International Environmental Agreements (IEAs)

Written By: Alicia Dawn Peterpaul

International Environmental Agreements (IEAs) very well may be the policy instruments that we will need to mitigate climate change. IEAs are very useful policy instruments because climate change is a global issue that does not discriminate, everyone is equally at risk, and already seeing the results of climate change to a certain degree. (Aichele and Felbermayr, 2013). In this essay, I will argue that IEAs such as the Kyoto Protocol itself and Canada’s role in it and the Paris Agreement both have had positive impacts on international environmental politics. I will also discuss some of the hazards of climate change. Ultimately, I will argue that IEAs such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are both effective and useful instruments for the mitigation and adaption of climate change.
There have been many concerns with the rising of the global temperature. Not only is the temperature rising, but climate change is taking on many more effects. I will outline just a few of them from the NASA website. (NASA, 2007). NASA concludes that the planet will continue to get warmer, to the extent that there will be very little of a frost season, making for a longer crop growing season. There will be drastic and unpredictable changes in precipitation, some places will see immense amounts and while others experience drought, meaning droughts and floods. (NASA, 2007). Both droughts and heatwaves are going to occur more often, and temperatures will be hotter than ever before with each new year having record breaking temperatures. There will be a rise in the occurrence of hurricanes, and they will also be stronger than ever before. (NASA, 2007). The sea-level is also expected to rise, causing intense flooding for certain areas. These are only a handful of effects that we can expect to see as climate change continues to be an ongoing problem. We must have the proper instruments put in place to prevent as much of this as possible. (NASA, 2007).
There are many beneficial aspects to IEAs. IEAs do not only raise environmental awareness, but they require scientific research which give countries involved in such treaties a sort of template to follow. IEAs also have the ability to encourage countries that do not have a significant role in the global movement, to take on a more active role, because countries who are highly involved and can persuade them by setting a good example. (Aichele and Felbermayr, 2013). This tactic is also a policy instrument, known as “keeping up with the joneses”. The concept is that countries do not only pay attention to what they are consuming internally in their own country, but they also pay attention to external countries and what they consuming, and generally countries will tend to gravitate towards the same level. This is a very useful policy instrument for Climate Change because if more countries are consuming less fossil fuels, than the surrounding countries are likely to follow. (Pierdzioch, 2003). IEAs such as the Kyoto Protocol have the capability to gather many different types of environmental policy instruments and apply them to these legally binding international agreements, to create one massive powerful policy instrument. Some policy instruments that IEAs include are cap and trade systems, fuel taxing and regulations for many different things, the possible incorporation of different instruments into an international treaty are absolutely endless. (Aichele and Felbermayr, 2013).
Although the Kyoto Protocol did not necessarily lower GHG emissions, since it was first ratified in 1997, it proves to be a beneficial policy instrument for issues surrounding climate change. The Kyoto Protocol brought countries together, while developing research on GHG emissions, so that we can plan for the future. Policy instruments such as the Kyoto Protocol give a legal basis for countries to come together and figure out ways to mitigate climate change. (Aichele and Felbermayr, 2013). Many countries feel obligated to report their annual GHG emissions to the UN, and they do so voluntarily, through these types of treaties. This lets us know that countries are waking up and realizing that there is an actual issue at hand, and that it does need to be addressed. Aichele and Felbermayr mention in their article is that there are no “formal sanctions” in the Kyoto Protocol, which in my opinion could possibly be a good thing to introduce into future International Environmental Agreements, if agreed upon. The authors also imply that the Kyoto Protocol had incentives for countries that met their targets for GHG emission levels, I believe that this is also a fantastic idea that could be implemented into future IEAs, incentives in the form of clean, renewable energy, of course. (Aichele and Felbermayr, 2013). Savaresi notes that one flaw in the Kyoto Protocol, was that only developed countries had signed it. Since climate change is a global phenomenon, it only makes sense that developing countries get on board as well; and that is exactly what the Paris Agreement achieved. (Savaresi, 2016). The Paris Agreement, a legal environmental policy instrument, that includes both developed and developing countries, finally exists, and will be implemented by 2020. Policy instruments such as IEAs like the Paris Agreement have the ability to include plans and policies everywhere from mitigation, adaption procedures towards finance, building and technology. (Savaresi, 2012). The countries who have signed the Paris Agreement, would like the peak of the global temperature to be as soon as possible, and go down from there, and these countries have come together on this one common goal. It is important to note that what began as an IEA such as the Kyoto Protocol and others before it, has been built upon and altered into one that could work for the global community. This proves as an example for the future, that if any altercations may be needed, they will not be impossible to do so. Savaresi notes that the Paris Agreement is adequately aligned with current emission patterns, and it harnesses and realistic approach to future action. (Savaresi, 2012).
