to claim, with Hurd, that they are insufficient on their own (Okereke et al. 2009; Risse 2004).
This chapter aims to account for and understand legitimacy, particularly in relation to consensus and conflict in negotiating historic responsibility under the UNFCCC. The case embodies a general principle in multilateral environmental negotiations, which differentiates responsibility based on contribution to a problem (Stone 2004). The long history of negotiating historic responsibility serves to account for and understand legitimacy in connection with consensus and conflict: while it has been endorsed by a number of consensuses, the question of how to operationalize the concept of historic responsibility has been subject to intense debate since the early 1990s (Friman and Linnér 2008).
This contribution uses discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe to approach legitimacy. As indicated in the introduction to this book, Laclau’s and Mouffe’s discourse theory is in general agreement with the departure points for interpretative perspectives. How this position differs from other approaches will be exemplified by contrasting it with an understanding of legitimacy derived from Jürgen Habermas. Both of these theories approach legitimacy in procedural terms, which leads me to start this chapter by discussing definitions of legitimacy and rules of procedure under the UNFCCC. The chapter continues with discussing how this definition relates to the two theories and how they can be applied to the case of negotiations on historic responsibility. One of the four dominant interpretations of climate change (see Hulme 2009 and Chapter 1, this volume), the scientific, has played a particularly important role in building consensus on historic responsibility while avoiding to deal with core conflict. For a long time, this did not promote legitimacy. On the other hand, this chapter concludes that the capacity and consensuses built during the years of negotiating historic responsibility in scientific terms have now created a situation where negotiators may draw on the scientific understanding to explicate conflict in other areas, such as that of social change. How to treat this resurfacing conflict while building legitimacy is still an open question; the chapter ends by tentatively proposing a new long-term negotiating forum under the UNFCCC to deal with core questions on different understandings of responsibility, designed to use conflict to build legitimacy.
London and New York: Routledge, 2013. 217-231 p.
Climatic changes -- Government policy, Climate change mitigation -- International cooperation