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PhD Dissertation Defence: “Restricting Fossil Fuel Supply: Examining and Amplifying the Role of the Least Developed Countries’ Group in the United Nations Climate Negotiations

January 11 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm

Choyon Saha’s dissertation defence.


The demand for restricting fossil fuel supply—exploration, extraction, and transportation—has intensified recently and become the cornerstone of the global climate debate. Notwithstanding numerous impressive contributions of fossil fuels to socioeconomic developments, this demand has escalated. This is mainly due to the principal role of fossil fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions in pushing the Earth’s climate system outside of the safe boundary and stable state, thereby creating and worsening the cataclysmic consequences of climate upheaval worldwide. In the broader landscape of growing demand for constraining global supply of fossil fuels, the United Nations (UN) climate summit—Conference of the Parties (COP)—has become an important site to confront fossil fuel producing countries and restrict their fuel supply. In COP climate negotiations, the Group of 46 Least Developed Countries (LDCG), a negotiating   bloc of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), finds itself in a unique position to challenge fossil fuel incumbents, thereby developing international policies to limit fossil fuel supply, which is widely known as supply-side climate policies (SSCPs). To analyze this position, this dissertation seeks to explore—and amplify—the role and capacity of the LDCG in UN climate negotiations to advance SSCPs. To do so, this dissertation sets and resolves three distinct interconnected questions, which have been addressed in the three manuscripts.

Manuscript-I asks and addresses what the paradox occupied by the LDCG looks like and to what extent this paradoxical position can be justified by the global distributive justice lens. Drawing on existing scholarship, this study examines the LDCG’s paradoxical political position and argues that LDCs call for G20 states in COP negotiations to phase-out fossil fuels while expanding their own fossil fuel supply-related projects with supports from the same G20 nations. By calling for G20 states to phase-out their fossil fuels, the LDCG has been playing a vitally important role in developing international SSCPs through UN climate negotiations. However, the continued expansion of fossil fuel supply projects in LDCs has resulted in diverse inherent concerns, while this extension is supported by the global distributive justice lens due to their fragile socioeconomic conditions, developmental needs, less access to energy, and negligible contribution (0.4%) to global CO2 emissions. These concerns are related to resource curse risks, emissions growth, uncertainty around staying below 1.5°C of warming, and obstacles to achieving sustainable development goals and net zero target. Therefore, the analysis suggests that G20 states’ investments for fossil fuel expansion in LDCs should be redirected toward developing the low carbon energy system. Likewise, the analysis focuses on reinforcing LDCs’ efforts to press G20 states to begin phasing out fossil fuels globally.

Manuscript-II provides answers to the questions of how the coalition of LDCs is strategizing to confront fossil fuel incumbents and their norms and practices, and to what extent the coalition has capacity to do so. Drawing on empirical interviews and the strategic power approach, this study argues that while negotiators use “soft” strategies in climate negotiations to call upon incumbents to cut fossil fuel consumption, observers undertake “hard” strategies at side events to pressurize incumbents to phase-out production. The results demonstrate that the coalition is overwhelmingly fragile to challenge fossil fuel incumbents for the transition from fossil fuels. This fragility mainly lies in the coalition’s strategic capacity, which is deeply obstructed by weak strategies of negotiators, diverse interests and fragmentation in the coalition and G77+China, interstate relations between LDCs and incumbents influenced by colonial legacy and political economic factors. The findings finally suggest that as the coalition’s capacity to challenge incumbents is very fragile, it needs to be upheld to facilitate the development of SSCPs through COP negotiations.

Manuscript-III resolves the questions of how the LDCG can advance SSCPs in climate negotiations and how the Group can reshape international mitigation policymaking through the UNFCCC. By addressing these questions, this study spotlights the compelling need of pinpointing strategic pathways to improve the LDCG’s capacity to play stronger roles in negotiations, which are very vital to accelerate the advancement of restrictive policies on the supply of fossil fuels. Drawing on interviews with negotiators and observers, this study offers politico-economic, institutional, and nonmaterial strategic pathways that would improve LDCs’ negotiation capacity to argue with producing states to curtail extraction, enable the LDCG to play robust roles in negotiations, and help address barriers that LDCs face while developing policies to constrain fossil fuel supply. The analysis suggests that the application of these strategies is crucially important for the LDCG to reshape the development of climate mitigation policies via the UNFCCC. This is because these strategies would help the LDCG facilitate the advancement of a consensus on transitioning from fossil fuels, the equitable development of supply-side policies in negotiations as compared to demand-side policies, and the diminution of influence of fossil fuel corporations on climate negotiations.

In short, the findings presented in the above three manuscripts—and/or this dissertation—stand to make novel contributions to the scholarly fields on supply-side climate politics, SSCPs, and politics in UN climate negotiations. In addition, the results also enrich theoretical literature by expanding the realm of distributive justice, enhancing the usefulness of strategic power, and materializing the logics of supply-side climate policies.

Supervisor: Dr. Angela Carter, Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo
Committee Member: Dr. Douglas Peers, Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo
Internal-External Member: Dr. Jatin Nathwani, Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo
Other Member: Dr. Peter Newell, University of Sussex
External Examiner: Pedro Alarcón, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Quito, Ecuador

There are limited spaces available to attend the defence. Email [email protected] if you would like to attend. Please advise if you would like to attend in person or virtually.

Choyon Saha 1600x1067


January 11
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Event Category:


Balsillie School of International Affairs, 67 Erb Street West
Waterloo, ON Canada
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