Format adaption global or local?

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The aim of this article is to analyse and explain the nature of global adaptation governance as conducted under the UNFCCC, and specifically the degree of legalization Abbott and Snidal, ; Abbott et al. Apart from constituting an under-studied area of international cooperation, global adaptation governance is an interesting puzzle for International Relations IR scholars interested in legalization.

Many scholars and states would argue that adaptation is a local and private good in that adaptation measures would provide benefits mainly at a local level and are seldom purely public. We should thus not expect to see a high degree of legalization as states have little incentive to regulate such an issue at the international level. Meanwhile, some scholars Khan, ; Magnan and Ribera, have suggested that adaptation should be considered a global public good that is underprovided and needs international cooperation. The effects of climate change spill over borders and could lead to the displacement of peoples or to new global public health challenges, and the international community must cooperate to address these.

We suggest that adaptation is a contested global public good , and this is one explanation for why there are global adaptation rules and commitments that are low in obligation and precision. This is an important contribution as the legalization literature has generally ignored how states construct and contest global public goods. This article examines the rules and commitments related to adaptation governance under the UNFCCC, and their degree of legalization.

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It is based on extensive analysis of UNFCCC primary documents and submissions, as well as secondary literature on climate governance initiatives and institutions. We examined the legal texts of UNFCCC agreements and, drawing on secondary literature, identified the key rules and commitments. We conducted interviews with climate adaptation experts and negotiators.

Candidates were selected for their expertise on adaptation and to reflect a range of views developed and developing country and positions government officials and external experts ; however, we acknowledge that they are not fully representative of all views. It is beyond the scope of this article to list the many other actors involved in global adaptation governance.

The first section of this article describes the knowledge gap on global adaptation governance. The second section then outlines how we can measure and explain the degree of legalization. The third section identifies the key rules and commitments established on adaptation in the UNFCCC, and then, in the fourth section, we consider explanations for the variation in the legalization of adaptation, before concluding. We need to ensure that international adaptation cooperation is well-informed and governments are held to account. However, this literature typically focuses on mitigation-related elements and pays limited attention to adaptation see, e.

A similar tendency to focus on mitigation can be observed in the literature on global climate governance, beyond the UNFCCC, which has identified climate change as a regime complex Keohane and Victor, , as transnational governance Andonova et al. There is thus a significant knowledge gap on the nature of global adaptation governance, which this article addresses.

To the extent that global adaptation governance has been studied, few accounts have focused on its legal nature Verheyen, or governance functions Lesnikowski et al. Different strands of literature on adaptation governance provide insights but not the complete picture. First, at the international level, the conceptual and discursive history of adaptation throughout the negotiations, including links to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC reports, has been recorded, with the finding that it is characterized by persistent ambiguity Schipper, Second, there is a large literature focusing on the politics of international climate adaptation finance Ciplet et al.

Providing and allocating financial transfers is an important mode of international adaptation governance but there is a more comprehensive regime at play. Finally, there is a large and diverse literature examining adaptation governance that focuses on local or national levels of governance, and associated modes and actors see, e. This reflects the scaling of adaptation as an individual, local or, at most, national concern, yielding mainly private, local or national-level benefits, something we will return to later.

It is timely post-Paris to take stock of the global adaptation governance architecture, considering the lack of scholarship on this topic. Normative demands have also been made for more robust governance. Khan calls for stronger and more centralized and binding agreements on adaptation within the UNFCCC regime, both to strengthen equity and the polluter-pays principle, and to challenge the framing of adaptation as a local concern. Although some scholars make strong normative calls for a change in global adaptation governance, it is not clear what sort of adaptation governance currently exists.

States can choose between multiple forms and types of action at the global level. They may opt for: competition, unilateral action, no action or collaboration Milner, A significant body of IR scholarship has sought to explain under what conditions states opt for cooperation Keohane, A common assumption is that states are more likely to opt for international cooperation to address global public goods — rather than local or national goods for which there is little incentive for one state to provide for another.

Yet, even when states reach an international agreement, there is variation in the extent and nature of cooperation that they commit to. Scholars working in the rationalist tradition have highlighted variation in the legalization of international cooperation — states may opt for hard law a legally binding international treaty or they may choose various forms of soft law norms, recommendations, guidelines Goldstein et al. The concept of legalization has been used for analysing regimes such as human rights and investment Guzman, : ; Lutz and Sikkink, However, constructivist scholars have argued that the concepts of obligation, precision and delegation are narrow Finnemore and Toope, ; Hafner-Burton et al.

