The COP 21 in Paris as the Meeting of the Global Homeowners’ Association

The sense of sharing one densely packed high-rise that is home to two hundred separate families was never stronger than during the final days of the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris (COP21).

The preamble to the Decision introducing the Paris Agreement reflects this shared vision quite vividly:

Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,

Also recognizing that deep reductions in global emissions will be required in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and emphasizing the need for urgency in addressing climate change,

Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,

Also acknowledging the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the impact of the implementation of response measures…

Recognizing the urgent need to enhance the provision of finance, technology and capacity-building support by developed country Parties, in a predictable manner,…

It was this collective sense of a shared global home that supplied the rationale of the Agreement: the logic of self-commitments to “nationally determined contributions” by states to combat climate change is possible only through collective shaming, and collective shaming is meaningful only if there is a shared sense of a community to which individual members feel accountable to. As in any human society, there is also room for displays of exemplary citizenship by unilaterally promoting collective welfare, and hence the potential for a “race to the top.”

The sense of a collective global high-rise is widely shared by an emerging global civil society that seeks responses from national governments. Indeed, much of the success of the Paris breakthrough is due to bottom-up local initiatives. President Obama could not have side-stepped the Republican-led Congress unless he could rely on grass-root initiatives in key US States that had received the backing of the US Supreme Court (see Daniel A. Farber, Climate Change, Federalism, and the Constitution, 2008, here, and my earlier post here).

Of course, this sense of good global citizenship hinges on relentless efforts to generate and sustain it. Without sophisticated fragmentation tactics, in the domestic political arena (side-stepping the US Congress (here) and creating divisions among US industries, (here)) and internationally (winning key emerging economies like Brazil while side-lining China and India among others,(on Brazil’s role see here and  here)), the Obama administration would not have been able to break the necessary ground. Without reliable monitoring, the shaming/praising mechanism cannot function. Good will needs to be tapped and cultivated by a determined leadership. The hope is that global grass-root support continues to provide the necessary political backing for determined politicians.


Related previous posts:

Quixotic Altruism or an Effective Investment? On Unilateral Measures to Mitigate Climate Change (July 8, 2014).

US Special Envoy for Climate Change: US Leadership is Indispensable to Effective International Action (October 18, 2014).

For a description of the US strategy see the speech by Todd D. Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change “Seizing the Opportunity for Progress on Climate” (October 14, 2014).