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Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022)
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COMMON BUT DIFFERENTIATED RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING CLIMATE
CHANGE. DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS WITHIN THE BRAZILIAN NATIONAL
CONTEXT
CHRISTOPHER KURT KIESSLING
ckiessling@conicet.gov.ar
Ph.D. in Social Sciences from FLACSO, Argentina. Postdoctoral fellow in the National Scientific
and Technical Research Council (CONICET) co-financed by the Universidad Católica de Córdoba
(Argentina). Teacher and researcher at this house of studies and in Universidad Blas Pascal.
Member of the Observatory of Argentine Climate Policy, ARG1.5º.
AGUSTINA PACHECO ALONSO
apacheco234@gmail.com
Master’s candidate in Law and Economics of Climate Change (FLACSO, Argentina). Bachelor of
Arts in International Relations (Universidad Católica de Córdoba) and Bachelor of Arts in Political
Science (Universidad Católica de Córdoba). Lecturer at Universidad Siglo XXI. Coordinator of the
Climate Change and Sustainable Development area in Asociación Sustentar, member of the
FLACSO research team on cities and climate change and the Observatory of Argentine Climate
Policy, ARG1.5º. In turn, she is a member of different national and regional climate networks,
such as the Latin American Observatory for Climate Action (OLAC), the Latin American Youth and
Climate Change Platform (Clic!), and the Alliance for Argentine Climate Action (AACA).
Abstract
The following paper aims to reconstruct the evolution of this dynamic by tracing the
interpretations and reinterpretations of the norm done by Brazilian state actors through the
process of localization of the norm in the domestic discourse on climate change in Brazil from
2005 to 2010. The theoretical perspective is based on the literature about norms
internalization that attempts to specify the conditions under which international norms find
salience in particular domestic contexts.
Two main interpretations coexist within the Brazilian political arena in the period within the
entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol until the signature of the Paris agreement that influenced
the climate politics in Brazil in that period. The first stand around the norm was a traditional
interpretation of the principle defending a position of historical responsibilities that implies
that Brazil did not have to take greenhouse gas reduction measures. The second position is a
more progressive interpretation of the norm that argues that Brazil, as an emergent country,
can and must adopt emissions reductions. The tie between both positions allows us to
understand the alleged ups and downs in climate policy in the time frame studied.
Keywords
Climate Change; Brazil; Common but Differentiated Responsibilities; Localization
How to cite this article
Kiessling, Christopher Kurt; Alonso, Agustina Pacheco (2022). Common but differentiated
responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the Brazilian
national context. In Janus.net, e-journal of international relations. Vol13, Nº. 1, May-October
2022. Consulted [online] on the date of the last visit, https://doi.org/10.26619/1647-
7251.13.1.10
Article received on Sepember 9, 2021 and accepted for publication on February 20, 2022
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
153
COMMON BUT DIFFERENTIATED RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING
CLIMATE CHANGE. DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS WITHIN THE
BRAZILIAN NATIONAL CONTEXT
CHRISTOPHER KURT KIESSLING
AGUSTINA PACHECO ALONSO
Introduction
The principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities
(CBDRRC from now on) emerges as a fundamental norm of global environmental
governance at the interstate level, as a result of the international negotiations that led
to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC from now on) in 1992. The traditional interpretation of the norm held that
different levels of environmental protection should be expected between developed and
emerging or developing countries, or at a minimum, a grace period should be granted to
developing countries to address reforms leading to reduce their environmental impact in
the medium term. In contrast, mitigation actions should be addressed as soon as possible
for developed countries.
The principle’s rationale is that Northern states are primarily responsible for past
environmental degradation, and they continue to consume an overwhelming proportion
of the planet’s resources and possess superior technological and financial capabilities to
protect the environment. However, many Northern states have refused to accept
responsibility for their historical contribution to global environmental degradation. They
interpret the principle as imposing only future, not past, responsibilities (Rafiqul Islam,
2015). In this way, the CBDR-RC principle derives from the historical divide between the
Global North and Global South on environmental politics and consolidate itself as a
compromise between the needs of Northern and Southern countries, recognizing the call
to adopt differential norms in certain circumstances given the heterogeneity of the
international society (Atapattu, 2015). However, the debates surrounding the adoption
of this principle proved unfinished, as some Northern countries, as the United States in
particular, sought to cast this principle as a reflection of the North’s “superior” technical
and financial capacity rather than its duty to provide redress for past harm (Atapattu &
Gonzalez, 2015). Despite this debate, the CBDR-RC principle remains a norm of global
justice in the international society (Kiessling & Pacheco Alonso, 2019).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
154
Regarding climate change, this norm allowed to establish a division of responsibility
between developed and developing countries by defining the former as the main
responsible for regulating climate change within environmental governance. With the
signature of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, this norm was institutionalized by establishing
that the developed states of the Global North, referred to as Annex I, were those
responsible for adopting measures to mitigate climate change. While countries of the
Global South (not Annex I) only committed to cooperate within the framework of the
climate change negotiations and submit periodical reports to contribute to the UNFCCC
goals (Bodansky, Brunée, Rajamani, 2017).