In addition, scholars have questioned whether the legalization literature has a theory of obligation. Although there are clear limitations of the legalization literature, we find it a useful analytical framework to examine the extent and type of commitments within existing formalized agreements. The concerns of constructivists to examine exactly how obligation takes effect are valid but we do not currently know what type of legal adaptation obligations states have committed to. Thus, we take a slightly novel approach and use legalization to examine one issue within a wider set of agreements, the UNFCCC and associated protocols, agreements and decisions.

Global Change and Local Adaptation

So, how can legalization be operationalized and variation identified? Abbott et al. When we have high legalization, rules and commitments are regarded as binding, and states cannot disregard them even if their preferences change Abbott et al. There are variations from high obligation a binding rule and unconditional obligation to low norms, recommendations or guidelines adopted without law-making authority , and also the possibility of explicit negation of intent to be legally bound.

Obligation is the most commonly studied element of legalization, especially in the UNFCCC, and is necessary for high legalization. Precision is an equally important element of legalization. If rules are ambiguous, then states can interpret them to their advantage Best, ; Hall, This is problematic as states can sign up to a highly binding agreement but then effectively redefine their obligations to avoid making major concessions.

Precision varies from highly determinate rules, where there are narrow issues of interpretation, to rules where there are extremely broad areas of discretion Abbott and Snidal, : — There is no precision when it is impossible to determine whether conduct complies. Regarding delegation, we find that it is not a useful dimension of legalization in global climate governance as the UNFCCC has not frequently used adjudicatory mechanisms.


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We focus on obligation and precision to determine the legalization of global adaptation governance. Scholars have identified several explanations for why states choose hard law over soft law. The three dominant explanations focus on functionalism states select based on a trade-off between costs and benefits , power asymmetries or distribution of states preferences and domestic preferences Abbott and Snidal, ; Guzman, ; Hafner-Burton et al. The underlying assumption is that states enter agreements when it makes them better off, and use international law to extract and lock in commitments from other states Guzman, They seek to influence the degree of legalization in that process.

Here, we examine the first two explanations since data collection on the domestic preferences of all Parties was beyond the scope of this research. In addition, we suggest that legalization may be used as a side-payment for another issue within a regime. We suggest that these explanations are not mutually exclusive, and could be complementary. From a functionalist perspective, states will select high legalization if the benefits outweigh the costs and will opt for low legalization when they do not Abbott and Snidal, ; Guzman, : There are a number of benefits of high legalization, which includes setting strong and credible commitments that states cannot opt out of easily as they risk a loss of reputation and retaliation from other states Guzman, Furthermore, when agreements are precise, states cannot mis interpret them to their own advantage.

High legalization also strengthens compliance and lowers transaction costs. However, high legalization comes with costs to sovereignty — states are unwilling to accept international authority in areas of high national importance, such as security or migration policies, as they lose control over regulation Abbott and Snidal, ; Kahler, : Further, states often opt for less binding commitments because they value flexibility to deal with changing circumstances, and high legalization makes future changes in policy more costly Guzman, : In a similar vein, Kratochwil : , notes the increasing tendency of states to generate soft law as it allows states to shorten negotiation time, retain control of implementation and mitigate domestic dissent.

In short, there is a constant trade-off between making strong, precise, credible commitments and having discretion to deal with future uncertainty and limit sovereignty costs. Meanwhile, others have argued that there are general and particularistic affecting some states more than others uncertainties, which result in diverse forms of flexibility Thompson, In summary, there are many potential ways that obligation, precision, uncertainty, flexibility and sovereignty costs could interact. The scholarship has not yet found a firm response to key relationships; from the literature, we derive the following:.


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  6. Proposition 1: High uncertainty and low sovereignty costs lead to low precision and high obligation. The distribution of preferences among states over an issue and the ease of reaching an agreement is another critical dimension Hafner-Burton et al.


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    When state preferences are highly asymmetric, we are less likely to have an international agreement with high precision and obligation Kahler, : These issues will also be influenced by the number of Parties to an agreement and the preferences for legalization of the most powerful states Kahler, : High legalization occurs if the most powerful state s is in favour of it. The distribution of state preferences has been an important factor in climate mitigation negotiations as high asymmetries have led to gridlock in negotiations i.

    Also within this explanatory approach, we derive two hypotheses:. Proposition 2: The greater the asymmetry of preferences between states, the less likely we are to see high legalization. Proposition 3: When the hegemon s supports strong legalization, we are more likely to see high precision and obligation.

