Analysis of Climate Change Cooperation. The Viewpoint of Classical Liberalism and the Kantian Triangle

Term Paper, 2020

25 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contents


Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Groundwork of the Analysis
2.1 Kant’s Approach to Classical Liberalism
2.2 Kantian Triangle
2.2.1 Perpetual peace: Interrelations with International Organizations, Democracy and Economic Interdependence
2.2.2 Interrelations between international Organizations, Democracy and Economic Interdependence

3 State of Affairs: Climate Change
3.1 Consequences of Climate Change
3.2 Tackling Climate Change

4 Liberal Point of View on Dealing with Climate Change
4.1 Responsibilities for Individual Engagement
4.2 Application of the Kantian Triangle on the Climate Change Crisis - Relationship between International Organizations and Climate Change

5 Conclusion



Statuatory Declaration


Climate change is increasingly becoming a global challenge. This makes cross-border efforts and cooperation of nation states fundamental when searching for constructive and sustainable solutions. It shows relevancy for evaluating and analyzing the interdependencies and interactions between the actors involved. Hence, this paper aims to study the effect of climate change on international relations by examining its impact on the development of international organizations. In order to explain the connection between climate change and international organizations, the political theory of classical liberalism has been used. A special tool applied was the Kantian triangle, which is based on Immanuel Kant’s liberal approaches to stability in global systems against the backdrop of classical liberalism. The triangle describes the pacifying effect of an interaction between democracy, economic interdependence and international organizations, which facilitates perpetual peace. Focusing on the factor of international organizations, a brief overview on institutions established and agreements made in order to halt climate change and reduce its implications will then be given at the end of the paper.

List of Figures

Figure ‎2‑1: The Kantian Triangle

Figure ‎4‑1: Climate change crisis pictured in the Kantian Triangle

Figure ‎4‑2: UN efforts in tackling climate change

Figure Appendix-‎0‑1: Key ideas of classical liberalism.

Figure Appendix‑‎0‑2: Development of numbers of striking people, total events, and participating cities and countries in the Fridays for Future protests since August 2018

List of Abbreviations

COP Conference of Parties

EU European Union

IGO Intergovernmental Organization

IO International Organization

IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

NGO Non-Governmental Organization

UN United Nations

UNEP United Nations Environmental Program

UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

WMO World Meteorological Organization

WTO World Trade Organization

1 Introduction

August 20, 2018 was the first day student Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish Parliament protesting for climate action and posting her intervention on social media. At the beginning, her protest was supposed to only continue until Sweden’s general election. But then, it went viral and ended up with adolescents skipping school and demonstrating for climate protection all over the world on every single Friday. (FridaysForFuture, 2019a)

Ever since, climate change is a highly relevant, omnipresent topic widespread among all generations and societies. However, governments and international organizations (IOs) started to deal with the problem long before. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as an example for climate change cooperation was already founded in 1988 to provide policy makers with current scientific updates on climate change developments.

This paper deals with climate change and examines its impact on international relations. It will particularly focus on the measures taken by the international system with its different actors and the cooperation and interdependencies arising from those measures taken. This examination will be conducted using a political theory, which aims to explain the behavior of states in an international context. Among the number of theories that exist (an overview is provided in the appendix of this paper), the following analysis will portray the international cooperation from the viewpoint of classical liberalism. The term climate change used in the analysis thereby refers to the environmental condition as a whole and does not consider a specific detailed aspect or category.

In order to clarify the theoretical groundwork for the analysis, the paper starts with an explanation of Immanuel Kant’s approach to stability in global systems against the backdrop of classical liberalism. Based on this approach, Bruce Russett developed the Kantian Triangle, which is applied later in the paper to identify intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and IOs established in relationship with and or dealing with climate change. However, regarding the triangle, also the prevalence of democracy as well as commercial cooperation play an essential role maintaining global peace. Yet, in order to not extend the scope of this paper, this analysis focuses on the establishment of IGOs for climate change cooperation.

The main sources providing information on liberalism in this paper are Baylis, Smith and Owens (2016) as well as Russet (2016), with the help of which characteristics of the theory and a demarcation of Kant’s beliefs were elaborated. Regarding current climate data, evidence was presented by the special reports of IPCC, which were published in 2018 and 2019. Finally, Rentmeester (2010) created a link of the two topics in his essay A Kantian look at Climate Change and thereby prepared a draft for the last chapter of this paper.

2 Theoretical Groundwork of the Analysis

In order to analyse climate change cooperation, Immanuel Kant’s approaches to the political theory of classical liberalism will be used.1 Kant belonged to the main thinkers of liberalism in the era of Enlightenment.

2.1 Kant’s Approach to Classical Liberalism

The core elements of classical liberalism are democracy as the preferred form of government, equal rights, individualism, international instructions and cooperation as well as economic and political freedom (see appendix A; Baylis et al., 2016, pp. 117–123).

In order to maintain stability in international system, Kant especially advocated for a relationship between individual consciousness, democracy, economic interdependence as well as treaties to defeat security threats in international systems. (Russett, 2016, p. 69) Those features should be consolidated in a League of Nations 2 : A union all nations associate with and whose aim is to provide its members with “security and justice” by “acting according to decisions reached under the laws of their united will” (Kant, 1784, sec. 7).

