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A Primer on Three Aspects of the UNFCCC:

Historical Responsibility, Mechanisms for Change, and Legal


Form of the Agreement
By Alison Kirsch
Researcher, The Climate and Development Lab
Brown University
January 2015

Table of Contents
General Background ............................................................................... 2
Historical Responsibility ......................................................................... 2
Mechanisms for Change ......................................................................... 7

Emissions Trading ...................................................................................................................... 7


Clean Development Mechanism ........................................................................................... 8
Joint Implementation ................................................................................................................ 8

Legal Form of the Agreement ............................................................... 10


Further Readings .................................................................................. 14
About ................................................................................................... 15
Works Cited .......................................................................................... 16

General Background

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a
collaboration of close to 300 leading scientists from around the world calls the warming
climate unequivocal and unprecedented, and says that there is a 95-100% probability
that post-1950 warming is human-caused.1 Scientists have agreed that to avoid catastrophic
climate change, we must prevent the world from warming more than 2C above preindustrial levels. Theoretically, we could burn 565 gigatons (1 gigaton = 109 tons) of carbon
dioxide or its equivalent and stay under the 2 limit. Yet the world currently has access to
2,795 gigatons of carbon in global reserves, meaning four fifths of these reserves must
remain untapped in order to avoid devastating climate change.2 The effects of climate
change are already apparent worldwide in changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels,
shrinking glaciers, shifting crop yields, and more.3
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created in 1992
as the first international response to the problem of human-induced climate change.
According to the UNFCCC, the parties agreed to bring global greenhouse gas emissions to
a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
Each year, the conventions 195 members meet for a Conference of the Parties (COP). In
1997, 192 of the members of the convention adopted the Kyoto Protocol to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with binding greenhouse gas emission
targets for developed countries.4 The goal was to reduce global emissions to 5% below
1990 levels by 2012. Though President Clinton signed the treaty, the US Senate never
ratified it. Soon after, Canada withdrew. The treaty came into effect with the participation of
the EU, Japan, and Russia, yet without two of the worlds largest carbon emitters.5

Historical Responsibility
The Industrial Revolution can be considered the beginning of anthropogenic (humaninduced) climate change. Around 1750, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions began to
increase substantially primarily due to a burgeoning coal industry. However, this revolution
of transportation and technology did not occur evenly around the globe, and thus, historical
greenhouse gas emissions are also concentrated in certain areas namely, the US, UK,
Russia, and Germany.6
Under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change, signed in 1997, industrialized nations are referred to as the Annex I countries, and
today include parties such as Australia, the European Union, the Russian Federation, the
United Kingdom, and the United States of America.7 These developed countries produced
79% of global greenhouse gas emissions between 1850 and 2000; proportionally by

http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719
3
http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf
4
https://unfccc.int/essential_background/items/6031.php
5
http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/glep.2007.7.4.1
6
http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/05/history-carbon-dioxide-emissions
7
https://unfccc.int/parties_and_observers/parties/annex_i/items/2774.php
2

