Cancun Climate Conference: An Incremental Solution

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/29/2010 12:28:00 AM
[NOTE: I've been rather silent on environmental issues these past few weeks, so I hope this post and the one before it rectify this imbalance ahead of the Climate Change Conference in Cancun which starts later today.] While I remain ambivalent about the idea of civil disobedience as a spur to public acceptance of climate change as an important global policy issue, I am rather more upbeat about an article which just appeared in the LSE house journal Global Policy. Although my biases may be showing, I do believe it showcases some of the most cogent commentary on global policy issues you can find nowadays. That it's freely accessible (for now) is further icing on the cake. Here is another case in point -

Having witnessed the no-event that was last year's Copenhagen summit, I am wary that the one which begins in Cancun will have a similar result. In trying to fashion a grand deal that pleases so many parties, the UN has had a very hard time pleasing even some. Call it Doha Development Agenda disease. In general, I believe that the The end result of overambition may be a failure to agree on particular issues concerning climate change which different countries share. Accordingly, Robert Falkner, Hannes Stephan, and John Vogler offer a different approach: why not chop climate change down into manageable, bite-size pieces that more countries will find digestible? This kind of gradualism makes perfect sense to me given the complexity of this topic.

The abstract and policy implications follow, though the rest is well worth reading:


This article reviews the options for future international climate policy after the 2009 Copenhagen conference. It argues that a major reassessment of the current approach to building a climate regime is required. This approach, which we refer to as the ‘global deal’ strategy, is predicated on the idea of negotiating a comprehensive, universal and legally binding treaty that prescribes, in a top-down fashion, generally applicable policies based on previously agreed principles. From a review of the history of the ‘global deal’ strategy from Rio (1992) to Kyoto (1997) and beyond we conclude that this approach has been producing diminishing returns for some time, and that it is time to consider an alternative path – if not goal – for climate policy. The alternative that, in our view, is most likely to move the world closer towards a working international climate regime is a ‘building blocks’ approach, which develops different elements of climate governance in an incremental fashion and embeds them in an international political framework. In fact, this alternative is already emergent in international politics. The goal of a full treaty has been abandoned for the next climate conference in Mexico, which is instead aiming at a number of partial agreements (on finance, forestry, technology transfer, adaptation) under the UNFCCC umbrella. For this to produce results, a more strategic approach is needed to ensure that – over time – such partial elements add up to an ambitious and internationally coordinated climate policy which does not drive down the level of aspiration and commitment.

  • The current approach to negotiating a comprehensive, universal and legally binding ‘global deal’ on climate change is unlikely to succeed. A strategic rethink is needed on how to advance global climate protection in the current global political and economic environment.
  • An alternative approach is the ‘building blocks’ strategy, which develops different elements of climate governance in an incremental fashion and embeds them in a broader political framework. In fact, such an approach is already emergent in post-Copenhagen international climate politics.
  • The building blocks approach offers the hope of breaking the current diplomatic stalemate but remains a second best scenario. It promises no swift, short-term solutions, risks strengthening the logic of free-riding and may lead to excessive regulatory fragmentation.
  • A more strategic, long-term vision is required for the building blocks model to lead to the creation of an ambitious international architecture for climate protection and prevent the slide into a purely decentralised, ‘bottom-up’ approach.