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International theories and Copenhagen Climate Treaty Essay

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Updated: Nov 1st, 2019


One week conference was held in Copenhagen in Denmark for two weeks; in December 2009 to fight against global warming, an effect of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. The participants included countries all over the world.

President Obama of the U.S. was optimistic and had hoped that U.S. would be at the front line in the fight against global warming. However, expectations of the meeting failed even after about 45,000 people participation.

This essay will discuss why the summit failed to accomplish its expectations. Two theories, neo-realism and neo-liberalism will be the basis of the discussion; with reference to the climate politics on the basis of international relations.

International relations include law, economics, ethics, strategy, philosophy, culture, environment and policy analysis (Relations 1). The theories of the approach, realism and neo-realism will also be discussed including their characteristics.

Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change

The Copenhagen summit was meant to create unity in reduction of greenhouse gases by involving countries all over the world. The inclusion was meant to allow all countries to play a role, whether big or small towards this event. This happened later after the introduction of the Kyoto protocol.

Due to increased greenhouse gases emitted mostly by the developing countries, there was need to raise an alarm so as to reduce the influence of the gases to climate change and global warming; that had been seen to have negative impacts on the environment.

The Copenhagen summit proposed for Copenhagen Green Climate Fund which would raise $100 billion annually to assist the developing countries; to protect themselves from global warming and to adapt to climate change (Wynn 1).

The summit also emphasized on saving the tropical forests so as to stop depletion of carbon sinks. Farms and forest clearing contributed about 33% of the greenhouse gases. The Kyoto protocol seemed to omit some of the crucial areas that contribute to global warming.

This is because it excludes green house emissions from shipping and aviation which emits about 5% of total GHG. Kyoto protocol had planned to reduce emissions by introduction of carbon trading in the markets. The emitting countries were supposed to be paying for the emissions they made (Wynn 1).

Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism Theories

These two international relations theories seek to explain different arguments but they apply some assumptions which are quite similar to each other. Neoliberals say, “International cooperation could be achieved gradually and with effort and facilitation from cross border institutions” (Taylor 1).

Neo-liberalism accepts the fact that states are the key actors in international relations. However they do not underestimate the influence of the non states as well as the non governmental organizations. They argue that states can cooperate if they know they will benefit at the end of the deal. This theory also considers economic factors in relation to open, free markets and institutionalism.

Neo-realism, “underestimates the ability of states to cooperate and overemphasize the inevitability of conflict” (Taylor 1). Neo-realism argues that nations are inclined to influence of external factors; and that there is usually domination of the powerful influencing decisions to their own interests.

Climate politics showed that there was a great influence on relations between states. The result of the conference according to neo-realism was failure of cooperation and little achievement according to neo-realism.

Role of International Actors

The U.S. and China were the main actors in this conference. European Union, India, Australia, Japan and developing countries participated. They greatly affected the results of the summit. U.S is the greatest emitter of Green house gases. Its failure to ratify with the Kyoto Protocol was an excuse for China in this second proposal.

The U.S. president Barack Obama had great goals to change and contribute towards reduction of GHG emissions. The proposed draft prospects were to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 emissions by 2020. The new solution was an agreement of many countries with a removal of Kyoto protocol and commitment of China, India and other countries with high economic growth (The New York times, 1).

China, being one of the fast growing economies eliminated about 1.6 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere by the year 2010. It was also committed to reduce its emissions. China wanted a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

They also needed support to the developing countries from the developed countries. India believed that the global warming was mainly caused by the developed countries and thus it is their responsibility to deal with the problem.

Being the forth highest country to emit carbon dioxide in the world, India looked onto the west to solve the problem. India had only their domestic interest other than cooperating to solve a global problem. European Union was a major participant in the Copenhagen talks (The New York times, 1).

The European Union was committed to reduce GHG emissions but there was also a conflict between it, the wealthier and poor nations. The problem of funding its efforts has also been problematic. The target of European Union was to reduce emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Australia was also supporting the idea of emissions trading. Their target was to cut emissions by 5% below those of year 2000 in a period of ten years. Japan was also committing to cut down their emissions by 7% of year 1990 (The New York times, 2).

Developing countries also participated because global warming had adverse effects on their economy. Though they did not have large emissions, they were mostly affected by the effects of global warming. They faced drought, floods and storms. They needed developed countries to apply better technology in their equipment. They also needed aid to help in protection of their countries (The New York times 2).