population, these countries should have only accounted for 20% of global emissions in this
time period.8 Historically, the economies of these industrialized nations have been positively
correlated with their greenhouse gas emissions.
However, these are not the countries that are overall most affected by the negative
impacts of climate change. Within the United Nations, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)
group is comprised of 49 non-Annex I parties that have the lowest socioeconomic
development indicators.9 These countries, which make up 12% of the world population,
have produced 1% of historic greenhouse gas emissions. Yet between 2010 and 2013, they
experienced 67% of global deaths from climate-related disasters (including tropical storms
and storm surges, floods, heat waves, droughts, malaria outbreaks, and more). This is 4.7
times what would be expected if deaths from climate-related disasters occurred evenly
around the world.10 See the graphs at the end of this section for a visualization of this
tension.
Developing countries with fewer economic resources are least able to take protective
measures or adapt to a changing climate through technology. Climate-related disasters are
expected to increase in the coming years, which means these already vulnerable countries
will continue to be exposed to the resulting dangers. Recent climate-related disasters have
called attention to this issue, such as Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines just
as parties to the UNFCCC were convening in Warsaw for the 19th Conference of the Parties.
There is now a growing conversation about climate justice, which demands financial
support for vulnerable countries to help them adapt, as well as recover the costs of losses
and damages.
Thus, there is a clear disparity between the countries that have historically
contributed the most to anthropogenic climate change and those who are the most
vulnerable and are currently suffering from its effects. This perspective suggests that those
who brought on climate change should bear the financial and political burden of stopping it,
especially since these countries are also the most economically capable of doing so.
Of course, this is not the only lens through which to view the burden of responsibility
for confronting climate change. Traditionally, as countries begin to develop, their
greenhouse gas emissions increase rapidly. Thus, in recent years, developing countries have
begun to make up a larger share of annual global emissions. China and India have been
particularly large contributors due to their recent high-carbon industrialization. In 1990,
developing (non-Annex I) countries accounted for 33% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
By 2008, this increased to 53%, thus exceeding global emissions of developed countries. By
2030, developing countries are predicted to account for 70% of the worlds greenhouse gas
emissions.11 Under the expiring Kyoto Protocol, these countries are not required to pledge
emission reductions, and thus are free to develop in the same dirty manner as the

http://www.erc.uct.ac.za/Basic_Experts_Paper.pdf
https://unfccc.int/parties_and_observers/items/2704.php
10
All statistics here are based on calculations by the Brown University Climate and Development Lab, 2013,
based on CRED-EMDAT database. Data on LDCs are for the 44 of 49 LDCs included in the CRED-EMDAT
database. http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/17181IIED.pdf
11
http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/publications/Policy/docs/transition-low-carbon-economy.pdf
9

developed nations. Another important note is that the parties to the UNFCCC were divided
into annexes in 1992 upon the conventions creation, and the classifications have only
shifted slightly since. This means that a country like China, a growing world power in the
midst of rapid economic development, is subject to the same stipulations as an LDC such as
Nepal.
If business continues as usual, these non-Annex I countries will pursue development
paths similar to those taken by the Annex I nations. That means using carbon-intensive fuels
such as coal and oil in order to grow and develop, and only then considering lower-carbon
or renewable fuel sources, which require expensive new technology investments.
Developing countries argue that they should not be restricted in how they develop and work
to eradicate poverty, and that they have the right to the same high-carbon development
pathway taken by the already industrialized nations. Moreover, they argue that they do not
have the technological or economic capacity to focus on sustainable, low-carbon
development in their current economic standings. Instead, their position is that developed
countries should allocate more funds to mitigate climate change (cut back on their
greenhouse gas emissions), since they are already in a position to do so. Another
consideration comes from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) whose very existence is
threatened by climate changes rising sea levels. For example, sea level rise in Haiti
threatens coastal infrastructure and makes storm surges all the more dangerous, while a
reduction in the areas rainfall is also lowering agricultural output and available drinking
water.12 Though they have contributed little to global emissions, SIDS invoke a moral
responsibility in the big emitters to act ambitiously.
On the other hand, industrialized countries argue that developing countries can
leapfrog many of the dirty development steps (such as en economy based on coal), and
develop more sustainably from the start. With todays knowledge about the harmful
atmospheric effects of fossil fuel emissions, developed nations argue that everyone should
engage in low-carbon development from the start. The best and most equitable way to
ensure this, then, would be to set binding emissions limits on developing countries as well as
developed countries. Additionally, since developing nations are growing contributors to the
global emissions picture, many argue that a new climate treaty should include binding
emissions targets for all parties.
How does the current UNFCCC text deal with this issue? The convention calls on
Annex I countries to take the lead in combating climate change. This is developed through
the notion common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC). Of course, the broad nature of this phrasing incites debate as to which is more
important: a countrys responsibility or its capability. Taking responsibility for climate change
can include setting mitigation targets (pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order
to avoid further climate change) or financially supporting other countries as they lower their
greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to existing climate change. The developed Annex I
countries have binding emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto Protocol, while the


