26 November 2012

Inequity Among Nations in the Climate Negotiations: A Guest Post

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Heike Schroeder, University of East Anglia, and Max Boykoff, University of Colorado, who along with Laura Spiers of PwC have co-authored a new piece in Nature Climate Change on the international climate negotiations (available here in PDF). Please feel free to comment on their paper or the climate negotiations more generally, as this is likely to be the only post here on them. Thanks!

Another round of climate negotiations is starting today. On the agenda are two main objectives: the implementation of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol to start right away – on 1 January 2013 – and to make progress toward a new climate agreement to be finalised by 2015. Issues to be discussed include, among others, adaptation finance, strengthening mitigation efforts by developed countries and reducing deforestation.

While it may be viewed as good news that the Kyoto Protocol is moving into a new phase, only the EU countries, Australia and likely Norway and Switzerland will take part in this second commitment period, covering only some 10-12 percent of global emissions. Thus, Kyoto raises the age-old conundrum between focusing on a few willing countries to lead, even if their efforts are wiped out by massive emission rises elsewhere, and waiting until a critical mass of countries is ready to mitigate seriously.

Our study in the current issue of Nature Climate Change (PDF) looks into embedded questions of who represents the interests of a global populace, by way of considerations regarding who attends and participates in climate negotiations. Based on our results, we argue that a restructuring of UN rules and practices around state representation at UN climate conferences is urgently needed. Current practice that give countries a free hand at sending as many delegates representing mainly vested national interests to the COPs results in serious differences in negotiating power between rich and poor countries. Overall participation increased from 757 individuals representing 170 countries at the first Conference of the Parties (COP) in 1995 in Berlin to an all-time high of 10,591 individuals from 194 countries at COP-15 in 2009 in Copenhagen (a 14-fold increase).

Because there are so many parallel negotiating tracks and so much technical detail, small delegations cannot participate in every session while larger delegations can. We also find significant difference in terms of delegation composition across countries. Moving forward we recommend that countries consider capping national delegations at a level that allows broad representation across government departments and sectors of society while maintaining a manageable overall size. We also argue for a stronger role of constituencies in the UNFCCC (e.g. business, environmental non-governmental organizations, local government, indigenous peoples, youth and so on). Finally, formal and informal arenas – negotiations and side events on specific topics at COPs, for example adaptation finance or addressing drivers of deforestation – could be joined up in innovative ways to facilitate exchange of ideas and foster dialogue among various stakeholders.