The elephant in the room: The rise and role of India in the climate change negotiations

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have been ongoing since the first conference of the parties in 1995. Twenty years on there has been little progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the climate regime is in a state of flux and the role of developing countries therein is changing. During this period the majority of the work on climate change from within the International Relations discipline has been framed in a neoliberal institutionalist or neorealist frame. Studies in the climate policy canon have been predominantly similarly located, albeit implicitly. In its focus on India this dissertation provides a bridge between the climate policy literature and the theoretically framed climate change policy studies in the International Relations literature. This dissertation employs the Critical International Relations theoretical framework of Robert Cox. His theory outlines a 'framework for action' that enables and constrains how states act, and how they conceive of their agency. This framework, or historical structure, is created by a particular configuration of the forces exerted by ideas, institutions, and material capabilities, which when aligned, create a hegemonic historical structure. In the climate negotiations, India has been a vocal proponent of the ideas of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities from the earliest days of the Convention. India's changing material circumstances and geo-political status in the past decade raised the question of its role in the regime in relation to its long-supported ideas. This is a qualitative case study using documentary evidence triangulated with interview data from a range of key Indian stakeholders. I found that in the transition from abstract principle to operational precept the intersubjective idea of addressing climate change did not transmute into an intersubjectively shared idea of differentiation. Furthermore, once the idea of differentiation was to be operationalised in the negotiations, its primacy, indeed its very "intersubjectiveness", was contested by the idea of symmetry of obligations and responsibility. The ongoing regime flux is the outcome of this contestation between ideas held collectively by groups, as no stabilising hegemonic historical structure has been created. India's emergence has been insufficient to reinstate differentiation as an intersubjectively held idea and it is thus unable to secure a hegemonic historical structure in favour of differentiation.