The ambiguity with which the norm was institutionalized within the international arena,
precisely the intent of broadening the participation of all countries, led to discussions
about the differentiation between the Parties and the way it should be applied. Thus,
discussions were held on whether the basis of implementation of the norm should be the
changing and dynamic capacities of the countries or the historical contributions regarding
GHGs emissions, a debate that has not yet been settled (Bodansky, Brunée, Rajamani,
2017). Being unclear if the CBDR-RC regulates historical responsibilities for past harm
on the environmental arena, wealth and technical capacities to diminish the
environmental impact, or represent an adaptation of the principle of the common heritage
of humankind, all these meanings can coexist in the global discourses regarding the
environment.
Since the origin of the principle in the early 90s, this international norm had an
exclusively interstate character in consolidating liberal environmentalism as a normative
complex of the global governance of climate change (Bernstein, 2001). Brazil was a
protagonist in this process by closing ranks in the negotiations with China and India to
ensure that they would not adopt legally binding mitigation commitments in the emerging
climate governance regime. This alliance laid the foundations for the future work of the
G77+China, within the climate negotiations, based on an internal work division where
Brazil held the leadership regarding scientific issues.
The performance of G77+China in this scenario was fundamental to lead to a generalized
interpretation of the norm that privileged the idea of historical responsibilities and a
strong separation between Annex I and non-Annex I countries; and to maintain, among
the Global South, the position of not accepting legally binding commitments, based on a
rigid identity definition as developing countries. However, at the beginning of the 2000s,
global climate governance gained complexity with the emergence and involvement of
new actors that led to innovative dynamics within the regime. A paradigmatic case was
the process of internalization of the CBDRRC in the Global South, where the involvement
of non-state actors, whether accepting or contesting the content and interpretations of
the international norm, shaped the way the principle appeared in the domestic discourse.
The following paper aims to reconstruct the evolution of this dynamic by tracing the
interpretations and reinterpretations of the norm done by Brazilian state actors through
the process of localization (Acharya, 2004) of the norm in the domestic discourse on
climate change in Brazil from 2005 to 2010. The temporal delimitation responds to the
entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 and the subsequent years through which
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
155
the domestic climate governance was consolidated until the sanction of the Climate
Change Law in 2009 and the National Climate Change Policy in 2010. As identified in
previous research, the proposed temporal delimitation responds to the emergency of a
domestic climate change governance arena in Brazil (Kiessling, 2018; 2019; 2021).
However, it should be noted that the climate governance scenario in Brazil has undergone
drastic detrimental changes, both in its structure and in the ambition and robustness of
its regulatory body, especially since the arrival of Bolsonaro to the government in 2018.
As before this moment, Brazil led climate action in the region - particularly between 2005
to 2010 -, and the processes developed in this period continue to represent an example
to follow in Latin America; this paper focuses on the analysis and reflection on this
particular moment in the construction of Brazilian climate governance.
The article is structured in seven sections besides this introduction; the first one frames
the theoretical-methodological approach; the second and third ones describe the context
of the climate change international negotiations and the discussion of the CBDRRC in
the Brazilian domestic context, respectively. The fourth and fifth sections illustrate the
two different interpretations of the norm approached by the Brazilian policymakers. The
sixth section presents the empirical discussion that sets forth the article's main argument.
Finally, the final reflections that recover the article's main findings are presented.
Theoretical-methodological approach
The theoretical perspective that guides this article is based on the literature about norms
internalization that attempts to specify the conditions under which international norms
find salience in particular domestic contexts. Kratochwil defines norms as speech acts
through which communication is established (Koslowski & Kratochwil, 1994). In any case,
more operational definitions are usually referred to by the literature, such as standards
of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity (Katzenstein, 1996), prescriptions
for action in situations of choice (Cortell & Davis 2000), or in more specific; ideas with
varying degrees of abstraction and specification concerning fundamental values,
organizational principles or standardized procedures that have gained support from
states and global actors, and take place prominently in multiple forums including state
policies, laws, treaties or international agreements (Krook & True, 2010).
