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Since the early 90s, when global governance burst into existence, the phenomenon has proved a formidable force in a number of fronts. World governance offers the possibility of solving international problems on terms that are agreeable to all concerned nations. At the same time, the phenomenon poses the threat of infringing on the sovereignty of nations by imposing on them policies by which they may not be willing and ready to abide.

Climate change has been one of the controversies that have fit squarely into the domain of world governance. The nature of the problem that climate change presents requires an international and intergovernmental solution. This is because the effects of climate change transcend national and political borders. The attempts by the international community to bring the problem under control have exposed the pros and cons of global governance in a rare light. This article traces the crucial events concerning climate change and the manner in which the international community has manoeuvred them. In so doing, the article will explore the way in which global governance has tried to adapt to these changes in the complexity of emerging issues, the challenges it has experienced and its interaction with and implications on the individual’s rights. The article will conclude on whether or not global governance is the way to go in seeking solutions to international problems.

Keywords: global governance, emerging issues, climate change


Climate change has attracted plenty of interest in the past two decades or so. The first profound international effort towards solving the problem of climate change was the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. This body was formed in order to provide information concerning the risk posed by the climate change that was induced by human activities. Although this was not the body that would make or oversee the implementation of any policies, it has had a tangible impact on policymaking in climate issues.

Major Climate Change Agreements

In 1992, a key policy framework on which many policies on climate change would be based, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was formulated in Rio de Janeiro. Discussion of global governance without mention and analysis of the impact of the UNFCCC on climate issues would be grossly incomplete and inadequate. The UNFCCC has guided policy making concerning climate change since it was signed back in 1992.

This treaty was not legally binding, but it provided the framework on which legally binding protocols could be formed. The absence of any legally binding agreements in this vital treaty left it open to varied interpretations and implementation by all of its signatories. This was a patent shortcoming of the document as far as the governance of its implementation was concerned. The absence of any motivation to stick to the recommendations set out in the treaty, along with the absence of a world policing body which would monitor, regulate, and enforce these policies left the UNFCC open to political forces that played within various countries. This left the treaty at the mercy and discretion of the various countries that ratified it.

The UNFCC preceded another key treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, whose aim was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and enforced in 2005, offered improved avenues for dealing with signatory countries that would not adhere to the policies set out in the document. However, the protocol does not outline any strict measures of dealing with countries that openly flout the policies outlined in the document. Many observers have noted that the punishments set out for the countries that go against this protocol are insignificant.

Hurdles for Global Governance

These two notable treaties have brought to light some issues concerning global governance. First, international agreements made for the good of the international community have no international sanctioning body to actualize their implementation. Global governance has made little headway in establishing systems that ensure the successful enforcement of the agreements made on the international scene (Drexhage). The absence of an international authority to oversee the implementation of such agreements has proved a notable setback. This is because no decisive action can be taken against member states that fail to abide by terms set out in such agreements.

Secondly, the enforcement of these agreements depends, in large measure, on the alacrity of the member countries to put international interests before national interests. This has exposed the clash between national interests and international interests. Nationalism, it emerges, is one of the hurdles that global governance has to leap over in order to become a success. For example, the United States, which has the highest emission rates of greenhouse gases, failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on two momentous occasions, and it remains one of the countries that have not signed the document. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations argued that agreeing to the terms set out in the document would hurt the American economy and lead to the loss of about five million jobs in America. The U.S Senate rejected the Protocol even before it was fully passed in 1997. This demonstrated the futility of efforts of global governance in the face of strong national interests.

The Dominance of Industrialized Nations

The discussion on world governance would be incomplete without a mention of the influence of the United States on the international decision-making process. The United Nations, which is the only body that represents the ‘global government’, often watches almost powerlessly as the United States of America flagrantly dodges international decisions which do not favour it. The outcry against the United States by other countries has not been able to make a difference. International law is supposed to create a semblance of an international territory of law-abiding players (Rwengabo). The United States, however, has on several occasions dodged the grip of international law, citing its constitution, sovereignty, and independence. On the other hand, developing countries have often suffered the brunt of the international law due to non-compliance. Sanctions and bans have often been applied to these developing countries the moment they flout any international consensus, and yet powerful nations such as the U.S. choose which agreements to participate in and which ones to flout. This demonstrates the fact that international governance may, indeed, be infringing on the sovereignty of developing countries.

The unfair nature of the playing ground for states that take part in international governance is a deterrent to fair play. As long as the economic and military scales are tipped in favour of some countries, the issue of global governance will remain a utopian dream. The global government should be able to treat all countries with equality, but this is not the case as far as such bodies as the UN are concerned. Developed countries often have the final say in what the world policies will be, and developing countries simply play along to the tune set by the developed countries. This makes the issue of global governance an elusive mirage.

Twists in the Climate Change Debate

Of late, a new dimension has been introduced to the issue of climate change. Sceptics have come out in the open and contributed to the debate on climate change. They have trashed the statistics that have been advanced by mainstream scientists as a hoax (Foundation). They have claimed that these statistics have been fabricated to push for the interests of some countries and individuals. They have claimed that the statistics describing climate change are inaccurate and entirely unacceptable. The sceptics have changed the landscape of debate on climate change, but their critics have argued that their claims are baseless and ill-intended. Their arguments give an impression of things going right, but this is a far cry from reality. Their claims would trivialize the invaluable progress that has been made in the direction of achieving an international status of legally binding agreements to reduce the pollution that is caused by human activities.


Indeed, global governance has proved a formidable tool in trying to seek solutions to problems that affect trans-border regions and the whole globe, by extension. However, the legitimacy of global governance has been undermined by the absence of international bodies, which may sanction them. This leads to selective application of the terms of international agreements. Countries that possess the economic strength to downplay such agreements do so at will, and those that are lower on the tier of economic development often have to abide by them faithfully, even at the expense of the national will of their peoples. Therefore, on the one hand, global governance infringes on the sovereignty of individual states; and, on the other hand, it promotes impunity and manipulation by the more developed nations.

As far as climate change is concerned, the horrendous prospects of a climate that will be too hostile for human life have not been sufficient to prod nations such as the United States into entering the legally binding agreements on how to reduce the anthropogenic effect of climate change.

Therefore, global governance is a brilliant idea, but the diverse interests of nations around the world seriously compromise its workability. Nevertheless, it is necessary to have international structures that somewhat regulate the excesses of individual nations and provide alternatives and solace for citizens of countries whose governments treat them unfairly. Therefore, global governments should be strengthened, but measures to safeguard the sovereignty of individual nations should also be effected.

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