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Building legitimacy: consensus and conflict over 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. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1912-5538
2013 (English)In: Interpretive approaches to global climate governance: deconstructing the greenhouse / [ed] Chris Methmann, Delf Rothe and Benjamin Stephan, London and New York: Routledge, 2013, 217-231 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
London and New York: Routledge, 2013. 217-231 p.
Keyword [en]
Climatic changes -- Government policy, Climate change mitigation -- International cooperation
Keyword [sv]
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-86919ISBN: 0-415-52188-2ISBN: 978-0-415-52188-8OAI: diva2:583234
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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Friman, Mathias
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