Economics and Politics of Climate Change (excerpt)

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Temps de lecture : 3 minutes  

“The Rio Summit was a turning point because it laid the foundations for a ‘global institutional structuring’ of politics and actions to be taken by way of new coordination bodies dedicated to fighting the effects of climate change. It also made it possible to reveal how complex it is to treat a global problem, what with the web of issues (economic, social, environmental, and ethical) for each country in terms of the effects and impacts.

The effects are reflected in the natural manifestations of the change in climate such as the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events (storms, heat waves, floods). The impacts are related to the changes brought about by these effects – socioeconomic, environmental, health-related, etc.

In the wake of the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg, companies took part in the fight against climate change by assuming corporate responsibility (Faucheux and Nicolaï, 2004). They agreed to consider the economic, social, and environmental impact of their activities in order to make them compatible with the demands of sustainable development. This measure, which is highlighted in item 17 of the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, is at the heart of the European Commission’s Green Book, which aims to promote a ‘European framework for corporate social responsibility’ (July 18, 2001). It has also been emphasized by a number of private and public institutions such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, 1999).


The Kyoto process has reached a politically unstable compromise for setting upper limits on emissions among three major categories of global players, of whom only two of the three made reduction commitments at the time:

– developed countries, responsible for more than half of global emissions in 1990, made the most significant commitments in 1997. The United States and the European Union are to reduce their emissions by 7% and 8%, respectively, from their 1990 levels between 2008-2012;

– at the time of negotiation, countries in transition (the former Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe) were undergoing complete implosion, both socially and economically. They were therefore allowed greater lenience: between 2008-2012 they could emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as in 1990, which allows them significant margins for development;

– developing countries were not subjected to any commitments.

The distribution of the burden in terms of reduction commitments and the resulting costs has always led to a battle between countries in the north and those in the south. The former believe that the greenhouse gas concentrations have resulted from the industrialized nations’ methods of development and that it is their responsibility to reduce them and to utilize the necessary financial means to do so. They assert the application of historical responsibility for the arrival and aggravation of this phenomenon: those who caused the problem ought to resolve it.

Industrialized countries believe that the countries in the south must be involved in the global reduction efforts for two primary reasons. The global dimensions of climate change mean that any possible reduction effort or failure to reduce emissions will be beneficial or detrimental to all nations. This justifies participation in all reduction efforts; moreover, the reduction costs are relatively inexpensive in developing countries compared to industrialized nations. Plus, even if the principle of historical responsibility is asserted, this doesn’t negate the fact that prospects for greenhouse gas emissions from the so-called ‘emerging’ nations are on the rise.”

Sylvie FAUCHEUX (in collaboration with Haitham Joumni)

Excerpt from the work, Economics and Politics of Climate Change by Sylvie Faucheux and Haitham Joumni, reproduced with the kind permission of Editions La Découverte.

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