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The Scope for Tactics During Climate Negotiations

Earlier in this chapter it has been discussed how climate negotiations need to consider (game-theoretical) aspects of building an international climate coalition and that this requires a sufficiently flexible negotiation process to handle the different country (group) perspectives well. As illustrated by Fig. 1.1 in Chap. 1, at several points during negotiations, tactics are required to change the course of negotiations in the direction of more countries on board of the coalition, agreeing on measures for a achieving a climate goal. This section first elaborates on possible (domestic) drivers for Parties’ positions and negotiation tactics, which is followed by an identification of tactical and facilitating factors which can, each in their own way, determine the course of negotiations and whether, when and how negotiation breakthroughs can be achieved.

Reflection of National Interests in Countries ’ Positions

In Sect. 2.2 it has been concluded that countries have an incentive to join a climate policy regime if their share in the regime’s surplus is sufficiently large to outweigh the costs of participation. The term ‘share’ is rather abstract though and it generally consists of the benefits that accrue to countries when joining a climate regime. However, what is actually perceived as a benefit typically depends on the country concerned. Some countries may take into consideration all benefits to the national economy, whereas other countries only look at the benefits that accrue to powerful interest groups. Yet, other countries may take a more altruistic approach and consider a slowdown of global warming, the protection of ecosystems and the prevention of damage to vulnerable countries important benefits. Similar definition issues arise when assessing costs of joining a global climate regime, e.g., should costs be defined on a national level or only for key interest groups and assessed with a view to the short term or also the medium to longer term.

The process of determining what share a country would need from the surplus of a climate policy coalition before being willing to join is an important determinant of a country’s negotiation position. A number of theories have tried to formalise how a domestic interplay between a government and interest groups, a country’s perception of international norms and values, and domestic institutional structures add up to the negotiation position of the country (Cass 2002; Heck et al. 2004).

For instance, when determining their desired share in a coalition’s surplus, countries could consider the absolute gains of joining an international treaty or the relative gains vis-a-vis other countries. In the first viewpoint, often referred to as ‘neo-liberalism’, a country does not necessarily look at how other countries gain or lose, as long as it gains itself. According to the second viewpoint, ‘neo-realism’, a focus on relative gains is justified by countries’ traditional focus on the division of power between states and it identifies security, safety and prosperity as key elements for the positions that countries take at international negotiations. The most important objective of a country is to maintain its relative power vis-a-vis other countries and cooperation is generally based on defensive arguments, i.e. a country is willing to join an international policy regime if it feels that their security, safety and prosperity (or one or more of these factors) are threatened and that the coalition can improve this situation. The key actors in the neo-realism tradition are states and only little attention is paid to the behaviour and interests of individuals and private groups within countries (Cass 2002; Heck et al. 2004).

Other theoretical approaches, such as ‘social constructivism’, focus on how a country’s national negotiation position is influenced by opinions, expectations, and perceptions in their domestic social context. An important element that constructivist theories add to the theories mentioned above is an explanation of how the behaviour of states may be influenced by ideational interests, next to material goals such as economic prosperity, safety and security. This leads to a fundamental difference with neo-realist and neo-liberal theories (Heck et al. 2004): whereas neo-realists and neo-liberals consider state behaviour as egocentric in the sense that states take international positions to protect their own well-being, social-constructivists believe that also ‘soft’ elements such as political culture, history, perceptions regarding identity, norms, well-being of other states and population groups play an important role in the formulation of national and international policies by countries. The precautionary principle, included in the UNFCCC, is an example of such a position, as it calls upon countries to take action in the short term in order to prevent environmental damage, rather than to wait until the damage occurs and to take costlier measures then (UNFCCC 1992, pp. 9-10, Art. 3.3). Therefore, as also explained in Chap. 1, the precautionary principle is both aimed at preventing damage from climatic changes and saving costs of adapting to such changes, even when the projections of future climate damage are surrounded by uncertainties.

In the view of social constructivists, collective mental constructions such as ideologies, countries’ perceptions with respect to cooperative and non-cooperative international players, and countries’ self-esteem are also important elements to take into consideration when explaining the positions taken by countries in international cooperation contexts, next to economic well-being, safety and security. In this respect, also the experience of a country’s private and public actors with policy concepts can become a factor in formulating a country’s negotiation position. For example, before greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes were introduced in climate negotiations in the 1990s (e.g., the JI concept), there had already been a decade’s long tradition of emissions trading schemes in the USA whereby polluters faced emission quota (maximum amounts of allowable pollution) with the possibility to trade quota surpluses and deficits among other polluters. At negotiation sessions on the Kyoto Protocol during 1995-1997, US negotiators repetitively argued in favour of international emissions trading as a policy tool to increase the cost-effectiveness of an international greenhouse gas abatement policy. Several EU Member States, such as Germany and the Netherlands, referring to their domestic experience, were in favour of voluntary agreements with industries, which allowed polluting companies sufficient freedom to achieve energy efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in their own way. Only in 2002, the European Commission started to adopt emissions trading as a key tool to achieve EU Kyoto Protocol targets, which eventually resulted in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (European Commission 2016).

Next to theoretical insights on motivations for countries to take negotiation positions (absolute vs. relative gains and whether and how a negotiation position is based on opinion, expectations, ideals and perceptions in the country context), other theories also offer insights on how a negotiation position can be formed through a country’s institutional characteristics. According to ‘material and institutional liberalism’ theories, the central actors in society are individuals and private groups that rationally pursue their private interests, which are subsequently reflected in the policy making at the level of the state (Cass 2002).

An important aspect in this process is how micro-level interests eventually culminate into a national policy. For instance, if from a macro perspective a certain national policy position were optimal, there may still be individual interest groups that wish to prevent the position if it would be harmful for them. The extent to which these groups are able to do so depends on a number of institutional issues. For example, an election system with proportional parliamentary representation provides a larger scope for environmental parties (e.g., the Grunnen in Germany or Groen Links in the Netherlands), than is the case in countries with district election systems such as in the UK and USA (Cass 2002, p. 10). The latter systems tend to provide scope for larger ‘catch all’ parties which consider environmental protection as one of the several items on their political agenda.

From the above discussion, it can be concluded that the position of countries in international debates and negotiations can be influenced by a range of factors, for which each country may have different weights. It is outside the scope of this book to analyse in detail how national procedures culminate in country positions at international climate negotiations, but for a good understanding of how climate negotiations develop, it is useful to take into consideration how and why domestic decision-making institutions and procedures influence the positions of countries at international negotiations.

In conclusion, some countries may let their participation in a climate coalition depend on a cost-benefit analysis in a narrow sense by balancing present and future costs and socio-economic benefits using market discount factors. Other countries may use a broader assessment by also taking into consideration the damage from climate change that may occur to other countries or to ecosystems in terms of loss of biodiversity (such as the precautionary principle). Countries may base their positions on what other countries do (including perceptions), or what they believe that other countries expect them to do. Countries could also place the issue of climate change in the context of other international issues and aim at ‘package deals’ and/or realise that the position taken in the climate debate may have an impact on their benefits under other international treaties and agreements. Finally, countries could use international negotiations as an opportunity to emphasise their national identity or image, e.g., as a country with a long tradition in underlining international solidarity or, on the contrary, as a country that has the power to follow an independent course of action.

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