Global climate change is a major threat to the survival and future of the global society. This threat has prompted national and international investigations into their possibility and efforts by the international community to alleviate the causes or adapt to its potential effects. Reasonable, yet declining, uncertainties still face the real nature of the processes of climate change which are related to the enhanced greenhouse effects such as the human influence to natural variations of the climate system. In spite of the remaining improbabilities in the causation science together with estimation of effects, the community of nations has started to create international political systems to address the issue of global climate change. Literally, no country can by itself be able to effectively influence the climate system, international collaboration is necessary to overcome this collective issue. This article seeks to explore the extent at which the issue of global climate change has influenced international relations. In essence, three international relations theories will be discussed to show how the greater issue of climate change affects international relations and vice vasa. In addition, attention will be given to international trade and environmental treaties mainly the WTO and the Kyoto Protocol and how they influence international relations.
International relations and climate change
The earth is a closed finite system, meaning that there are limits to the quantity of resources that can be exploited from the earth and the aggregate of pollution it can sustain, beyond which the biological systems of the earth and human societies that rely on them come under threat (Habib 7). These limits have been achieved according to various studies by various scholars. Humans have been forced by climate change to confront the basic ontological question regarding human relationship with the planet earth. The ontological supposition underpinning contemporary industrial societies is that, human societies are units detached and in control of the natural world. Humans also perceive a limitless earth, open for infinite resource use and waste disposal in pursuit for economic development. However, in reality, the earth is finite and these assumptions do not hold. Growing evidence has shown that human related climate change is changing the natural world and as result shifting the dynamics of international relations.
Global climate change raises three main ontological issues which include the nature of casualty in the international political process, the agency of individual bodies visa vee the challenges of the framework of that system, and finally the likelihood that the international political system and the nations within it are both complete systems in themselves and comprise parts of the entire systems (Kavalski 444). Ultimately, anthropogenic climate change is a global issue since it leads to emission of greenhouse gases whose effect on human societies are distributed across margins and jurisdiction of individual nations (Vogler 14). The role of climate change on international relations is inevitably significant. The formation of global organizations to deal with the issues of climate change, policy formulation, treaties and other agreements proves how climate change has influenced international relations. The ontological problems emanating from climate change are the basis for theory relations to this work.
Realism is a principal paradigm in the contemporary study of international relations, mainly because its understandings into the regularity of international conflict are not easy to disprove when focusing on the historical record. All elements of realism come to a similar set of assumptions on how the international system operates (Habib 8). Sovereign states according to realists are the principle players in a revolutionary international system, with no supreme law to adjudicate the relations among states (Mearsheimer 30). The global climate change has pushed some states especially the less industrialized to experience scarcity in food, water and land due to global constraints in such countries. Countries experiencing resource scarcities can establish exchange relations with other states with an excess of that resource, which can either be procured of bartered for in exchange for some other resource that the other state lacks. Nevertheless, if a country`s key trade mate is weakened in any way and cannot supply indispensable import resource, the dependent state is likely to be destabilized as well (Diamond 14). Thus, the view of raising global scarcity pressures may prompt resource dependent states, such as Africa and Northeast Asia into a confrontational dynamic, enflaming their security dilemma. In this viewpoint of intensified competition, the organizational prejudice of the states` security scene would favour the form of blatant hard power competition projected by offensive realists, rather than the steady power accretion presumed by defensive realism, as countries seek to secure their food, water and energy security from a dwindling resource pool. As stipulated by Habib (10), weakened leadership and internal political instability are probable where local institutions are not able to cope, prompting individual communities and families to extemporize their own adaptive responses. In extreme incidents, state failure may result. North Korea for instance faces the most evident state failure threat, as its frail adaptive capability cannot buffer against heightening climate change-related food insecurity while the country is continuously troubled by crumbling economy, energy crises and its own inflexible political regime (Habib 400-401).
Whereas china may not be hanging on the face of state failure as its neighbour North Korea, it may as well be weakened by human insecurity resulting from climate change. The country`s developing economic and financial power is hindered by large scale environmental challenges. Nonetheless, most of these issues especially resulting from its large carbon footprint are as a result of the government`s commitment to grow its economy by double digit in order to provide employment opportunities and enhance social stability. The increasing occurrence and gravity of climate change impacts together with other economic stress may indicate further civil turbulences in the future and weakening of the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. From realistic point of view, the potential for climate related human insecurity across North East Asia is as a result of augmented tactical competition among regional states as they seek to secure the resources necessary to satisfy their populace from a deteriorating regional and international resource pool (Habib 11).
Contrary to realists, liberals perceive international relations in a more optimistic manner. Liberals, just like realists perceive the global system as anarchic but trust it is promising for states to escape the security predicament. They oppose the realistic assertion that, war between states is unavoidable and trust that mankind can surpass conflict through the appeasing influence of economic interdependence, international organizations and the spread of liberal political structures (Habib 14).
Liberal international relations theory is based on three principles democratisation, institutionalism and economic interdependence which are likely to be challenged by climate change impacts. For instance, looking at democratisation in Northeast Asia and the likelihood of weakening human security integral in International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate forecast, there is likelihood of increased case of social instability, hence high likelihood of crackdown by authorities, mainly in authoritarian states. The development of democratic leadership in authoritarian Northeast Asian states, mainly China, will not be influenced by these developments (Habib 17). The social unrest in China is largely water related. Water scarcity and unequal distribution of this noble resource have caused public unrest and lack of faith with the authorities. It`s therefore upon the Chinese government to harmonize water use across the population to avoid political unrest (Cai 15). Local officials have constantly favoured entrepreneurial interests by permitting resource use and pollution, while blocking all channels for public concerns. Grievances of this nature have erupted into violent anger-venting uprisings amounting to as much as 1,000 in a week (Yun 75-76).
