The Paradox of Sovereignty in Climate Change Negotiations

The window to have international conversations about climate change opens incrementally, as it does with many policy initiatives and topics. These international forums, such as the one happening in Paris right now, are important because it keeps economic, environmental, and social climate issues on the minds of world leaders and policymakers. If you were to do some research into the proceedings of previous meetings, then you can begin to see how the policy window has continued to open in somewhat small steps. A major contention and reason why some nations reject agreements and proposals include the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions because it subverts state sovereignty. How does it do that?

Sovereignty is the ability, inherent or granted, to govern oneself or self-determine one's course. The nations involved in the international negotiations possess a globally-agreed upon sense of sovereignty. This means that the nations will make decisions that presumably act in their own best interests. This is not unexpected, but it should be known this is precisely what is happening in Paris for the last two weeks. Other bloggers and pundits have reported on the general of world leaders that human activity is causing a climatic shift, but that alone is not enough to sway some nations to make the drastic changes in policy needed to stymy the building of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, one of the persistent components of this international conversation includes the development of an independent board or organization that will oversee compliance of commitments made and agreed upon by participating states. The perceived affront to sovereignty is a result of this new entity gaining insight into national issues and initiatives, a limited and fairly typical requirement when verifying that submitted reports appear to be in agreement with reality. This can be seen, understandably, as an infringement on a nation's sense of sovereignty. But is it, really, when the state signs onto an agreement knowing very well what is expected?

Entering into such an arrangement may be more empowering of sovereignty than necessarily weakening it. The negative ramifications of climate change may create difficult socioeconomic conditions that may include, but are not limited by, the displacement of citizens, shifting seasonal variations, and the altering natural ecological processes. These issues, dependent upon many other variables, can erode civilizations in a relatively short period of time. We need only to look at the history of civilization collapse to see the shocking parallels to contemporary nations. Sometimes, though, because climate changes take place over the longer-term, it may become easier for leaders to brush it off as unimportant or inconsequential. There are many variables in the equation that contribute to the answer of a problem.

Of course, nations develop economically, environmentally, and socially in different ways and at different paces. To some developing nations, or nations who are not quite developed as much as those in the west, asking that restrictions be placed upon your development sounds unfair. This likely may be the very reason for the resistance to the formation of an international entity to oversee commitment to climate change measures. But the real paradox of sovereignty lies within the context of the political arguments themselves: it may well be likely that climate change will end up worse than we are able to predict and it is very likely national security and state sovereignty will suffer great challenges.