The Global Climate Has Always Been Broken: Failures of Climate Governance as Global Governmentality

International climate governance is commonly referred to as a failure, due to the inability of states to take substantive action against anthropogenic global climate change. This raises an important question: if international collective action is required so as to heal, fix, or prevent further damage to the global climate, have we ever had a concept of the global climate that was not damaged, broken, or in need of international governance? This article argues that we have not. Today’s naturalized concept of a ‘global’ climate emerged in international relations only as recently as the late1980s, framed from its outset as a broken or damaged global object resulting from failures of governance to steward the Earth. By combining the Foucauldian tools of governmentality and genealogy, this article traces how an implicit ‘rationality of powerlessness’ has undergirded the global climate since its international political inception; from the 1979 World Climate Conference, to its global spread in the mid1980s by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to its naturalized meaning today. This powerlessness, crystalizing in explicit political failures of governance, is shown to be an implicit global governmentality: a shaping, conducting, and governing of thought and action, by a concept of global climate change that is at its conceptual root always already broken, thereby engendering failure in a Sisyphean quest to fix what is conceptually unfixable.

Authors: Scott Hamilton