In this essay, I argue that to a large extent, Neoliberalism is the fundamental destruction to the dynamics of climate change. The contemporary climate governance is being described as International neoliberal environmentalism, of which climate policies are driven by the principles of neoliberalism (Ciplet and Timmons, 2017). Building on the ecological unequal exchange theory which entails that ecologically unequal exchange is structured in commodities, drewing cheap resources and labors of the rich countries from the poor countries to achieve further development. It follows that ecological harm is caused by the rich countries, yet the peripherals are experiencing the ecological impacts first and worst.
Ultimately, accompanied by the neoliberal climate solutions which embrace economic interest and market-oriented method, it creates climate crisis of inequality that further exacerbate unequal share of mitigation. This essay aims to address how climate crisis of inequality is caused by neoliberalism, the increasing tension in global south and the market-oriented climate solution. Firstly, I will outline the principles of neoliberalism and examine the extent of which these principles are related to the contemporary climate solutions.
Then, I will discuss internal problems of the climate governance in reaching compromise on mitigation, by assessing 3 areas: its structure, challenge and tension among states and the reform in Paris Agreement 2015. Lastly, I will discuss the challenges of decoupling as a method to tackle climate change and argue that is hard to achieve under a neoliberal economic model.
Neoliberalism entails privatization, maximization of market freedom, deregulation, private property rights, and most importantly, minimum state intervention (Harvey , 2007). In this contemporary world, Brenner et al (2010: pp184) described neoliberalism as a politically guided intensification of market rule in the public realm. Or more critically, It is claimed that neoliberalism has become hegemonic as a mode of discourse and has pervasive effects on ways of thought and political-economic practices to the point where it has become incorporated into the common sense way we interpret, live and understand the world (Harvey , 2007:pp23). Newell and Peterson (2010) echoes that the contemporary climate policy is adopting the Market mechanism to achieve environmental goal through the use of economic model. For instance, emission trading scheme was being created to set limit on greenhouse emission on every country. However, actors are allowed to trade permit among themselves and this create a circulation of emission via trade. As a result, emission trading scheme becomes a market. Individual countries started to plan their own emission trading system between 1998-1999, stimulating the rise of private market actors such as EcoSecurities (1997) and Point CARBON (2000) who became the key actors in the carbon market. Newell and Peterson (2010 :pp35) argue that :
They turn climate change into yet another opportunity for financiers to make money through creating new commodities, and because they create new NorthSouth inequalities or exacerbate existing ones.
Despite the South could earn money by selling their permit to the North, the South is limited to further industrialization partly due to its sold quota on greenhouse emission. As a consequence, it widens the gap of global inequality as the global South will remain underdeveloped. From this point of view, it can be argued that the climate change solutions are closely attached under the framework of neoliberalism. In other words, these solutions are the products of neoliberalism that aims to create another market for the interest of the West rather than to tackle environmental crisis. While seeing neoliberalism is plagued by increasing volatile in its solution to global crisis such as the use of Structural adjustment in debt crisis, and Financial crisis 2007, Newell and Peterson (2010) argues that the neoliberal climate change politics can be expected to be subject to similar crises.
Role of climate governance
Firstly, the overall structure of the UNFCC is politically-biased, unrepresentative and the non-legally binding policy accompanied by the increasing conflict over climate responsibility (Newell and Peterson ,2010 ). Before the reform in Paris conference, the UNFCC adopted top-down process which implement policy through international agreements, national policies, and various forms of market instrument ( Bulkeley et al, 2015). They argue that such top-down process pay little attention to the actual process. In addition, Newell and Peterson (2010 ) criticized that the UNFCC tend to focus on rule-setting rather than problem-solving, and this can be observed from the climate regime which has always emphasize on emission target rather than actual practice.
Secondly, there is an increasing fragmentation in the global South that further exacerbate the struggle of states in reaching compromise on climate mitigation. As a result, the tension will further intensify ecological unequal exchange that reinforce inequality. According to Ciplet et al (2017), this started when the G-77 broke out in Copenhagen and states with the same solidarity and interest started to form their own groups. Around 8 new groups including Mountain landlock developing countries ,Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Central American Integration System and Arab States etc were emerged concerning the issues of vulnerability and compensation ( Ciplet et al, 2015). On the other hand, the rise of emerging developing powers, namely the BASIC have appear to have contradiction and different interest over climate responsibility. For instance, despite Chinas commitment in climate solutions and its financial contribution, the market reform during Dengs office has accelerated the countrys consumption for GHE (Ciplet and Timmons, 2017). The country has now surpassed the US to be the largest polluter in the world. One can argue that it is the market-oriented economic model that result in such rapid growth without being constraint by the environment. As a result, all these lead to the inability within the coalition to agree on ideas of equity, responsibility, differentiation, and accountability for climate action within the global order.
