To date, climate protection can only report limited successes. Despite the warnings of the scientific community, climate objectives are not being reached, and decisions are being delayed. As the Fridays for Future demonstrations held around the globe show, something has gone very wrong.
In the Paris Agreement, the participating countries agreed to rapidly reduce their emissions. But Germany and many other countries won’t reach that goal. This has provoked so much unrest, especially among young people, that they are publicly protesting on a regular basis.
At Universität Hamburg’s Cluster of Excellence for climate research CLICCS, I’m currently investigating the background of these protests. Conflicts like this one are nearly always a sign that a norm has been violated or ignored. My research focuses on these norms. Where do they come from? What norms are legitimate – and for whom? Who violates them, when, and why?
In keeping with these questions, I’ve explored three very different norms in international policy: the ban on torture; the basic rights of individuals in connection with sanctions; and the ban on sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in war. Based on my analyses, I can identify certain basic patterns that can be applied to other, similar norms. Why does one norm work well, but another one doesn’t? Norms are deemed successful when as many people as possible consider them to be legitimate.Climate justice as a norm is a virtually unresearched topic. What can it be compared to? One of the three norms mentioned above in particular offers a number of similarities and can serve as a blueprint: the ban on sexual violence. Both norms have emerged in the span of several decades, are now internationally well-known, are supported by a broad network, and have to a great extent been promoted by local groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Women’s organizations and NGOs around the globe fought for a ban on sexual violence for more than five decades. In 2000 it was finally codified in a UN resolution; many countries subsequently developed national protection plans. For the victims of sexual violence it was important that the crimes be written down in detail and therefore officially documented; in fact, this was even more important to them than a court verdict. Today there are still some countries in which sexual violence is not systematically prosecuted. Nevertheless, the norm officially enjoys a high degree of legitimacy, and is considered to have been successfully established in many nations.
The climate norm, too, has a long history. Scientists began stressing the dangers of global warming back in the 1960s, and the first global climate conference was held in Geneva in 1973. Thanks to various actors, climate-related topics have since repeatedly attracted public attention. And today, NGOs continue to uncover cases of insufficient climate protection and global climate injustice, and to publish the details, helping document them in the process. The topic has since become internationally established, and in some cases, embedded in legislation.
How are viable norms created? The more people from different groups who have negotiated them, the more legitimate they become. In brief: a successful norm is the product of a lengthy struggle.
Based on this criterion, the climate norm should have good chances of success. So why isn’t it working? Apparently, the political community is failing to support its own norm. Members of federal governments are either unconvinced of the urgent need to take action – or they’re afraid that the majority of their voters aren’t convinced. But stable norms can only be created by working hand in hand with society. In this regard, society must not only be actively involved in the development of climate plans, but also help shape their effective implementation.
Prof. Antje Wiener is a political scientist at CLICCS and an expert on the emergence of norms in international policy.