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Determining the Size of an International Policy Coalition

Based on the above discussion, a challenge of establishing and maintaining an international climate policy is that it must have a widespread international coverage as climate change is a global issue. Similar to the example of the prisoners’ dilemma, policy cooperation between countries on climate change could generate larger benefits than unilateral actions. For example, countries with relatively high marginal greenhouse gas abatement costs could carry out emission reductions in countries where marginal costs are relatively low (as the impact of greenhouse gas emissions is independent of the location where the emissions take place). This would not only reduce overall abatement costs but also increase overall benefits as new sustainable energy technologies become available in countries where they would not have been available otherwise. Countries could also agree on differentiated targets and/or commitments based on socio-economic welfare levels. In addition, within a framework of cooperation, countries could agree on financial and technology transfers or specific support measures to reduce costs of and increase benefits from cooperation.

For example, the UNFCCC contained, as a first international climate policy step, promises by industrialised countries to bring their greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2000. This coalition was not difficult to maintain as almost all (groups of) negotiating parties were satisfied: for industrialised countries the greenhouse gas stabilisation goal was not legally binding and developing countries did not have quantitative targets at all. The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 also achieved global support, but this coalition could only be achieved by exempting developing countries from quantitative emission reduction or limitation commitments and enabling industrialised countries to partly achieve their commitments through international emissions trading mechanisms (UNFCCC 1998). For example, as will be explained in detail in Chap. 3, in return for its willingness at ‘Kyoto’ to join the group of countries with quantitative commitments, the Russian Federation was allowed to adopt a relatively easy target (i.e. stabilisation of its greenhouse gas emissions at l990 levels, when the country was still part of the USSR). US negotiators, who had been given a mandate by the Congress to only agree on a stabilisation of US emissions (Byrd and Hagel 1997), felt that the inclusion in the Kyoto Protocol of the concept of emissions trading (basically on a worldwide scale) would be enough compensation for committing the USA to a 7 % emission reduction (on which they soon turned out to be wrong, though).

As benefits from greenhouse gas emission reduction have the characteristic of a global public good, as explained above, no country can be excluded from these. By not joining or leaving a climate coalition, a country can benefit from the actions undertaken by countries in the coalition without undertaking actions itself. This could induce other countries also to withdraw from the coalition, thus threatening the overall objectives of the regime. Literature on game theory then suggests that international agreements, given the enforcement complexities, must be self-enforcing, i.e. the agreement must be designed in such a manner that the incentives for countries to stay in the coalition are larger than the incentives to leave the coalition (Neumann and Morgenstern 1944; Barrett 1991; De Zeeuw 2001; Tulkens 1998; Eyckmans and Finus 2003; Ray 2000).[1] In that case participating countries are compensated for their efforts (reduced costs) and receive a share of the benefits that result from the cooperation (De Zeeuw 2001; Altamirano-Cabrera and Finus 2006, p. 25). As a result, all participating countries are better off by staying a member of the coalition.

An important question that remains is how large an international climate policy coalition would need to be. In theory, since no country can be excluded from enjoying the benefits of greenhouse gas emission reduction (e.g., lower costs needed for adapting to climatic changes), a climate coalition would have to be global. This would prevent any country from taking a free ride on the greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts of other countries or that countries feeling that their efforts are offset by lack of action by others. However, whether this practically means that all countries would have to join the coalition of countries undertaking abatement actions remains to be seen. For instance, an effective and stable coalition with countries with commitments may not need to contain all countries in the world but mainly the key players: “the success of an international environmental agreement is not related to the total number of participants, but to the number of key players for tackling the problem—in the case of global warming USA, China, Russia (FSU) and India, among others” (Altamirano-Cabrera and Finus 2006, p. 27).

Cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 [author’s own elaboration, based on WRI (2009)]

Fig. 2.2 Cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 [author’s own elaboration, based on WRI (2009)]

What such a coalition with “key players for tackling the problem” could look like was illustrated in 2009 by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2009) in a diagram which plotted countries from left to right according to their absolute annual greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis showed that, in 2005, the fifteen UNFCCC Parties (both developed and developing countries, taking the EU as one Party) with the largest greenhouse gas emissions together accounted for approximately 80 % of global emissions.

Obviously, the above analysis (WRI 2009) was not hindered by political negotiation barriers, but, as is explained in Chap. 5, a few months after the climate negotiations at ‘Copenhagen’ 55 countries, including a number of developing countries, had submitted national pledges to the UNFCCC Secretariat to cut and limit their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020,[2] together accounting for 78 % of global emissions from energy use.

These examples show that while climate policy making has a global scope due to the uniform mixing of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere with climate impacts for all countries (to a larger or lesser extent), negotiations and literature analysis up to 2009 tended to focus on international coalition building with quantitative greenhouse gas emission reduction actions for relatively small groups of countries with relatively large greenhouse gas emissions. Countries within such a coalition could then still collaborate with other (developing) countries on emission reduction projects (such as the Clean Development Mechanism, CDM), climate change adaptation support and technology transfer.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, as is described in Chap. 4, the coalition consisted only of industrialised countries with their adoption of quantified, legally binding commitments, including the possibility of emissions trading. This proved to be ineffective as rapidly growing developing countries such as Brazil, China, India and Mexico did not have such commitments. The absence of these countries was an important reason for the USA to leave the ‘Kyoto’ coalition in 2001. Attempts to establish an effective coalition under a post-Kyoto regime with the inclusion of quantified climate commentments for rapidly industrialising developing countries too failed at the Climate Conference of Copenhagen in 2009. Since then, coalition building has been focussed on a global collaboration based on mainly voluntary emission reductions or limitation measures by all countries. The adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 (see Chap. 5) clearly illustrated this change in negotiations from legally binding commitments for a relatively small group of countries to more voluntary-based national climate action plans for basically all countries in the World.

  • [1] It must be noted that applying the theory of coalition building to climate change policy iscomplicated by the complexity of determining marginal benefits and costs of policy action. Forinstance, calculating costs and benefits from climate abatement actions is surrounded by severalcomplexities and uncertainties (IPCC 2001, p. 200, Working Group I). In addition, the benefits andcosts differ across countries.
  • [2] Among these pledges was the EU target of 20 % emission reduction by 2020 as well as a numberof individual EU Member State pledges. Therefore, the number of Parties with pledges after‘Copenhagen’ is larger than the number of states listed in under the 80 % level in Fig. 2.2.
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