Thirdly, the Paris climate conference has transform the climate regime into a new set of climate commitment through bottom-up approach, aiming to tackle the previous barrier including the lack of long-term goal on climate commitment and set of commitments that only focused on legally binding targets ( Falkner, 2016). The Paris agreement reform includes : (1) setting long-term emission goals which send important signal to global market, (2) Pledge and review where states are legally obliged to update their climate target, (3) Ensure fair distribution of mitigation, especially the emerging wealthy states like China and India. However, the reform is deeply problematic. Firstly, the Pledge and review policy is a voluntary pledge by individual state, where country can choose not to commit. Therefore, how can we ensure equal distribution of mitigation when affluent countries do not want to commit? Secondly, despite the state is obliged to update their report on the promised target, failure to comply with their own pledge will not constitute a breach of international law, article 14(3). Thirdly, there is a lack of transparency as it is a based on a self-reporting system, thus countries might produce fake report to pretend they have complied with their pledges (Jordan et al, 2015). They also argue that climate mitigation require time to assess, hence it is hard to measure the outcome and whether the reports are really at work. In addition, one report states that those pledges are insufficient to prevent global temperature rising beyond 2 degrees, indeed they are projected to lead to global warming of 2.7 degree or higher (Climate Action Tracker update, 2015). Clearly, given with the rise of tension over climate mitigation within the G-77, how does the voluntary pledge will get those emerging powers to share the burdens financially? ___ argues that such reform lack of enforcement mechanism on the climate debt. However, the previous negotiations of the legally binding commitments have forced countries to turned away. Neither way comply states in mitigation, therefore, it leads to the question of whether there is a real solution that can make countries commit under the neoliberal economic model?
Solution : decoupling
Environmental crisis is caused by the increasing global production through the use of fossil fuels that resulted in the high emission of greenhouse gases. As such, one must acknowledge that the most effective way is to reduce global greenhouse emission to a safe rate. Decoupling is a solution to sustainable development and it serves to maintain stable future economies and natural life support systems, resource productivity increases would need to be greater than the rate of economic growth for the world as a whole (UNEP, 2014, p. 6). According to Flecher and Rammelt (2016), this would be done through maximizing resource productivity through innovation and the use of clean technology. Nevertheless, N?rg?rd and Xue (2016 : pp273 ) argue that decoupling has a rebound effect of which:
eco-efficiency improvements through technological advancement do not reduce the adverse environmental impacts as much as expected due to induced increase in production and consumption.
In other words, efficiency gains in resource may lead to greater resource use. Though technology help to increase production, they argue that labour efficiency gains has turned into growth in overall production and consumption rather than relieving environmental impact and lowering consumption. According to Flecher and Rammelt (2016), this is due to the contradiction between neoliberalism and environmental protection, in which market in continuously driven by profit-driven economy at the expense of the nature. In fact, this has also due to the cycle of industrialisation when a developed country shifts its focus to service sector and rely on imports from industrializing countries including China, Korea, Brazil etc (Newell and Peterson, 2010). As a consequence, it leads to the problem of responsibility as products are made in other countries but consume by another different country. For instance, in 2005, Chinas products for export took up 1.7 billion tons of GHGs, which is accounted for 33% of its national emission. Hence, the question lies on whether China should be responsible for that 33% or it should be shared by others? Given with the intensified globalization accompanied by neoliberal capitalism, the problem of climate mitigation stretches across globally, in which problem is no longer held solely on the manufacturing countries, but also countries who consume through imports.
In conclusion, we have seen above that the climate governance is overwhelmed by self-interested, capitalist actors and is ineffective in creating resolution that eliminates economic and political interest. Instead of a solid climate solution, carbon market was created in response to environmental crisis that allows the north to buy emission from the south and continuously expand its development. On the other hand, despite the effort of international climate regime in tackling environmental crisis which seen the bottom-up reform in Paris agreement 2015, I argue that the reform which highlights voluntary pledges, relies on states self-reporting progress and non-legally binding as wholly problematic. It all relies on states voluntary action on mitigation targets and self-report. While previous resolution forced countries to into legally binding emission targets, it turned states away. On the other side, there is a lack of enforcement mechanism that can commit states in mitigation targets. As seen, neither way comply states in mitigation goals. Finally, the essay also outlines decoupling as a possible solution to environmental crisis through increase resource productivity. However, due to the controversy of neoliberal capitalism which lies on profit-driven economy, increase resource productivity will only lead to the growth in overall production and consumption rather than relieving environmental impact and lowering consumption.