Book Review: Governing Climate Change by Harriet Bulkeley

Book Review: Governing Climate Change


In the current generation, climate change is among the most challenging scientific and political aspects. Many international news outlets have reported numerous incidences related to the issue of climate change (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 1). These incidences vary from disasters, scientific findings, international meetings, and different protests, which create an uprising that climate change is at the top of public interest and the international political agenda. The book provides an analysis of how the last two decades have presented various ways within which the paradoxical causes leading to the scientific certainty of climate change. The issue demonstrates the rising concern as it creates an intractable challenge for general global governance. While there are numerous reports and studies presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demonstrating an alarming rate of the increasing changes and levels of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, there has been slow action from the international community.

In the book, Newell, and Bulkeley (2010, p. 1) provide a perspective with regards to the governance of climate change so that they can have a coherent understanding of how and why the challenge needs to be addressed and who should be responsible for the amends. Additionally, the books look into the various issues that are a result of climate change, such as the overall threat to the collective well-being of the environment and every living life form in it. The book takes into account why the various conventional moves by the international community and varied efforts to efforts meant to address the challenge have a higher likelihood of failure with regards to the conventional climate governance landscape (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 1). As an alternative, the book comes with an improved approach as to how the governance of climate change can be established on a global scale and result in high success rates. The alternative describes the essentials as to how, why, and by whom the governance of climate change should be assigned and what consequences are to be expected.

The Governance Challenge

Prior to coming up with the elaborate model of governance for the climate change problem, it is essential first to understand the problem at hand and then devise an appropriate solution. Climate change affects all the regions of the globe, and governance of a large scale problem spanning across different nations requires a great deal of cooperation. However, the complexity that arises from climate change originates from three main factors including the blurred and fragmented roles of non-state and state actors; the bureaucratic scales of political decision-making steps involved; and the immensely embedded aspect of the various processes that result to emissions greenhouse gases in the daily production and consumption of products and services (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 2). With regard to the complexity in terms of the scale of the climate change problem, there is a common assumption that the problem with climate change is a “global problem.” The meaning of the word global can lead to problems when coming up with a viable form of governance to the climate change pandemic affecting the world currently (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 2). Different stakeholders may perceive a global problem with different meanings and understanding of who, where, and with whom the challenge should be addressed. From one perspective, GHG emissions are devoid of boundaries and thus creates a physical depiction of a globalized climate change.

Accordingly, a single country is not in a position to handle or prevent climate change on its own, but requires the additional cooperation of other nations and together join forces towards creating a safer climatic condition (Weis, 2018, p. 135). Paterson (2000, p. 253) asks how the world is to account for when degrading practices occur in a routine nature. Peterson provides an analysis using the case study of the car, which depicts a widespread system of social practices that constantly affect the change from an environmental standpoint. The article by Paterson (2000) is related to the book by Newell and Bulkeley (2010) as they both focus on climate change and its governance with regard to global environmental politics.

There are other ways in which the problem of climate change can be understood and pave the way for coming up with better solutions and governance. For instance, the first perspective would be to consider the aspect with concerns on the generation of GHG emissions, trade, flows of production, and general consumption. The analysis would provide a detailed and accurate geography of responsibility based on the results of GHG emissions. The perspective may also indicate the apparent role of multinational corporations and consequent consumers in the reduction of the GHG emissions more than the countries in which the commodities and services are produced (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 2). Be that as it may, regarding the aspect of “global problem” as causal as opposed to a spatial category, then there is a different trajectory of thinking on who and where the governance of climate change takes place.

Similarly, the reference of climate change as a global problem happens to overlook other scales of decision making that have the potential to shape the trajectories of greenhouse emissions and the resultant possibility of adapting to climate change. As opposed to the collective reference as a global problem, the Newell, and Bulkeley, (2010) suggests that it ugh to be referred to as a multilevel problem that requires different levels of decision making spanning from the local, regional, national as well as the international level that cuts across boundaries and borders. Additionally, globalization of the problem crates gaps as to the roles and responsibilities of individual countries in the governance of the problem. In the book Governing Climate Change, Newell, and Bulkeley (2010, p. 4) focus on new approaches that seek to solve the complexity of globalizing climate change. The first way is by siting from the idea that climate change is a global problem requiring global intervention. The second aspect is by moving away from the notion that only countries or states are the most important units to consider in terms of climate politics and rather include other players such as the private and public authorities in climate governance.

