Dealing with the Climate Negotiations Paradox
Abstract After the adoption of the Paris Agreement the next focus of climate negotiations will be on its implementation. These negotiations are likely to be more technical to support countries in formulating national climate plans (NDCs), implementing these and reviewing progress. Past negotiations on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol have shown that such technical negotiations may also require lengthy processes for a successful negotiation result. However, there is little time left to address climate change challenges. This paradox can be broken as many building blocks for implementation of the Paris Agreement already exist, so that negotiations can remain on pace.
Summary of Past Negotiations in Light of Design, Process and Tactical Factors
In this book, climate negotiations covering the period from the early 1990s until the present have been analysed in order to obtain a better understanding of how countries formulate their negotiation positions and how these positions are brought together in an international climate policy coalition. It has been argued that since climate change is a global issue, effective climate policy making also requires a global participation of countries. However, such an ‘ideal’ situation is difficult to achieve as countries may have incentives for free-rider behaviour while countries cannot be excluded from the benefits of greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts by other countries. According to game-theoretical insights, in the absence of an overarching international authority, the size of a policy coalition will be determined by the number of countries for which the benefits of joining the coalition outweigh the costs.
Climate negotiations since the early 1990s have also been complicated by an initial lack of scientific knowledge of the impact of human activities on global climate systems. As a result, negotiations could not be clearly guided by an overall, scientifically substantiated climate policy goal. In fact, determining climate policy goals became a subject of negotiations itself.
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W. van der Gaast, International Climate Negotiation Factors,
As a reference point, this book has attempted to describe what an ‘ideal’ climate policy regime could look like, with climate change policy measures determined in order to avoid irreversible climate change damage, which are globally supported by countries. In actual practice, however, climate negotiations often develop in a direction where ambitious climate policies (e.g., strong emission reduction targets) are only supported by a subset of countries. In order to gain the support of more countries, negotiations usually lead to a scaling down of climate policy measures (e.g., lower targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions). In a final negotiation stage, solutions are tried to be found to achieve a package with climate policy measures that are ‘reasonably ambitious’ and on which countries can reach international consensus.
Based on this observation, this book has identified three key factors for successful international climate negotiations. First, the design of the policy package must reflect the preferences of different (groups of) countries and address the game-theoretical considerations that countries may have. Second, the negotiation process needs to be sufficiently flexible to consider different country positions and modify the policy design accordingly. Third, for that to happen, the course of negotiations may need to change several times in order to work towards stricter climate policy measures and global support. Such (tactical) manoeuvres can be stimulated by, for instance, personalities of key negotiators, emerging scientific evidence or efficient support by facilitating services such as the UNFCCC Secretariat.
During negotiations on the design of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s, developing countries called upon the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. With that, they emphasised that developed countries had been responsible for most of the past emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activities and should thus take the lead by reducing their emissions first. Several developed countries, in particular the USA, protested against this position by pointing at several rapidly industrialising developing countries with growing greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually, in Kyoto, it was agreed that only developed countries would adopt legally binding emission reduction commitments. Developing countries remained exempted from such commitments, but they would actively take part in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The CDM had two objectives. On the one hand, developed countries could partly achieve their Kyoto Protocol commitments through investments in emission reduction projects in developing countries and receive credits for that. On the other hand, CDM projects had to support sustainable development in developing host countries. With these two objectives, developing countries hoped to receive additional support for their domestic low-emission development, while developed countries had an opportunity to achieve their commitments at lower costs (in comparison with domestic investments). Eventually, it turned out that the Kyoto Protocol did not correctly reflect domestic positions of participating countries (the most important of them being the USA, which withdrew from the protocol in 2001) while its weak compliance regime provided little guarantee that countries would comply with their commitments.
In terms of negotiation process, the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol negotiations took place with several small steps at the time. During negotiation sessions in 1989-1992, progress was slow, but eventually it resulted in the adoption of the UNFCCC before the 1992 UN Earth Summit. At the first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) in 1995, a mandate was agreed to negotiate on further specifications of the UNFCCC in the form of a Protocol. For this mandate the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) was formed, which also facilitated a step-wise negotiation process with a few meetings per year. By the time of COP-3 in Kyoto (1997), political pressure had increased so that negotiation tactics could become decisive for reaching a final agreement.
An important tactical aspect of the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol was the change in the position of the US delegation at COP-3, which was initially determined by the US Congress resolution (Byrd-Hagel) not to agree on a protocol without meaningful participation by rapidly growing developing countries. At COP-3, the G-77&China group managed to remain exempted from quantified commitments in return for which they supported the emissions trading mechanisms Joint Implementation (JI) and the CDM. The latter had been a US desire throughout the negotiations. The US delegation was also satisfied with the agreed multi-year commitment period and the accounting of emission reductions across six greenhouse gases, rather than only carbon dioxide. Both aspects had been suggested by the US proposal for the Kyoto Protocol text.
