Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More Polanyi, and international environmental law

Karl Polanyi seems to be making a comeback on the pages of the Journal of Environmental Law. Alongside Ben Pontin's review essay discussed here yesterday is Jeffrey McGee and Jens Steffek's "The Copenhagen Turn in Global Climate Governance and the Contentious History of Differentiation in International Law". They write:
Since its inception in 1992, the United Nations (UN) climate regime has made a key ontological distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries....
However, the outcome of the UNFCCC COP 15 meeting, the ‘Copenhagen Accord’, radically changed the nature of the promises made by countries about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of requiring developed countries to adopt more ambitious and legally binding emission reduction targets, the Copenhagen Accord invited all countries to simply make non-binding pledges for the period 2013–20. Binding targets and timetables for emission reduction, for developed or (the more advanced) developing countries, had fallen off the negotiating table. The Copenhagen Accord thus provided a radically different architecture for the future of global climate governance than that established under the Kyoto Protocol. This was reaffirmed at the 2012 UNFCCC COP17 meeting in Durban when the formulation of a future global climate change regime ‘applicable to all Parties’ became diplomatic shorthand for a ‘political expectation that the climate regime must contain greater symmetry in the commitments’ between developed and developing countries. 
The historical and theoretically grounded analysis of the Copenhagen turn provided here necessarily operates at the intersection between legal doctrinal analysis and the interdisciplinary perspective provided by historical economic sociology. Our methodological claim is that in order to understand the outcome of the Copenhagen COP 15 meeting it is necessary to embed the doctrinal understanding of emission reduction commitments in the UNFCCC within the wider context of the ongoing history of distributive conflicts between developed and developing countries in the post-World War II period. It is only through the lens of these distributive conflicts between developed and developing countries, which are best viewed from the perspective of historical economic sociology, that the pattern of prescriptive formal differentiation of commitments on emission reduction before Copenhagen, and the subsequent breakdown in this pattern at Copenhagen, can be fully understood.
The starting point of our analysis is Karl Polanyi’s 1944 classic in historical economic sociology, The Great Transformation. Polanyi’s key insight was identifying a dialectical ‘double movement’ in the historical evolution of Western societies which centred on an alternation of efforts to disembed markets from society and re-embed markets into society. In other words, Polanyi identified in Western society phases of economic liberalisation and market-making (which disembed markets from society) contrasting with periods of political interventionism (to re-embed markets within society). Drawing on Polanyi’s work, John Ruggie identified a historical post-war compromise between global market-making and political interventionism which he coined ‘embedded liberalism’. This term describes a design for global governance that was based, on the one hand, on an international division of labour and the notion of the comparative advantage that was encouraging the making of global markets and trade liberalisation. On the other hand, embedded liberalism also allowed states sufficient discretion in domestic policymaking to cushion their economies and citizens from the more adverse effects of international liberalisation.
However, the historical compromise of embedded liberalism was unsatisfactory for developing countries. During the 1960–70s developing countries, therefore, called for an alternative design for the institutions of global governance, described by Steffek as ‘redistributive multilateralism’ (RM), in which international market activity was embedded within international society by differentiation of obligations and international transfers of wealth from developed to developing countries. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was the first global institution to exhibit a RM design. The differentiation of obligations between developed and developing countries in the UN climate regime might also be viewed as an important instance of RM. However, we claim differentiation of obligations in the UN climate regime is in significant conflict with the neoliberal principles that have come to dominate international governance in recent decades and that largely supplanted post-war ‘embedded liberalism’ in the West. We, therefore, contend that focussing on this historical tension between neoliberal and redistributive designs of institutions offers a new and important perspective on the shift in global climate governance that occurred in 2009 at Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen COP 

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