An essential aspect of the diffusion of international norms is their internalization in
particular national contexts. In the internalization process, the international (ideas) are
connected with the domestic (identities). Sociology and social psychology define the
internalization of norms as a process that transforms the motivations and interests of an
agent to comply with social norms, transforming adherence to the norm as a way of
avoiding punishment or obtaining rewards into compliance as an end in itself (Andrighetto
et al., 2010). Traditionally, in the literature of International Relations, it is indicated that
the states are the primary agents “generators of norms” or “acceptors of norms” (Rule-
makers vs. Rule-takers). However, with new studies on emergency, consolidation, and
internalization processes of international norms (e.g., Argomaniz, 2009, Xiaoyu, 2012),
the complexity of these dynamics has begun to be understood.
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
156
From an interpretive epistemological approach, ideas, norms, and discourses acquire
centrality as objects of analysis. The role of ideas has been recognized in International
Relations by authors of various theoretical currents. Two major meta-theoretical
approaches inform the studies about norms internalization: rationalism and
constructivism (Cortell & Davis, 2000; Boekle, Rittberger, Wagner, 1999; e.g.). From
rationalism, it is argued that international norms modify the actors’ incentives by
providing solutions to coordination problems and reducing transaction costs. In this
context, that implies that adherence to international standards will depend on a cost-
benefit calculation and the possibilities that the rules provide to maximize the profits of
these actors.
On the other hand, in a constructivist sense, it is affirmed that international norms
provide a language and a grammar of international politics, constituting the social actors
themselves through shaping their identities and interests. For constructivism, social
actors are guided by the logic of the appropriate, opposing the assumption rooted in the
rationalist tradition where it is supposed that social action is guided only by the logic of
the consequence. Rationalists read cost-benefit calculation as the leading guide for social
action. At the same time, for constructivists, the logic of what is appropriate implies
recognizing that, for the actors, it is more critical that their practices are recognized, by
other agents and by themselves, as legitimate and appropriate to a given social context
(March & Olsen, 2008). If considerations of “appropriateness” prevail to guide the social
agency, the modalities under which climate change is initially framed as a problem that
define the “adequate” actions to address it will generate dependent trajectories (David,
2007) of these interpretations, impacting on the discourses and the future policy itself.
The latter implies considering international norms as discursive processes (Krook & True,
2010). Recognizing the discursive dimension of the norms allows us to question the
assumption that international norms maintain their essence and meaning unaltered
during internalization. Precisely, the integrity of an international norm can be questioned
after its rhetorical acceptance (Stevenson, 2013). Thus, internalization processes
necessarily imply processes of reinterpretation of the norm based on their dynamism.
Two sources of the norm’s dynamism can be recognized: external and internal ones. The
external dynamism of a norm is generated by the broader universe of existing norms and
the conflicts or alignments between them, that is, the competition that is generated
around the adoption of a particular norm or another potential alternative competitor,
whether in the same thematic area or not (Krook & True, 2010).
The internal dynamism is observed in its potential to establish competition between the
different meanings that the adoption of the norm implies itself. On the other hand, the
internal dynamism of a norm is defined by the connection made between the international
norm and its domestic reception or with the correspondence between said norm and
existing domestic norms. In other words, domestic actors are active agents in
reinterpreting the content of the norm in their adoption and not merely passive recipients
of an international system that modifies them.
To refer to the internal dynamism of international norms, it is necessary to bring up the
complementary concept of normative congruence. This concept refers to the
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
157
internalization of international norms in national contexts as a dynamic and unpredictable
process that oscillates between perceptions of congruence and incongruence between
global norms and domestic conditions (Stevenson, 2013: 11). Following Stevenson
(2013), the construction of normative congruence can potentially take different forms
and incorporate a wide range of state and non-state domestic actors. These actors can
(consciously or unconsciously) promote change processes based on their disagreement
with the perception of incongruence (or congruence) about the international norms.