Canada was highly engaged in the 1900s negotiations leading up to the Kyoto Protocol, prioritizing environmental protection. Canada decided to adopt demanding targets that would take serious efforts at the beginning of the Kyoto Protocol, giving them an excellent reputation on the international scale. (Barnsley, 2006). Aside from adopting a challenging emissions target, Canada also took on the role to help other countries reach agreements with one another. Canada became an international motivator on environmental issues, ratifying the treaty despite the fact that America, (Canada’s free trade partner) decided against Kyoto. Canada encouraged other countries with many campaigns devoted to climate change. (Barnsley, 2006). Fast forward to 2011 and Canada is announcing its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. It was also determined that Canada was the most uncooperative country, in the five years prior to its withdrawal. (Leahy, 2011). Canada had also failed to meet any emissions targets, having their targets increase by 24 percent in comparison to its 1990s levels. The Harper government was simply not interested in reducing Canada’s emissions. (Leahy, 2011).
195 countries came together in December of 2015 to sign the Paris Agreement. An agreement that is in favor of mitigating climate change, as well as keeping the global temperature under 2 degrees Celsius. (Mesik, 2015). The global temperature has been rapidly increasing in the most recent decades, which is very alarming and has many consequences. The question then is, are we able to prevent the global temperature from rising? Politicians all over the world are realizing that we need to globally tackle the issue of climate change together, and this is a step in the right direction. (Mesik, 2015). The Paris Agreement was powerful enough to have the two world’s largest polluters sign off on it, America and China. Although, China has not agreed to reduce emissions until 2030, they are still on board and have a target. In addition to getting the largest polluters on board, developing countries have also gotten on board and when the treaty is ratified they will receive funding of 100 billion dollars a year towards climate change efforts. (Dinmore, 2016). Under the Paris Agreement countries around the world agreed to use less hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are typically used for air conditioning and are toxic for the environment. These HFCs make up half a degree of the world’s warming at the moment. So, if replaced, could bring down global warming significantly. Thanks to the Paris Agreement, there will be regulations on products that contain HFC’s coming into Canada. (Canada Newswire, 2016).
Another exceptional point to note about the Paris Agreement, is that while there are legally binding terms, they still respect each individual state’s sovereignty. States who are included in the agreement have also agreed to meet every five years, as a way to check in on each other’s progress. Both the trust from other countries that states will meet their targets, and the transparency for all members of society to apply pressure to their governments, are excellent strategies in ensuring that countries meet their targets. (Maljean-Dubois and Wemaere, 2016). The Paris agreement is able to foster the support and fairness to both developing and developed countries, recognizing that different countries are in different stages of development, and must approach them differently. It is not so much a question as to rather the proper instruments are being applied, but rather if they are applied, accordingly. The Paris Agreement not only marks the beginning of an international movement, but also a movement that is internal, within each state with both their citizens and consumers, to be involved. (Maljean-Dubois and Wemaere, 2016).
In this essay, I have discussed IEAs such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement both have had positive impacts on international environmental politics. I have also discussed some of the hazards of climate change as outlined by NASA. Ultimately, in this essay I have argued that International Environmental Agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, Canada’s role in the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are both key and essential features in our global fight against climate change.
Mesík, Juraj. 2015. “Paris Climate Change Agreement: A Milestone Or a Fake?” International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs 24 (4): 79-98,109-110.
Aichele, Rahel, and Gabriel Felbermayr. “The Effect of the Kyoto Protocol on Carbon Emissions.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32, no. 4 (2013): 731-57.
Savaresi, A. (2016). The Paris Agreement: An Early Assessment. Environmental Policy and Law, 46(1), 14-18.
Maljean-Dubois, S., & Wemaëre, M. (2016). The Paris Agreement: A Starting Point towards Achieving Climate Neutrality? Carbon & Climate Law Review : CCLR, 10(1), 1-4.
Barnsley, I. (2006). Dealing with Change: Australia, Canada and the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Round Table, (385), 399-410.
Pierdzioch, C. (2003). Keeping up with the Joneses : Implications for the welfare effects of monetary policy in open economies. Jahrbuch Für Wirtschaftswissenschaften : Review of Economics, 54(2), 167-177.
Dinmore, G. (2016, September 03). U.S. and China Formally Join Paris Agreement in Show of Unity. Inter Press Service, p. 3.
Canada and the world agree to phase down the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. (2016, October 15). Canada NewsWire, p. Canada NewsWire, Oct 15, 2016.
Leahy, S. (2011, December 14). CLIMATE: CANADA WITHDRAWS FROM KYOTO PROTOCOL. Global Information Network, p. Global Information Network, Dec 14, 2011.


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