An interpretation of Kant’s beliefs by Bruce Russett will be examined in the following subchapter.

2.2 Kantian Triangle

Bruce Russett depicts Kant’s core elements of classical liberalism (IGOs, democracy, economic interdependence and perpetual peace) in a system named Kantian Triangle. Thereby, the terms IGO and IO are used synonymously.3

Within the triangle the factors IGOs, democracy, economic interdependence and perpetual peace enter feedback loops, which illustrate the interdependencies that occur globally between them. (Russett, 2016, pp. 76, 80)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2‑1: The Kantian Triangle (self-provided figure based on Russett, 2016, p. 80)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2-2 shows the Kantian Triangle. The outer and inwards pointing arrows in the figure depict the strengthening effect IOs, democracy and economic interdependence have on each other, while boosting perpetual peace at the same time. Additionally, arrows from the center to the edges represent the consolidating influence peace has on the three outer features. (Russett, 2016, p. 80)

After giving an overview of the figure above, the subsequent subchapters will provide a more detailed analysis of the arrows that interlink IOs, democracy, economic interdependence and peace. Firstly, the inner arrows and secondly, the outer arrows will be examined.

2.2.1 Perpetual peace: Interrelations with International Organizations, Democracy and Economic Interdependence

Russett’s arguments include the approach that a peaceful world order empowers the development of more stable and sustainable democracies (Russett, 2016, p. 80). Yet conversely, democracies also favor peaceful answers to conflicts with negotiations and compromises (Russett, 2016, p. 75). Furthermore, a system in peace is more eager to spawn effective working IGOs, which supports the arrow from perpetual peace to IGOs. By fostering peace and collaboration among their members, IGOs provide for stability in the system as well. (Russett, 2016, p. 80)

Commercial interaction as evoked by economic interdependence shapes relationships with partners in order to communicate and exchange necessities and even go beyond the areas of commercial agreements (Russett, 2016, p. 80). Thereby, interdependence nurtures global understanding and empathy, and simultaneously shapes a mutual, cross-border identity between nation states (Russett, 2016, p. 76).

2.2.2 Interrelations between international Organizations, Democracy and Economic Interdependence

IGOs have a positive impact on the dynamics within the triangle, e.g. by fostering peace among their members and producing norms and legislation which, in turn, form more predictable governance and commercial actions. IGOs support economic interdependence by lowering trade barriers and resolving disagreements between trading partners. (Russett, 2016, p. 80)

Following the arrows clockwise, the relationship between economic interdependence and democracy is touched. On the one hand, economic openness and international trade provide for mutual prosperity, which “contributes to the development and sustainability of democracy” (Russett, 2016, p. 80). On the other hand, democracies are willing to trade with each other since countries with an applied stable rule of law are more likely to be reliable and trustworthy partners for trade agreements and to respect foreign property. (Russett, 2016, p. 80)

The link between democracy and IGOs completes the feedback loop. Democracies join IGOs because, as mentioned above, democratic players in a peaceful world order tend to have a higher level of trust in each other when acting as trading and cooperation partners which increases chances to enter organizations. At the same time, IGOs promote democracy: examples are the United Nations (UN) or the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States on a more regional level. Those alliances support democratic movements and provide incentives for others to join them and become democratic. (Russett, 2016, p. 80)

3 State of Affairs: Climate Change

3.1 Consequences of Climate Change

According to the IPCC4, scientist have observed a 0.8-1.2°C increase of global temperature compared to the pre-industrial level and expect a 1.4-5.8°C rise by 2100 (IPCC, 2018, p. 4f.). This entails severe consequences which are briefly indicated in the following chapter.

Temperature rises of 1.4-5.8°C result in glaciers thawing and oceans warming up. Due to that, humankind faces, inter alia, more frequent natural catastrophes, ocean acidification and decreasing water availability and quality. (IPCC, 2019b, pp.19, 24) Ashore, desertification, land degradation, and diminishing food security bear further risks (IPCC, 2019b, p. 3).

Considering the climate change impacts indicated, which were just a couple of examples of a whole series, they include a multitude of severe impacts for humanity and nature in miscellaneous areas: for people from mountain to coastal regions, islands to continents (Fröhlich & Knieling, 2013, p. 10). Thus, cooperation between different parties across several policy and sectoral planning areas will be necessary (IPCC, 2019c, p. 42f.)


1 Detailed information on classical liberalism and further existing theories can be found in appendix A.

2 Strictly speaking, liberalism considers nations “not as a unitary or united actor but as a set of bureaucracies” (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2016, p. 5) and so, not as an sole actor. Kant used the term, nevertheless. Therefore, it will also be used in this paper to describe single states.

3 According to Russett (2016, S.76), the term refers to both global and regional organizations, with one or more fields of activity.

4 During the Sixth Assessment Cycle, the IPCC released three special reports summarizing the most current findings and implications on climate change. See the reports The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Climate Change and Land, Global Warming of 1.5 ºC at for detailed information on current data.

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Analysis of Climate Change Cooperation. The Viewpoint of Classical Liberalism and the Kantian Triangle
University of Applied Sciences Regensburg
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analysis, change, classical, climate, cooperation, kantian, liberalism, triangle, viewpoint
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