On the other hand, the concept of localization seeks to describe how the internalization
of international norms occurs in the Global South when the content of that norm has (or
is feasible to build) some linkage with preexisting domestic norms, whether they are
directly or indirectly related to the topic. A key element is that localization occurs if there
is a process of accommodation so that norms can converge with each other. Thus, the
localization of norms starts from the paradox that implies both acceptance and
contestation of the norm, enabling the construction and (re)construction of normative
convergence. Faced with this situation, localization, not the complete acceptance or total
rejection, results in most cases of normative response in the Global South domestic
contexts (Acharya, 2004). The hypothesis that guides this study is that along the process
of localization of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in the Brazilian
domestic context, Brazilian governmental actors were redefining their interpretations on
the subject along the lines of the different ministries that has competence over the issue
of climate change
1
.
In methodological terms, the following article recognizes the importance of discourse
analysis to understand the framing process of international standards. This concept can
be defined as a process tending to select aspects of a perceived reality and make them
more salient in discourse to promote somehow a specific definition of a problem, its
causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and recommendation for its treatment
(Stevenson, 2013). The primary sources of this research are semi-structured interviews
with state and non-state actors in Brazil, such as diplomats, members of the Ministers of
Environment, Science and Technology, NGO activists, people in business, among others;
complemented by a review of secondary sources such as official documents and academic
articles. Reading the interviews and official documents under a constructivist lens allows
us to understand how the agency of social actors of the Brazilian government and state
officials is constituted based on ideas and discourses that construct interpretations on
the scope and meaning of the international standards that regulate the global climate
governance arena. In this sense, the interviewees’ words are presented as illustrations
or snapshots of major meaning structures related to the modalities under which the social
actors embody the CBDRRC as a valid norm, the prevailing interpretations on the same,
and its changes in time.
1
This article aims to study the localization process of the CBDR-RC in the Brazilian domestic context. In this
sense, the executive branch's role in Brazil is mainly explored and its links with other state and non-state
actors. For more detail on the processes of internalization of the CRDB-RC in Brazil by non-state actors, see
Kiessling (2019; 2021).
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
Christopher Kurt Kiessling, Agustina Pacheco Alonso
158
Brazil, the CBDRRC and the international context in the post-Kyoto
stage
The CBDRRC, proposed by the G77+China countries, was a pillar of the Brazilian
government's position at the climate negotiations, even before the signing of the
UNFCCC. The formulation of this norm responded to a conception of justice within
international society; this meant that the countries that had caused the problem should
be the main ones responsible for addressing it and helping the less developed countries
to adapt to its inevitable impacts. Brazil's conventional position at the international
climate change negotiations was based on an interpretation of this norm that denied the
possibility of Brazil adopting any mitigation commitments in climate governance.
However, changes in the relationship between developed and emerging countries of the
Global South in international negotiations undermined the foundations on which this
interpretation was based. From 2005 with the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, and
especially after 2007 at COP13 in Bali, Indonesia, the developed countries began to
seriously question a top-down agenda for negotiations, which only established binding
commitments to Annex I countries. In this Conference of the Parties, the countries
presented a new way of negotiations that reflected the changes in the international
system. With the Bali Action Plan, countries recognized that climate change
responsibilities are dynamic in the long term. This plan also established a second
negotiation route, separated from the Kyoto Protocol, where a working group of
developed countries (including the United States) will negotiate future quantified
emission reduction commitments (Lessels, 2013; Albuquerque, 2019).
As a result of this breakdown and the subsequent failure of the COP15 in Copenhagen in
2009 to sign a new Kyoto-style binding treaty, the dynamic of the international
negotiation agenda is transformed by adopting a bottom-up approach that enables (and
requires) all states to submit national mitigation contributions to the UNFCCC.
In this context of a change of global governance between 2005 and 2009, the CBDRRC
is reinterpreted at the international level to abandon interpretations that only associate
this concept with the idea of historical responsibilities leading to a clear separation
between them Annex I and non Annex I countries. This international process triggered
local processes of reinterpretation of this norm insofar as states could legitimately
support traditional interpretations in the context of the new configuration of the climate
regime (Albuquerque, 2019).
Common but Differentiated Responsibilities in Brazilian post-Kyoto
political context
Since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Brazil has consolidated a position in
international negotiations that can be characterized as the traditional Brazilian position
on climate change (Johnson, 2001, Viola, Franchini, & Lemos Ribeiro, 2012). In general
terms, Viola, Franchini, & Lemos Ribeiro (2012) argue that during the negotiation of the
Kyoto Protocol, Brazil held five visions that have been key in defining this position:
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 152-170
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Brazilian national context
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Unwavering commitment to the right to development as the framework in which the
climate change policy is inserted.
