Changing the Climate of Participation

The gender constituency in the global climate change regime

Authored by: Karen Morrow

Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415707749
eBook ISBN: 9781315886572
Adobe ISBN:


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The adoption of the concept of sustainable development by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the associated imperative to mainstream the ‘bottom-up’ civil society participation in international environmental law and policy that it entails (WCED 1987) was, in principle, little short of revolutionary in its potential to re-shape global governance (Morrow 2015). This approach was made manifest in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration (UN 1992a) and (in ostensibly more practical terms) in the ‘blueprint’ for sustainable development in Agenda 21 (UN 1992b). In practice, however, the impact of this advance was severely curtailed from the outset. There were a number of reasons for this curtailment, one of which was that state and institutional ‘buy-in’ to sustainable development, despite enjoying a high public profile, in fact operated in a rather shallow manner, largely ‘siloing’ the issue in the soft law outcomes of the conference and effectively side-lining it in respect of its hard law outcomes. This was very clear in the context of climate change, which at the first UNCED was identified not as a sustainability issue, to be subjected to the new governance approach, but rather as a technical matter suitable for a traditional top-down state-centric approach. Arguably the initial narrow statist and technocratic approach taken excluded the voices of important stakeholders from the debate shaping the emerging international law climate change regime, an issue that has been one of the less discussed factors impeding legal progress in this area (Morrow 2013). Nonetheless, even here participation did make an – arguably somewhat tokenistic – appearance in the regime’s founding document, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC; UN 1992c), specifically in Art. 4.1.(i). This provision obliges parties to the convention to promote public awareness and to ‘encourage the widest participation in this process including that of non-governmental organizations’.

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