Climate of Fear XV.

The “Lima Accord”: Almost 200 countries have agreed to burn less coal, oil, and gas.[1] By the end of March 2015 they will publish national plans to cut emissions after 2020 and will state what laws they will pass to achieve these goals.[2]

How will progress be judged? One solution, proposed by developed countries, would be to establish identical measurements for each country. This would allow easy comparisons between goals and achievements and between one country and another. Developing countries rejected this solution. In order to win the formal adherence of developing countries, the developed countries agreed to scrap the plan. However, economists in developed countries believe that it will be possible to find a way to synthesize disparate information. Countries that fall short of their goals will be identified. Todd Stern, a lead negotiator for the United States, put the best face on this that he could: “We see the sunlight as one of the most important parts of this [agreement].”[3]

How powerful is “peer pressure”? Peer pressure is all that will provide enforcement. The agreement includes neither specific targets nor any enforcement mechanism. It is, in effect, another executive agreement. Like other executive agreements, it is not binding beyond the end of President Obama’s term in office.[4] Countries that submit inadequate plans or which fail to meet their goals will be subjected to the withering moral condescension of foreigners.

The possibility exists that the United States will be one of those defaulters. President Obama’s policies already have the United States on-track toward a substantial reduction in emissions by 2025. Further regulations during his last two years in office can reduce emissions still more. Experts appear to doubt that the targets for 2025—a 28 percent reduction—can be brought within reach without Congressional action.

How have developing countries performed with regard to establishing worker-safety laws? This is another example of developing countries responding to pressure from developed countries—often operating through international organizations like the International Labor Office. Like emissions reduction, the worker safety laws work against existing strategies for international development. To take an extreme example, on 24 April 2013 a five story garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed.[5] The disaster killed 1,137 workers. Most were girls aged between 18 and 20 years. They had been working 12-14 hour shifts for 90-100 hours a week. They had been paid between 12 and 24 cents an hour. Most of the clothes they sewed were for export to developed countries. Naturally, this tragedy led to much international criticism.

Do “Name-and-Shame Campaigns”—peer pressure—work, either in domestic or international contexts? To take an extreme example, on 13 March 2015, a factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Fortunately, the building was still under construction and not full of people. At last report, four people had been killed, forty injured, and about one hundred were still missing.

So, the future is still a little cloudy.

[1] Coral Davenport, “A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure,” NYT, 15 December 2015.

[2] Countries that miss the 31 March deadlines will have until June to publish their plans. Countries that miss the June deadline will have until the next major climate conference in Paris in December 2015. Countries that miss the December deadline,…

[3] So, another step forward for solar power.

[4] However, since 1939, 94.3 % of all international agreements have been executive agreements, rather than treaties. Most appear to have been regarded as remaining valid after a change of government. See: Michael Crittenden and Byron Tau, “GOP Iran Letter Draws Obama Rebuke,” WSJ, 10 March 2015.

[5] See: http://www.globallabourrights.org/campaigns/factory-collapse-in-bangladesh

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