Global Governance Centre
27 March 2020

Let’s Think Beyond Kyoto, Paris and Social Movements: The Legal Responsibility of Industries for Climate Change

In the post-COVID19 world, neither a state-centric Paris Agreement, nor social movements will be sufficient to deal with climate change. The pandemic, most probably to be followed by an economic crisis, presents us with a historic choice about the future diversity and sustainability of our energy sources.

By Gor Samvel


This rejoinder to the debate of fellow scholars – Urs Luterbacher and Naghmeh Nasiritousi – on global environmental governance is written at a very trying time for every aspect of human existence. As of March 24, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken lives of thousands from every continent of this world, except Antarctica. The latter, though, has been also melting on its own at an alarming rate well before. The virus is said to be “…the biggest crisis of our generation…, which will probably shape the world for years to come…” (Y. N.  Harari: The World After Coronavirus).

But if we are to live in a new world, then, what does this world have to say about one of the major concerns that will pass from the “old” world to the “new” one: climate change? Will the global community rise to the challenge through stronger solidarity, or will it react to the contrary?  In the debate on the effectiveness of the current global climate regime, the approaches of Urs Luterbacher and Naghmeh Nasiritousi, though seemingly opposing, are still situated along the same continuum. While Urs Luterbacher considers the Paris Agreement as not binding enough and the social movements as insufficient to deal with a problem of this magnitude, Naghmeh Nasiritousi reinforces the Paris Agreement as the only legitimate framework accepted by the majority of states, and the importance of social movements and coalitions (e.g. the “We Are Still In” coalition) to pressure governments into stronger climate action.

Even if we deem the Paris Agreement to be as binding as the Kyoto Protocol, or the social movements as powerful influencers of politics, this may still have an insufficient influence on the matrix of underlying fundamental interests. Climate change is driven by such industries as energy, agriculture, general land use, waste (all resulting in industry-related Greenhouse Gas, or GHG, emissions), and by behavioural patterns rooted in the world’s consumerist society (adding on to or indirectly supporting GHG emissions). The history of the success and failure of environmental regimes inform us that behind every success story of perceived Westphalian state-centrism is, in fact, the input of non-state actors, both private and public, whose actions were the sources of emerging international responsibility. For example, the much-praised success of the Montreal Protocol was a result of the commitment of the same CFC producing industry to conduct research on and produce alternatives to ozone depleting substances. Similarly, under the UNECE Air Convention the reduction of VOC-emissions was achieved, for example, by rapid development of low-solvent or solvent-free paints. For the success of the Paris Agreement too, the energy sector possesses sufficient alternatives that could be used.

This is an excerpt. To read the full article, visit The Global.

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