12

http://www.sidsnet.org/country-profiles/haiti

developing non-Annex I countries are not required by the UNFCCC to reduce emissions
without financial support from developed nations.
Thus, a countrys responsibility in confronting climate change how strict their
mitigation targets must be, if they have any at all, and whether or not they provide financial
support to other countries can be measured by many factors. These include its historical
emissions, current emissions, projected emissions, economic standing, economic growth
and development rates, etc. Some proposed solutions try to integrate these factors. For
instance, one possibility is to divvy up the emissions remaining in the carbon budget
according to a countrys historical emissions and current population.13 The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explores four different focuses for
setting mitigation goals in regards to rights, liability, poverty, and opportunity.14
In considering the historical and current responsibility of each country in the face of
the global problem of climate change, there are many questions to consider in order to
propose the mechanisms for change and the legal form of this new climate treaty:
In the 2015 international climate treaty, how should countries be categorized, if at
all?
Should developing countries have binding emissions reduction targets?
Who should be most responsible for taking action to stop further climate change?
What forms of development should be allowed or encouraged for developing
countries? Do they have the right to develop as they choose?
How will the notion of CBDR-RC appear in the 2015 agreement?
What metric should be used to determine the extent of a countrys responsibility?
Does it make most sense to focus on historical emissions, current emissions,
emissions projections, economic standing, economic growth, etc.?


13
14

http://www.wri.org/blog/what-equity-context-climate-negotiations
http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg3/index.php?idp=58

Countries Sized According to Annual CO2 Emissions, 2013

Countries Sized According to Historical CO2 Emissions from Energy Use, 1850-2011

Countries Sized According to Climate Change Vulnerability (Number of People Impacted)

Viewers can manipulate this data and more at http://www.carbonmap.org.

Mechanisms for Change

The UNFCCC sets emission targets for its Annex I member countries. Each country
can implement any type of policy or project within its boundaries to lower its domestic
emissions to the target levels. If the enforcement board finds an Annex I party has failed to
achieve its emission education promises, the country must make up that difference, and
reduce an additional 30%, in the succeeding commitment period.15 However, as an
international body, the UNFCCC also provides for international mechanisms that help
countries achieve their emission reduction pledges. Currently, the Kyoto Protocol outlines
three mechanisms: emissions trading, the clean development mechanism, and joint
implementation. All of these mechanisms are market-based.

Emissions Trading
An emissions trading scheme turns greenhouse gas emissions into an exchangeable
commodity. A country is assigned a limit on its emissions, meaning it is allowed to emit a
certain quantity of greenhouse gases over a given time period. This emissions limit can be
viewed in terms of units of a greenhouse gas that a country is permitted to emit. If a country
emits less than their allotted amount of greenhouse gasses, it can sell its spare emission units
to a country whose emissions exceed its limit. The market is often referred to as the carbon
market, as most of a countrys greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of carbon dioxide.
However, emissions trading takes into account all other greenhouse gases, such as methane
or nitrous oxide, by measuring units in the form of carbon dioxide equivalents.16
An emissions trading scheme gives a country flexibility with respect to its given
greenhouse gas emissions limit, as it can buy or sell emission capacity depending on its
needs. Emissions trading also allows for global greenhouse gas emissions to be lowered
over time, in what is referred to as a cap-and-trade scheme. That is, as countries allotted
greenhouse gas emissions lower over time, they can buy or sell emissions units amongst
themselves, though the set number of units in existence assures that global emissions stay
under a certain quantity. When countries know that their emissions allotment is set to lower,
investment is encouraged in clean technologies, and selling emissions units gives countries
money to put toward these projects. Currently, there exist many domestic and regional
emissions trading schemes, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the
northeastern United States, and the European Union Emission Trading Scheme.
Emissions trading is critiqued for allowing the biggest and richest polluters to
continue polluting and merely buy emission credits from countries or bodies who are not
financially equipped to do the same. It also allows for potential cheating problems in
tracking and reporting emissions data.