Liberal democracies as stipulated by Shearman and Smith (123) may not be able to tackle climate change due to short poll phases of liberal democratic political systems which create an inherent force that prevents authorities from dealing with long term issues. The authors argue that, global environmental problems have been fuelled by corruption of democracy by influential interest groups. From this viewpoint, china may have the upper hand over the liberal democracies of states like South Korea and Japan in the capacity of its government to make swift and critical policy decisions (Habib 18).
Focusing on economic interdependence, the increasing resource scarcity attributed to global climate change in most countries, is likely to result to increased competition on global markets for locally or regionally scarce products. China is a perfect example of demand side risk. Water scarcity in China will affect china`s ability to produce adequate food for its big population. Food insecurity in China will trigger domestic demand for food imports, diverting food supplies from other regions of the world and pushing up the cost of food, and driving the vulnerable poor in other nations out of market (Jiang 1). This will trigger a cycle of instability in the involved countries.
Climate change may as well swing investment decisions across regional economy. A possible adaptation equation is to move investment from more climate vulnerable areas to more carbon efficient regions or those less sensitive to climate change (Habib 19). The climate change effects are likely to put some states` under-developed institutional makeshift and pressure. The lack of collaborative security systems is of great significance, in light of projected growth of scarcity pressures and human insecurity. While conflict incidences are improbable in some regions such as Northeast Asia, the fundamental security dilemma requires countries to manage their relations carefully and enhance areas of common interest (Habib 19).
Despite growing architecture of multilateral regionalism in Northeast Asia for instance, all of its actors are involved in competition, adopting strategic hedging as their mode of operation. In essence, none of them is vehemently status quo power. China`s star is shining as the United States tries to shun the upsurge of peer competitor. South Korea is striving to change political and economic conditions within DPRK in expectation of future national reunification, while at the same time traversing between the competing security and economic imperatives of its relations with the US and China. Japan on the other hand is moving towards normalization while Russia is trying to boost its role in the region. Within this quagmire, North Korea has become a nuclear muscle. O`Neill (116-117) argues that, the objectives of regional multilateral fora are expected to be unassertive, diluted to `fit` with pre-perceived interest of countries in the form of partial `problem solving` measures resonate with the thin utilitarian solutions of state interests not upsetting the current imperatives of regional authority accretion in which those interests are regarded. In this context, the risk of climate change as proposed by Habib (21) is likely to force Northeast Asian countries to verge against susceptibilities of multifaceted institutional patchwork by strengthening their hard power potentials.
Constructivists are of the idea that, interstate relations have little to do with balance of material power than with socially constructed ideologies that seriously determine the decision making and behaviour of countries. Kim (17-18) argues that, the identity of states determines their foreign policy decision making, since it shapes the worldviews and inclinations of national leaders.
In relation to international relations, it is likely that a complex, mutual risk in the form of climate change could provide the impulse required for regional states to re-assess their interests and overwhelm the historic and cultural burden of past crisis. Regional states can re-evaluate their interests in milieu of mutual benefit.
International relations have greatly been influenced by global climate change. The formation of mechanisms to curb the climate change issue is necessitated by the fact that, global climate change is not a state or regional issues rather it is a global issue. Effects of climate change experienced in one region sends a ripple effect to other parts of the world. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) for instance was established to ensure that member states observe environment friendly measures to reduce the threat of climate change. Consequently, treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol saw countries blaming each other. Developing countries accused the developed countries of imposing the burden of curbing climate change. In the last concluded annual United Nations climate change talks held on December 2012, representatives from more than 190 states agreed to extend the unbecoming Kyoto protocol and commit to more striving yet unspecified actions to reduce greenhouse emissions (John par.2).
The signing of trade treaties such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) also revolves around global climate change. These treaties impose conditions among member states that require the members to adhere to certain standards that are favourable to the environment. As such, nations are expected to observe environmental effects of production, lest they risk being shunned from trading with other partners. The inclusion of policies by international organizations such as the United Nations Environmental Program also influences relationships between nations. The UN through it special programmes on environmental conservation have concentrated on safeguarding the environment and reducing global climate change. Countries violating any stipulations such as the requirement to proper disposal of waste materials by industries may risk being banished from the market. In addition, multinational organizations are not able to invest in countries that are deviant of their state treaties.
In conclusion, the issue of global climate change is a sensitive one and requires global intervention. The concern has seen the international community coming together in rescue of the planet earth. The earth is a finite planet with exhaustible resources. As such, governments and stakeholders have realised the importance of safeguarding and protecting the environment in order to enjoy resource use. In china, the issue of water scarcity has caused several conflicts between the government and the population. It`s upon the will of such authorities to ensure environment is safeguarded to safeguard such resources. Consequently, it has been established that, a conflict relating to global climate change is reflected in other parts of the world. The three theories of international relations have been used extensively in relation to Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. These theories include liberalism, realism and constructivism. The role of trade and environmental treaties such as the WTO and the Kyoto Protocol also plays a great deal in shaping international relations. In summary, international relations in the 21[st] century have greatly been shaped by the global climate change, and will continue to influence future relations.
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How Global Climate Change is Affecting Global Relations