The Missing Nexus: A Historical and Contemporary Position of the United States on Climate Change Action

Published date01 October 2023
AuthorRajesh Sahu,Pramod Kumar
Date01 October 2023
Subject MatterReview Article
International Studies
60(4) 444 –479, 2023
© 2023 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00208817231204663
Review Article
The Missing Nexus:
A Historical and
Contemporary Position
of the United States on
Climate Change Action
Rajesh Sahu1 and Pramod Kumar1
The international system is unstable due to the absence of a global regulating
body, but countries are sovereign and independent. Although intergovernmental
and multilateral organizations exist, there is no world government to regulate the
behaviour of nations. In such an environment, states are highly concerned about their
security and domestic interest over the idea of climate justice. However, the United
States, with a firm hold on the economy, repeatedly refuses to take a suitable stand,
from Kyoto to the Paris Accord, for reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
and endlessly demands the developing world’s engagement in climate action. The
US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement shocked world leaders and criticized
the stand of President Trump’s backpaddling, which setback climate action. It
influences global emissions, at least for the time being, forcing developing economies
to reduce their standard of emissions extensively. Significantly, how conscious is
the United States of climate justice? How fast will the United States come back in
acting the jeopardy of climate change? This article reviews the US action, shifting
governments’ policy and stands on climate change from Rio Earth Summit 1992 to
Glasgow Climate Accord 2021 conditions. The author has taken the 1992 to 2021
period, a blueprint for crucial climate action decided in 1992 led to the formation of
UNFCCC, while the United States has re-engaged in the Paris Accord in 2021. Also,
it tries to understand the shift across federal governments and the influence of local
governments on climate change. Furthermore, it sheds light on the obscure image of
the United States on carbon trading and tax subsidies for GHGs.
Climatography, environmental ethics, environmental policy, environmental politics,
global environmental politics, North America
1Department of Politics and International Studies, Pondicherry University, Puducherry, India
Corresponding author:
Rajesh Sahu, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Department of Politics and
International Studies, Pondicherry University, Puducherry 605014, India.
Sahu and Kumar 445
The international system has no world government to control the behaviour of
nation-states; they are independent and sovereign. Intergovernmental organizations
like the UN and multilateral associations have limited control over the countries'
activities. Countries are responsible for their security and survival, and global
society could be much more concerned about order over justice since countries
prioritize nations’ interests. It specifically focused on the interest of developed
industrialized countries (Annex I) over the developing (non-Annex I) and most
vulnerable countries (Waltz, 1979). In the international political system, the term
‘climate justice’ is not really at work between governments, caused by those
nations, ‘luxurious emissions’ and ’subsistence emissions’ (Shue, 1992, 1993).
The developed Annex I countries have been morally responsible and obligated to
greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and help develop non-Annex I countries to
their adaptation and mitigation costs, significantly in context to technological and
financial development. One of the essential aspects accountable for the instability
and immoral activity is the lack of climate leadership, or we can say that ‘feckless
leadership’, especially in the United States (Shue, 2011).
In this article, the author intends to shed light on the past and present stand of
the US action from 1992 to 2021 on climate change (CC) and disclose whether the
United States is concerned about the ‘inevitability of climate justice’ (Shue, 1992)
or not. Subsequently, the author hopes to thrash out both limitations and power in
achieving or providing climate justice by countries, especially the US and
international climate politics. Furthermore, the author clarifies whether the United
States has been a viable action player in stabilizing CC or not. A capability
approach is expected to systematically address and discover US actions and their
associated climate injustice to developing countries.
The international anarchic political environment is regulated through a system
that strengthens the strong at the vulnerable poor’s cost and generally fails to
account for higher moral aspirations (Bull, 1977). The United States needs to
adopt a ‘common fate’ line of thought in its climate policy to become internationally
prominent and widely acknowledged, whereby justice of the ‘global commons’
should be prioritized over the fairness of citizens' domestic interests. Even
common but differentiated responsibility under the Kyoto Protocol lacks
appropriate justice for others. It did not objectively measure the distinction
between common but differentiated actions of countries as per their accountability
(Smith, 2021).
The world knows that the United States is intensely concerned with its economy
and hegemonic status and less about safeguarding the environment. Whereas in
the mid-1980s, the American government had shown anxiety in CC’s direction,
that concern had not so far been outlined for political deliberation. The public was
promptly alert of the problem during the 1980s—an important figure of
entrepreneurs apprehended upon CC possibly as a necessary topic specifically in
Congress. The deliberations concerning ozone depletion and its prophesied
influence on American people’s health turn out further interest in the link between
the atmosphere and human action. Moreover, a record-breaking temperature rise
446 International Studies 60(4)
resulted in 1988, and severe drought occurred in the upper Midwest and Canada.
A histrionic fire in Yellowstone National Park is brought together to support a
responsive public profile for climate problems (Cass, 2007).
Literature Review
The environmental problems now accentuate a higher standard of partisanship
in the United States than before; primarily, the issue was non-partisan until the
1980s (Daniels et al., 2012). In the past decade, Republican Presidents such as
Richard Nixon and Teddy Roosevelt enforced significant policies safeguarding
the US’s lands and environment. There was a common thought of bipartisanship
encircling several legislative triumphs in the middle of the 20th century
(Ruckelshaus, 1985). The visible partisan and ideological disparity in
environmental actions has been displayed in the legislative activities, party
platforms and attitudes of citizens (Daniels et al., 2012; Dunlap & McCright,
2008; Shipan & Lowry, 2001).
The most significant factor for these bipartisan attitudes is a coalition between
parties, interest groups and activists for a specific policy outcome or political
power (Bawn et al., 2012). The Democratic Party focuses more on the action and
environmentalists urge; however, the Republican Party is much more concerned
with the corporate interest, business interest group, conservative activists and
hostile conservative groups and others (Koger et al., 2010; Layzer, 2012;
McCright, Xiao & Dunlap, 2014; Turner & Isenberg, 2018). In short, Conservatives
and Republicans have minimal interest and support in practising government
rules or higher government spending to secure the environment than Liberals and
Democrats (Konisky et al., 2008). The Republicans' interest is vested with
powerful corporate-like Koch brothers. For instance, the Koch brothers' influence
and activism played a significant role in exterminating the cap-and-trade
mechanism during the President Obama era to hold taxes minimally and safeguard
freedom. One of the fundamental ideologies of conservative Republicans is to
believe in and promote limited government involvement in free enterprise.
Another reason is the undesirable separation of luxurious American materialistic
lifestyle and consumption, which is affected by climate supporters such as Al
Gore, Bill McKibben and others. Most Republicans believe that CC is a hoax and
just a natural process. They believed climate action is immensely expensive and
responsible for employment killing, economic disaster and income loss in the
United States. The US Republicans mostly relied on fossil fuels industries—
Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron—for their economy, energy
and developmental activities. These companies funded a majority of conservative
Republicans and some conservative Democrats during their election campaigning.
Another drawback is that the conservative Republicans do not believes in science
and intellectual viewpoint. In this matter, earlier research has discovered a close

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