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Understanding US government reluctance to accept legally binding emissions reduction targets: the import of elite interest convergence

Cletus Famous Nwankwo
Published Online: 2019-08-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/openps-2019-0002


This essay critically examines why the United States Government (USG) has been reluctant to accept legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets (LBGERTs). The paper notes that four factors are essential in explaining this, namely the economy, scepticism about climate science, hegemonic drives and a quest for distributive justice. Notwithstanding, USG reluctance to accept LBGERTs is shaped by the convergence of interests of key actors in US political system who conceive government action to combat climate as a threat to their interests, although this can be reinforced or dissuaded by party ideology. While party ideology could strengthen or weaken US actions to fight climate change, the shielding of its sovereignty remains paramount regardless of ideological differences between the Democrats and Republicans. It indicates that while it could be argued that the Kyoto Protocol was a failed regime given the wide acceptance of the Paris Agreement, the planned withdrawal of US from Paris Agreement demonstrates that the Kyoto Protocol was not wholly a failure and buttressed the need to have a legally binding agreement (LBA). Also, it argues that the success of the Paris Agreement is a function of trust, reputation and reciprocity among countries that are parties to it.

Keywords: Climate change; climate regime; legally binding emissions; Paris Agreement; Kyoto Protocol


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About the article

Received: 2018-06-16

Accepted: 2019-06-03

Published Online: 2019-08-16

Citation Information: Open Political Science, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 9–20, ISSN (Online) 2543-8042, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/openps-2019-0002.

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© 2019 Cletus Famous Nwankwo, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

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