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International Environmental Policy

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow

The Kyoto Protocol has singularly failed to shape international environmental policy-making in the way that the earlier Montreal protocol did. Whereas Montreal placed reliance on the force of science and moralistic injunctions to save the planet, and successfully determined the international response to climate change, Kyoto has proved significantly more problematic. International Environmental Policy considers why this is the case. The authors contend that such arguments on this occasion proved inadequate to the task, not just because the core issues of the Kyoto process were subject to more powerful and conflicting interests than previously, and the science too uncertain, but because the science and moral arguments themselves remained too weak. They argue that ‘global warming’ is a failing policy construct because it has served to benefit limited but undeclared interests that were sustained by green beliefs rather than robust scientific knowledge.
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Chapter 6: Institutionalizing Scientific Advice: Designing Consensus as a Policy Driver?

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow


The negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol and the decisions afterwards to give it effect, as we have seen, largely amount to an attempt to resolve conflicts of interests. Strong normative or rhetorical discourse not only did not help the process but, we suggest above, actually made agreement more difficult. Differences between significant parties were hardened, keeping them in ‘different discourses’ for so long that the quality of what was agreed suffered considerably. But what of the unifying power of science? After all, as Skolnikoff (1999) pointed out, the importance of science to the climate change issue made the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up as an advisory body to UN bodies and governments on the science, impacts and responses on climate change in the mid 1980s, a key institution in the process. The Panel did generate a scientific consensus; or rather in its most recent claim ‘an authoritative, international consensus of scientific opinion’,1 and disseminated this widely to researchers, governments and the public. Why did that not suffice to ‘underpin’ a political consensus? We address this question in this chapter. We suggest the answer lies in the inherently inconclusive nature of climate science, but also in the limited potential of science to resolve issues deeply affected by conflicting interests. The danger, which was realized in our case, is that this ‘constructed’ consensus, like moral suasion, will be used to support one side against the other and will therefore make agreement more difficult while also biasing research to...

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