Other key tactical aspects during the Kyoto Protocol negotiation process were: the personalities of key negotiators who managed to translate slow progress at one session into an acceleration of negotiations at another session; the emerging scientific (IPCC) knowledge on the impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on global climate systems; the role of the UNFCCC Secretariat in terms of supporting the negotiation process with technical papers and provision of timely information; the handling of the ‘Kyoto Protocol crisis’ by the EU Presidency Trio delegation when in 2001 the US President George W. Bush decided to withdraw from the protocol; and the link between the decisive Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and the Russian desire to become World Trade Organisation (WTO) member.
After the entry-into-force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, climate negotiation focussed on a climate policy regime for the period after 2012. It has been described in this book how, in terms of design, after an initial, unsuccessful focus on quantified emission reduction commitments for major emitting developed and developing countries, negotiations moved towards a (voluntary) ‘pledge and review’ approach. The latter formed the basis for the Paris Agreement (adopted in December 2015), which commits countries to communicate national climate plans (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) according to a fixed timetable, but which leaves countries relatively free in formulating their plans. An important design aspect of the Paris Agreement is that it requires both developed and developing countries to communicate NDCs, while respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
Furthermore, negotiations during 2005-2015 have strengthened international climate policy design by including financial, technical and capacity building support for acceleration of innovation processes within countries towards low-emission and climate-resilient development strategies. This could create an incentive for countries to undertake more greenhouse gas emission reduction measures for climate and development, as they receive support for that. Moreover, a desired outcome of the Paris Agreement has been regular ‘milestone measuring points’ for evaluating the adequacy of global actions (i.e., all NDCs together) towards the 2 or even 1.5 °C target (the regular Global Stocktaking).
The negotiation process during 2005-2015 was characterised, during the first stages, by the co-existence of two parallel negotiation tracks. One track aimed at prolonging the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and one focused on longer-term climate collaborative actions (AWG-LCA). The parallel tracks increased the flexibility of the overall negotiation process and enabled continued negotiations with countries that had not (yet) ratified the Kyoto Protocol. At the Climate Conference in Doha (held in 2012), both tracks were closed, so that the final stage of negotiations, eventually leading to the Paris Agreement, took place under the Durban Platform (as decided in 2011). Also here, negotiations were characterised by several small steps that were taken during around 110 negotiation sessions in ten years’ time.
Tactics have been an important factor for success or lack thereof during the 2005-2015 negotiations. At several points the importance of the personality of the COP President was demonstrated. For example, a COP President who intends to apply a strong control of the negotiation text may lose credibility as country negotiators may fear that it is not their text anymore (on which they often work for several years). This was a concern expressed by negotiators before the Copenhagen negotiations in 2009 when they heard about a ‘Danish Text’. A COP President may also feel that a process is being obstructed for the sake of obstruction and may then decide to use his/her authority to overrule that. The example of how Cancfin COP President Espinosa interpreted the meaning of consensus can be seen as an example of that (“no single country can prevent consensus reached by others”). Finally, COP Presidents can strongly facilitate negotiations by being flexible on content but strict on the time lines. In that way, the negotiation text remains ‘owned’ by the country negotiators, but it is also clear to them that negotiations cannot last forever. The leadership of Paris COP President Fabius is a good example of that approach, but also several other COP Presidents after Copenhagen decided to keep negotiations participatory (with inclusion of all countries and their negotiators), while keeping an eye on the clock.
Other tactical aspects in support of the Paris Agreement have been the avoidance of legally binding targets for individual countries and new financial commitments in the Paris Agreement, so that ratification of the text by the USA can become easier. The bilateral agreement between US President Obama and Chinese President Xi in October 2014 provided a strong signal that the two countries are willing to adopt ambitious domestic climate targets. Moreover, during the 2005-2015 negotiations, scientific knowledge of climate change and its impacts on the world’s ecosystems became increasingly available for negotiators, so that they could rely on concrete evidence of how people, through emissions of greenhouse gases, can influence global climate systems. Finally, additional pressure was placed on negotiators before and during COP-21 in Paris by over 500 NGO and business initiatives announcing divestments in fossil fuel-based technologies and energy-production.
The detailed examination in this book of climate negotiation files since the early 1990s has shown that for negotiation success or failure the ‘devil can be in the detail’. A good policy design is needed for addressing all details related to preferences of developed and developing countries in an international climate coalition. The negotiation process needs to enable that the broad range of different viewpoints of countries are heard and incorporated in the negotiation texts, which implies that steps are preferably small and frequent. Finally, climate negotiations need to be responsive to tactics which can change the course of the talks, such as incorporating timely scientific knowledge in discussions, accepting ‘defeats’ when successes are not feasible and adequately responding to changing economic and political contexts.