15
16

http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/compliance/items/3024.php
http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/mechanisms/emissions_trading/items/2731.php

Clean Development Mechanism


The clean development mechanism creates an exchange between developed and
developing countries. Recall that under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries have
binding emission limits, whereas developing countries do not. Nonetheless, when
developing countries invest in emission-reducing projects, they earn a quantity of certified
emission reduction credits equivalent to the tons of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent in the
form of another greenhouse gas) that the project prevents from being emitted. Developing
countries can then trade or sell the emission reduction credits to industrialized countries,
which can count these reductions toward their emissions reduction limits as set by the treaty.
Thus, the clean development mechanism incentivizes developing countries to lower their
emissions (without imposing binding limits), as it provides them with a source of income for
doing so.
It also provides flexibility to industrialized countries in meeting their emissions
reductions targets, in that not all of the progress must come directly from lowering incountry emissions.17 Instead, they offset their emissions by funding sustainable development
projects in developing countries. As of 2012, in its 5,000+ projects, the clean development
mechanism has provided carbon reductions equivalent to the emissions from about a fifth
of the worlds cars over one year and saved at least USD3.6 billion in emissions reduction
costs.18 For instance, a Bus Rapid Transit system was implemented in Bogot, Colombia,
and is expected to generate $17.3 million per crediting period due to the sale of emission
credits.
As with any offset system, the clean development mechanism has its critics. How can
participants ensure that the projects create new and additional emissions reductions, and
dont solely double-count declines in emissions that are already taking place? How can both
parties ensure that the projects are truly environmentally beneficial overall? How can the
monitoring and measuring of these projects be standardized? Another issue is that countries
with small economies and low greenhouse gas emissions may not attract investments
through the clean development mechanism, though the development and funds would be
useful for them.19
Joint Implementation
The third mechanism set up by the Kyoto Protocol is joint implementation, which
encourages emission reduction projects amongst developed countries. With joint
implementation, one industrialized country finances a project that reduces greenhouse gas
emissions in another industrialized country. The project creates emission reduction units,
which the host country sells to the investor party. Similar to the clean development
mechanism, the investor party can then count that amount of carbon dioxide toward its own
emission reduction pledge. There are various eligibility requirements that a partys proposed


17

http://cdm.unfccc.int/about/index.html
https://cdm.unfccc.int/about/dev_ben/CDM-Benefits-2012.pdf
19
http://cdm.unfccc.int/about/dev_ben/about/dev_ben/ABC_2012.pdf
18

project must meet in order to qualify for the emission reduction credit.20 Keep in mind that
this transfer occurs between two countries with binding emissions reduction targets, so the
reductions would have to occur either way. Thus, the country hosting the emission reduction
project is more interested in the success of said project than a developing country benefiting
from clean development mechanism investment might be.21 This sharing of responsibility
can also make the emission reduction process more flexible and financially viable. Similar
concerns to the clean development mechanism remain, such as the monitoring and
reporting of projects.
One successful example is Denmarks funding of a technology update on a fertilizer
plant in the Czech Republic. The fixes mean that the plant will emit less nitrous oxide, a
potent greenhouse gas. Over the period from 2008 to 2012, the project is expected to avoid
approximately 1,250,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Additionally, the agreement for
the project states that the Czech Republic will use the money it receives for selling its
emission reduction credits to Denmark for further sustainable investments in the plant.22
Each mechanism requires an enormous amount of UN oversight to run smoothly and
effectively. For instance, the joint implementation mechanism has its own governing body
(including a conglomeration of subcommittees and working groups) that meets annually to
write new rules and to review projects. To participate in any of the three, a party must have a
national procedure for measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions though this
process is not standardized internationally.
These three mechanisms together create a global carbon market, which in 2014 is
worth $61.8 billion.23 The value continues to grow as emission targets are lowered and the
amount of carbon to be traded decreases. Many civil society organizations criticize the entire
green economy approach, arguing that the climates current problems exist due to
capitalistic faults, and that a solution by the same method will only continue to favor
industrialized countries.24
Other mechanisms have been proposed to effectively involve the parties, as well as
the private and public sectors, in lowering global greenhouse gas emissions. The current
agreement of the Kyoto Protocol, for instance, does not include any non-market-based
approaches. In the 2011 Conference of the Parties in Durban, the parties called for a new
market-based mechanism, and since then many parties have submitted position papers with
suggestions for this25 or alternative non-market-based26 mechanisms.