Global Governance Perspectives

Governance can only be achieved on a global scale if there is seamless coordination of countries and states as well as the activities of a wider array of systematic rules that operate beyond the national jurisdictions. While other systems are largely inchoate, many consist of informal structures, and some with formalized systems, they can be cumulatively combined to form a global scale model of governance. As such, global governance comprises of a wide variety of activities that are significant at both shaping the real-time policy implementations and establishing international rules (Cox, 2004, p. 308). Different from other scholars, Newell and Bulkeley provides two different ways in which to comprehend the dynamics and actual nature of global governance. With first importance is that global governance can be created to operate within the confines and realms of regime theory in which the idea of governance spans across a wider spectrum rather than small issue areas. The author provides an analysis on how the non-state actors have directly or indirectly influenced the standpoints of nation-states as well as international negotiations to re-evaluate the apparent role of non-state actors with regards to the governance of climate change alongside and within the regime (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 12). Much of the non-state emphasis has majored in its focus on the position of Non-Governmental Organizations in the mitigation off climate change.

The second of the two approaches of comprehension of global governance is by enacting a perspective that goes beyond the international arena through the acknowledgment of the presence of varied authoritative spheres beyond the international dichotomy (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 12). As opposed to only focusing on the function of non-state actors in the shaping climate institutions internationally such as the Kyoto Protocol in relations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the body also ensures that climate change governance institutes of all the measures and mechanisms objectified on directing social systems to the mitigation, prevention or the adaptation of risks concerned with climate change.

Governing Climate Change

Climate change has, for quite some time, been regarded as a political issue, yet it has a long legacy. The discussion is on the theme of energy and environment as well as food and governance, and the overall global political economy. These three themes are depicted in the characterization of North-South politics, the scientific community, and the marketization of climate governance in their apparent role in climate change. Climate policies have to undergo a series of steps at the international level before they can be enacted. To begin with, the proposed policy has to be organized around a predefined number of institutions, key actors, and decision-making processes (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 17). Different governments have the mandate to organize their representation into negotiating blocs and coalitions that would increase their collective bargaining power or influence and help in the advancement of common agendas. Accordingly, it is evident that the overall process of coming up with a coherent climate policy includes the institutional structures and international organizations designed for the tasks, range of non-state actors, blocs, and coalitions who have, among other aspects, sought to alter the negotiation process. The first major governance of climate change was achieved through the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 signed with at least 150 independent countries. The Kyoto Protocol is aimed at the creation of balance and reducing GHG emissions up to 5.2 percent.

The Kyoto Protocol

The first commitment policy on the protocol was to ensure that countries with high levels of industrialization reduce their level of collective GHG emissions with an average of at least 5.2 percent below the levels of 1990 in the commitment timeframe between 2008-2012. Another commitment is that the USA has to reduce its average emissions by a cumulative total of 7 percent, the EU by 8 percent, and Japan by 6 percent. Accordingly, other industrialized nations are obliged to freeze their emissions while others are permitted to increase the emission but up to a set limit. There are other commitments that only apply to developed countries. For instance, the developed countries are mandated to provide new as well as subsequent financial resources needed in order to meet the cost incurred by developing countries in the growth of existing agreed-upon commitments. Secondly, developed countries ought to provide the transfer of technology required by developing countries to meet the cost of advancing or otherwise implementing their commitments. The Kyoto Protocol has a provision for instruments such as the clean development mechanism. The aim of the mechanism is to offer relevant assistance to the developing countries in the achievement of sustainable development.

Science and Climate Governance

The making of climate policy is defined by a series of complexities and a mixture of actors and institutions (Newell and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 25). Among the key issues has been the merge between science and governance as it makes the first impetus for global climate politics. James Fourier discovered the retention of greenhouse gases under the greenhouse effect in 1824. Accordingly, the increase of GHG in the atmosphere has the potential to lead to disasters and unforeseen risks that could otherwise have been avoided. Be that as it may, the need to govern and mitigate the increase or uncontrolled production of GHG emissions creates the link between science and climate governance (Newell, P. and Taylor, 2018, p. 111). While politics and creation of policies fall under climate governance, science used to quantify the risk and threat within which climate change can be calculated. Despite the various earlier discoveries, it was after the 1970s that the possibility of having a human-induced climate change became a topic of concern for many politicians and policymakers. The view led to the formation of IPCC, which would oversee and also provide expert advice into the negotiations of climate change under the oversight of representatives from the government (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 26). Since then, the entire process of sourcing, accumulating, and presentation of scientific data and professional advice regarding climate change has been engulfed with political feuds, and different aspect is at stake.

North-South Politics

The fight against climate change gives rise to the divisions of North-South politics as well as highlighting different global threats to the environment, such as the deletion of the ozone layer. The most common of the North-South politics is the battles regarding the requirement to differentiate between the “luxury” GHG emissions of the North and the “survival” GHG emissions of the south. The difference in emission levels has led to the effect of climate injustice and carbon colonialism (Newell and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 29). The argument is that most of the climate change has been a result of the most developed areas of the world, yet it is the developing countries or nations that will mostly suffer in the event of a disaster or consequence of climate change. The different conventions and bodies set out to come with policies on how the developed countries that caused the most damage with their emissions ought to safeguard the interests of the developing countries by offering financial resources and technological aid. The policy provides information on which institutions will b given oversight of the transference of aid and on what terms the aid is provided.

