Balancing National Interests and Global Climate Goals: The Coordination Challenge

Melting iceberg on the ocean. Global warming and climate change concepts

As the initial optimism that followed the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 begins to wane, the practical obstacles and hindrances to the transition toward a low-carbon, sustainable future are becoming increasingly evident. These challenges are indicative of a significant issue referred to as ‘coordination failure’ among the countries that are signatories to the agreement. Climate change is a global problem that demands cooperative efforts from nations around the world to both mitigate its effects and adapt to the changes already occurring. The Paris Agreement was created to serve as an international commitment, aimed at addressing climate change by fostering the coordination and synchronization of actions taken by countries to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The emergence of escalating geopolitical tensions and the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world has inhibited the necessity for robust international institutions, clear mechanisms for coordination and cooperation, and ongoing diplomacy and negotiation to overcome coordination failure and achieve the collective objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate risks.

In the absence of these mechanisms, several areas of concern have become apparent:

  1. Free-Rider Problem: The free-rider problem is a specific type of coordination failure associated with public goods. Climate change mitigation is considered a public good since efforts to reduce emissions benefit everyone, yet the costs are often shouldered by individual countries. However, some countries may be tempted to ‘free ride’ by not taking significant steps to reduce emissions, hoping to reap the benefits of others’ efforts. This behaviour can result in inadequate global action, with individual countries failing to coordinate effectively.
  2. National Interests vs. Global Benefit: Countries possess diverse interests, and their leaders must factor in national economic and political priorities when committing to climate action. This can lead to conflicts between national interests and the global benefit of addressing climate change. Achieving coordinated global action while balancing these interests can be challenging. For example, many developed countries strongly resist the inclusion of discussions on loss and damage in regular negotiations. Loss and damage refer to the impacts of climate change that go beyond adaptation, often involving contentious issues such as compensation and liability.
  3. Lack of Uniform Action: The effectiveness of the Paris Agreement depends on the individual commitments and actions of countries. When some countries fail to take adequate steps to reduce emissions or adapt to climate change, it can hinder global efforts and result in coordination failure. Many countries are, however, strengthening environmental regulations, implementing pollution taxes, and providing subsidies to incentivize businesses to transition to carbon-neutral technologies, thereby offsetting some of the associated costs. From a business perspective, the adoption of low-carbon technologies often involves substantial upfront investments, which businesses may view as a risk to their short-term profitability. Concerns arise when there is uncertainty about the market’s willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products or services. In other words, a lack of consumer demand for green products or services and minimal investor support for sustainable initiatives can reduce businesses’ motivation to make changes.
  4. Compliance and Enforcement: Ensuring compliance with the commitments made under the Paris Agreement presents another coordination challenge. Countries must establish mechanisms for monitoring, reporting, and verifying their progress. Failure to coordinate these aspects effectively can undermine the agreement’s credibility and success.

Other challenges in adopting low-carbon technologies:

  1. Lobbying and Political Influence: Powerful interests from traditional energy and fossil fuel industries can wield significant political influence, leading to resistance against sustainability initiatives that could disrupt these established sectors.
  2. Lack of Regulatory Frameworks: Without comprehensive and enforceable sustainability regulations, businesses may lack the incentives needed to fully embrace sustainability. The absence of a level playing field can deter early adopters.
  3. Short-Term Focus: The pressures of electoral cycles and quarterly financial reporting often drive a short-term focus in both government and business decision-making, potentially diverting attention from long-term sustainability goals.
  4. Technological and Infrastructure Challenges: The transition to sustainable technologies can be technologically complex, demanding substantial research, development, and infrastructure adjustments, particularly in sectors like heavy industry and transportation.

In the pursuit of a low-carbon, sustainable future, the challenges highlighted here are more than just hurdles to overcome; they represent crucial tests of our collective will to address climate change. To avoid slow and inadequate progress, it is imperative that signatory countries and the international community confront and resolve these coordination challenges. Only through cooperative and coordinated efforts can we achieve our global climate goals, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the profound changes underway. These challenges underscore the urgent need for strong international institutions, robust coordination mechanisms, and diplomatic solutions to ensure that our planet’s future remains sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Should you wish to discuss any of issues raised in the note, please do not hesitate to contact: Laurie Antioch, Chief Finance & Strategy Officer.