The international Copenhagen convention was thus more of Neo-realism. Most decisions were influenced by the powerful economically. The conflict between the U.S A and other rising economies including China brought a disagreement. In this case United States was not able to control the outcome.

Constructivism was evident because according to social politics, the superior always affect the final decision. Thus, the greater the economic growth of a country, the more the influence it had on the final decision. However, at that time, U.S. did not make it to the final decision, because their opinion was opposed though it was thought to be a superior.

President Obama had been committed to the great task and included all nations, developing and developed. The conference was said to be chaotic

President Obama injected himself into a multilayered negotiation that was far more chaotic and contentious than anticipated – frozen by longstanding divisions between rich and poor nations and a legacy of mistrust of the United States, which has long refused to accept binding limits on its greenhouse emissions. (New York Times 1)

This shows that the conflict was brought by disagreements which were brought up by U.S and other powerful countries that did not want to be influenced or to be controlled.

Reasons for Failure of Copenhagen Summit

The political influence and individual country instability posed a great challenge in achieving the expected goals which were meant to stop climate change. This was a great idea but the problem was that the proposed solutions had a connection with many economical activities in different countries.

Neo- liberalism was the approach of this conference since climate change problems could only be solved by having participants from all over the world. This was because it was a global challenge. Its assumption of cooperation between all countries failed and was therefore challenged by the Neo-realism theory (Thomas 1).

This was clear because most countries were expecting good results and agreement between countries. However the turn up was positive and supported the Neo-liberalism. Neo-realism dominated because, most of the developing countries were relying on industries for their economic growth.

Most of them had a negative impact on the environment, the control measures would perhaps mean closure of their industries because they would become subject to paying high bills for their emissions (Thomas 1).

Failure of cooperation because of domestic interests caused failure of the Copenhagen summit objectives. Major countries were India and China. These together with other rising countries opposed the proposed solutions, since they would have had a great effect on their economy.

Domestic instability caused some countries to feel insecure about the decisions made to overcome negative effects of climate Change. The conflict came as a result of rich countries failing to take their respective responsibilities.

The agreement was supposed to be made after the meeting where treaties of every country would be signed by their respective representative to show their support and agreement by the year 2010. The Chinese said they turned down the offer because United States had previously refused to cooperate in the Kyoto protocol (Thomas 1).

The Kyoto protocol controls Green House Gases (GHG): “Kyoto protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations framework convention on climate change” (Kyoto Protocol 1). It works towards reduction of Green House gases emissions through Carbon trading, clean development mechanism and joint mechanism.

Kyoto protocol committed those involved to control the GHG while the convention at Copenhagen was encouraging to decrease the emissions of GHG (Kyoto Protocol 1). Kyoto protocol controls almost 40 rich nations emissions from 2008-2012.

Decision of whether the Copenhagen treaty would have been to sign a new or sign both treaties was a challenge to reach to a comprehensive decision. Failure of U.S to ratify the Kyoto protocol was one of the contentious issues since the Chinese blamed them for then emissions of the past years and argued they were supposed to first take responsibility of their emissions (Kyoto Protocol 1).

Rich countries were supporting the signing of a common treaty including all countries. On the other hand developing countries were looking for a way to bind the United States on the decisions they were about to make in a way they could benefit from them. Time duration of how long the treaty was supposed to take was another problem the Copenhagen encountered.


Global warming and climate change are global issues which need participation from countries all over the world. The Copenhagen conference was mainly supported by the U.S. but opposed by other fast economically growing countries including China and India.

Australia, Japan and most countries were optimistic about this event but their expectations were cut short after they were opposed. For a positive impact to occur, better planning involving all countries should be done. Each country should not focus on their domestic issues but approach the problem as global issue. Power and domestic issues only sabotaged the process.

Works Cited

Kyoto Protocol. United Nations Framework convention on climate change. Kyoto Protocol, 2011. Web.

New York Times. Copenhagen Climate Talks. New York Times, 2011. Web.

Relations. International Relations. Sage Publishers, 2011. Web.

Taylor, Nicholus. The Neo debate in international relations Theory. Tayylormckeler, 2010. Web.

The New York Times. . New York Times, 2011. Web.

Thomas, Alex. Why the United Nations Climate Change Conference Failed. Word Press, 2010. Web.

Wynn, Gerard. . Reuters, 2011. Web.

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