    In functionalist explanations, the object of legalization is taken for granted and legalization is presented as a selection and optimization problem. Yet, many scholars have highlighted the political nature of defining global public goods Augenstein, : ; Bodansky, ; Carbone, ; Kaul, , including global environmental problems. For instance, joint goods — like peacekeeping, foreign assistance and perhaps adaptation — provide a specific private benefit for a nation or community and a global public benefit Kaul et al. We suggest that the legalization scholarship should examine political contestation over what constitutes a global public good.

    The extent to which a global public good is widely accepted by states as a global public good will impact on its legalization. Being a global public good is an important precursor to international legalization — a necessary but not sufficient condition Allan, If there is no global dimension to a good, then it is unlikely that we will see any international legalization and potentially no global discussion at all. In cases where there is contestation over whether an issue has global public good properties, we may see some international discussions but are unlikely to see high obligation and precision.

    Further, it must be states within the negotiation that are contesting a global public good — if it is only civil society, academics or other interest groups that have contesting views, this is unlikely to translate into variation in obligation and precision in international agreements. Proposition 4: A contested global public good will lead to agreements with low levels of obligation and precision.

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    Legalization scholars have noted that states may trade off different dimensions of an agreement form and substance; precision and obligation Abbott and Snidal, ; Guzman, Thus, the level of precision may be compromised to have higher obligation, or vice versa. States may also increase the breadth of an agreement to induce other recalcitrant states to agree, that is, expand from the core problem addressed.

    This enables states to make concessions in one area to enable agreement on the core issue s around substance and form, obligation and precision Guzman, : Rather than hold up the overall agreement, states can incorporate imprecise provisions to deal with the difficult issues, allowing them to proceed with the rest of the bargain Abbott and Snidal, : Here, we extend this explanation by connecting it with the idea of side-payments for providing global public goods see, e.

    We suggest that these concessions can be either institutional as suggested earlier or material such as cash transfers Ciplet, : In this article, we limit material side-payments to those regulated within the agreement, and not those potentially taking place informally outside of the agreement. Proposition 5: Low or high legalization can act as a form of side-payment in a negotiation for the provision of another global public good in a single regime. We now look at existing adaptation rules and commitments adopted through the Convention, agreements, protocols and decisions and examine their degree of obligation and precision.

    Four categories are used to cluster them, reflecting different functions of the adaptation regime, and one of these individual commitments is further subdivided into three subcategories see Table 1. We use rules and commitments regulating mitigation as illustrative examples for comparison. We make two overall observations. First, the collection of rules and commitments on adaptation has gradually accumulated, and there are arguably more in nominal terms attempts to govern adaptation than many mitigation-focused accounts of the international climate regime would suggest.

    Second, adaptation is characterized by low legalization, especially when it comes to the precision dimension. Adaptation was not on par with mitigation at the outset of the climate regime. Adaptation was mentioned, but there were no corresponding responsibilities or commitments for states. Mitigation was characterized by a clear obligation for the Parties Article 3. Mitigation was also characterized by increasing precision as the objective became quantified and made measurable with the 2-degree target, formally adopted in the Cancun Agreements 12 and reconfirmed in the Paris Agreement which strengthened the obligation by committing Parties to pursue efforts towards 1.

    Collective commitments on adaptation were characterized by low obligation and precision from the outset, despite some early calls for establishing a separate protocol on adaptation Verheyen, In the negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement, the African Group of Negotiators introduced the idea of a global goal on adaptation and other Parties joined in.

    Suggestions ranged from a goal quantified by some relevant indicators e. Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal referred to in Article 2.

    Progress towards the global goal will be reviewed for the global stocktakes under the Paris Agreement, starting in Article 7. Precision is very low, currently, given that there are no official definitions of adaptation, adaptive capacity, resilience or vulnerability under the UNFCCC.

    Further, no metrics have yet been agreed, in contrast with mitigation, where states use a unit of carbon dioxide CO 2 to measure efforts. Regarding adaptation, substantive commitments could potentially have a highly constraining effect in terms of the reallocation of public expenditure e.

    Global climate adaptation governance: Why is it not legally binding?

    Article 4. The Paris Agreement Article 7. Regarding precision, the same barriers in measuring adaptation at the collective level applies to individual commitments. Two trends can be discerned, though. In contrast, these are more frequent.

    Format adaption global or local?

    The obligation to report on adaptation planning was there from the outset, through the National Communications NCs Article Since then, new types of voluntary plans have been developed, for developing-country parties specifically, and connected with dedicated multilateral funding. The Paris Agreement increased the level of activity around planning and reporting. These adaptation communications shall be considered for the global stocktakes Article Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a product review. Back to top. Get to Know Us. Audible Download Audio Books.

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