Governance Issues and Challenges

According to Newell and Bulkeley (2010, p. 33), there is a need to be attentive to the varied number of climate governance and its general features. To begin with, in as much as climate change is regarded as a challenge requiring global governance, the countries that directly affect the function of the regime through their actions are significantly few in number. The second challenge wit governance is that more emphasis has been placed on the comprehension of global environmental politics and its focus on the bargaining power at an international level that has led to the neglect of the significance of understanding domestic politics as well. In this manner, the book argues that more often than not, the occurrences of events at local domestic arenas have the power to result in global repercussions (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 34). The third issue is the inclusion of non-state actors to able among the key governance of climate change leading to a poor description of the roles and responsibilities of each actor.

Governance of climate change has to embrace the aspect of equity and justice in order to ensure responsibility for the ones that cause much of the problem. Additionally, justice in governance looks to allocate or distribute the burden through the capacity to adapt to climate change. Focusing on the mitigation of climate change is in itself a form of governance process as it focuses on responsibility, mitigation or adaptation, and cost of actions or inactions (Salerno, 2017, p. 220). Climate change directly affects the production of food and can be a causative factor of poverty (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 48). As such, countries have to be able to produce double the food in order to meet the increasing demand in the coming three decades since climate change is foreseen to cripple the productivity of agriculture the tropics regions.

The increased concerns to the challenges of procedural justice are a reflection that the costs and impacts are felt the poorer groups not because they cause more harm or GHG emissions, rather due to the differential capacity to adapt to the change. Developing countries struggle with meeting the demand to conform to new changes and require more help than they can get in order to implement the change. Accordingly, there ought to be measures that can facilitate easier adaptation to climate change as well as limiting the overall emissions of GHG by industrial or developed countries.

Global and Local Relations to Climate Change

Climate change is a challenge that affects both national and international agendas as well as different arrays of transnational networks. There are different causes and effects of transnational governance of climate change and the functional governance that the networks are capable of performing (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 56). For instance, the transnational climate change governance can either take into consideration the governance of those based on the pure involvement of public actors or those only involved with the private sector or those that involve a hybrid of both public and private sectors (Falkner, 2014, p. 190). After the recognition that transnational networks have a crucial impact on the landscape of climate change governance, it bears a question as to how and why the networks are in a position to provide any viable effect.

Indifferent to the national and international regimes which have the capacity to deploy binding policy agreements, transnational networks lack the face value with regards to the standardized means of compliance or shaping behavior with specific norms or targets (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 56). However, there is a range of instruments and mechanisms that transnational networks can deploy with the help of rule-setting, information sharing, and capacity building. While the three governance functions are not mutually exclusive, some networks may on a single function and build on it while others may make use of all the three approaches. Additionally, the transnational network allows for governance beyond but through the states and implementing a strategic inclusive form of governance.

Community and Climate Change Governance

The longest-lasting element of environmental governance is the apparent inclusion of civil society and community-based organizations as the shapers and makers of policies (Kuokkanen, 2011, p. 280). The involvement of the community can take the form of educators, advocates, active citizens, and even implementers of the policies. As such, the number of community engagements with the governance of climate change has been on the rise, including the various civil society institutions and other NGOs who have been actively engaging with climate change politics (Newell, and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 70). Addressing the challenge of climate change requires action at every level of governance through the implementation of changes in the daily patterns of productivity and consumptions, adaptation efforts, and actively engaging the community.

At the basic level, the public has to conform to the regulations regarding the acquisition of the new forms of carbon regulation and their equivalent participation in carbon markets. Accordingly, the society has to be made aware through engagements from the most basic up until the realization of the bigger global goal (reduction of greenhouse gases). Be that as it may, the governance has to overcome certain barriers towards public engagement. These barriers can further be classified into individual barriers and social barriers (Newell and Bulkeley, 2010, p. 72). Among the individual barriers include skepticism, overreliance on technology, the inadequacy of knowledge, externalizing responsibility, reluctance to change lifestyle, and fatalism, among many others (De Graaff, 2012, p. 541). Similarly, social barriers include the lack of action by industries, businesses and governments, lack of enabling initiatives, free-rider effect, and pressure from societal expectations and social norms.

In conclusion, different players have to work in harmony in order to achieve a collective reduction of climate change. No one country can single-handedly mitigate the effects of climate change and carbon emissions while the rest are left to operate on their own. In as much as referring to climate change as a global problem may have some shortcomings in terms of governance, climate change has to be handled both locally and internationally. Climate change governance ought to include both the public and private sectors for there to be great reductions and coexistence (Cáceres, D.M. and Gras, 2019, p. 425). The private sector may be required to adhere to a set of standards or certifications in their production to ensure that they do not surpass the threshold for emissions of GHG. The government, on the other hand, can conform to the Kyoto Protocol as it creates a guideline for climate equality and justice.

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