Defense of the notion of sustainable development to integrate economic processes
with environmental defense.
Brazil's global leadership on climate change.
Avoid linking climate change with the regulation and preservation of forests and
jungles.
The radical interpretation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
During the first decade of the 2000s, there was a political change regarding the power
and attributions of the ministries linked to the environmental agenda
2
. While at the
beginning of 2000, the Ministry of Science and Technology could be recognized as the
leading actor, there was a transition in the second half of the decade that placed the
Ministry of Environment at the center of the agenda. This transition was linked to the
internalization of the CBDR-RC and to disputes over the meaning and interpretations that
this norm should have. By 2010, four Ministries led the climate agenda in Brazil;
Environment, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Science and Technology. These four ministries
can be briefly classified into two groups:
On the one hand, those Ministries sought to sustain the status quo in terms of
preserving the institutions and practices already established to regulate climate
change in Brazil. Here we can locate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the
Ministry of Science and Technology (MST). The first traditionally sought to limit the
interference of other Ministries in the definition of the climate policy in Brazil. They
defended the identification of Brazil as an emerging developing country, member of
the G77+China that should not completely abandon the CBDR-RC even if voluntary
commitments were assumed, as they were only demonstrations of predisposition from
a developing country to act. The MST, responsible for administering the Clean
Development Mechanism (CDM) since the mid-2000s, also accompanied this position.
From its scope of action, the Ministry was favorable to preserve the environmental
integrity of the mechanism, as one of the pillars of Brazilian foreign policy on the
subject (Kiessling, 2018).
On the other hand, by 2012, the Ministries of the Environment (ME) and Finance (MF)
were leading the way to reinterpret the principle. The ME promoted a radical
reinterpretation of the norm, oriented to ensure greater levels of commitment, which
was supported and accompanied by other social actors such as the private and the
third sector. The preferred modality to face these new obligations, which the Ministry
2
Although several Ministries in Brazil compete in the framework of the climate change agenda, when the
UNFCCC was signed, a tacit alliance was established between Itamaraty and the Ministry of Science and
Technology. This alliance would have exclusivity in the definition of Brazilian climate policy (Kiessling, 2018).
In that sense, only Itamaraty participated in the formulation of the traditional Brazilian position; as it was
considered not only to be the agent who represented more consistently the Brazilian national interest but
also the one that had the most significant capabilities to do so (Viola, Franchini, Lemos Ribeiro, 2012).
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e-ISSN: 1647-7251
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Common but differentiated responsibilities regarding climate change. Different interpretations within the
Brazilian national context
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interpreted would be increasing, was adopting economic instruments much more
generalized than solely based on the flexibilization mechanisms foreseen by the Kyoto
Protocol (the CDM). Thus, the ME became favorable and promoted mechanisms such
as REDD+, among other initiatives. The MF played an important role here,
accompanying and generating the practical tools that the logic underlying the
speeches of the ME required, conforming to a symbiosis that was going to be visible,
from the year 2010, in the figure of Minister Izabella Teixeira.
In both cases, the progressive interpretations of the norm are compatible with the
reinterpretations that, in the first years of 2010, were privileging on a global scale, as
described in the previous section. The different visions are then presented in the following
table:
Table Nº1 - Interpretations of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities
by Ministries in Brazil
Principle of common but differentiated responsibilities
Traditional interpretation of the principle
Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Ministry of Science and
Technology
Progressive interpretation of the principle
Ministry of the Environment - Ministry of Finance
Own Elaboration
The following sections will explore both interpretations in greater detail from this outline.
The traditional interpretation of the principle: the Itamaraty flag
As mentioned above, between 2007 and 2009, categorical differentiation based on
annexes was abandoned, not without resistance and contestations, in pursuit of self-
differentiation (Bodansky, Brunée, Rajamani, 2017); based on a reinterpretation of the
CBDR-RC, which shifts from the focus on historical responsibility towards one focused on
the capacities of the countries. With the recognition of this change throughout the
negotiation rounds of Bali, Itamaraty identifies that it can not continue adopting a
defensive position as it had done with the G77+China in the first round of negotiations
of Kyoto. The direct consequence of this recognition is a flexibilization of the conventional
position towards the recognition of the importance of the large developing countries in
the solution of climate change and the new role of Brazil as a great player in the global
economy:
"Developing countries like Brazil must also take action under the
Convention"
3
.
3
Luis Rebelo Fernandes, Executive Secretary of the MST. Excerpt from the speech given at COP 12, 2006.