20

http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/mechanisms/joint_implementation/items/1674.php
http://www.ffem.fr/webdav/site/ffem/shared/ELEMENTS_COMMUNS/U_ADMINISTRATEUR/5PUBLICATIONS/Changement_climatique/GuideC_projets_Kyoto_angl.pdf
22
http://ji.unfccc.int/about/multimedia/ji_highlights.pdf
23
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/01/08/global-carbon-market-to-rise-15-in-value-in-2014-bloomberg-analysts/
24
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/07/22/venezuela-climate-summit-calls-for-end-to-green-economy/
25
https://unfccc.int/cooperation_support/market_and_non-market_mechanisms/items/7710.php
26
http://unfccc.int/cooperation_support/market_and_non-market_mechanisms/items/7711.php
21

Alternative non-market-based approaches include:


Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing
Countries (REDD+): Deforestation and land use change are estimated to make up
20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This program provides financial incentives
to developing countries to keep their forests intact.27 When emission reduction
credits from REDD+ are privately bought and sold, however, this becomes a marketbased mechanism.
Technology mechanism: This involves a transfer of technological knowledge to help
developing countries develop sustainably to both mitigate climate change and to
adapt to its effects.28
Questions to consider include:
How effective and just are the existing mechanisms?
What should the mechanisms be for the 2015 agreement?
How can these mechanisms scale up mitigation ambition that is, continue to lower
global greenhouse gas emissions by lowering national emissions?
Parties can create any plan of action to lower their national greenhouse gas emissions
(i.e. increasing energy efficiency, retiring coal-fired power plants, removing fossil fuel
subsidies, updating transportation systems, etc.). Should any of these strategies be
mandated at the international level?
Should the focus be on market-based or non-market based approaches?
Should there be a standardized methodology for measuring and reporting
greenhouse gas emissions?
How should an international agreement account for national and/or regional
emission reduction mechanisms already in place to avoid double counting of
emission reductions? Should existing carbon markets be linked under a standardized
trading scheme?
How can the UNFCCC ensure the environmental integrity of the projects
implemented through these mechanisms?

Legal Form of the Agreement

The commitments agreed upon under the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire in 2020;
the UNFCCC looks to design a new treaty that kicks in by that same year. The main question
is, what will the new international climate regime look like?
At COP17 in 2011, UNFCCC parties decided two vague aspects of the 2015
agreement: it must be under the convention and have legal force. The first of these
stipulations means that any new agreement must comply with the existing UNFCCC
structure, or amendments thereof. Any instruments used or provisions outlined must be
consistent with the convention as is. Note that the process for amending the UNFCCC is


27
28

http://www.un-redd.org/aboutredd/tabid/102614/default.aspx
http://unfccc.int/ttclear/templates/render_cms_page?TEM_home

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accessible, since the agreement is already operational and thus has legal force. The new
treaty can amend an existing agreement that already has legal backing. For instance, the
2015 agreement can be written out of the text of the UNFCCC itself, or it can build upon and
extend the Kyoto Protocol. The text can also come from COP decisions which is perhaps
an easier option in regards to writing the text in a timely manner though with careful
evidencing of the two stipulations mentioned above. COP decisions are written by way of a
direct connection to a provision of the UNFCCC or Kyoto Protocol already in force. 29 There
are other international instruments that can be used as well. Secondary legislation
necessitated by a treaty can derive legal force from the agreement itself. International
organizations can make recommendations, such as the decisions made at a COP.
Additionally, political agreements that are not ratified as treaties can encourage compliance,
though they dont involve formal punishment for not following through.30 The UNFCCC must
acknowledge difficulties due to various national situations. For instance, President Obama
has addressed the concern that the US Senate wont ratify a climate treaty by exploring the
option of an accord instead.31 Adopting a protocol would require consensus, while three
quarters of the parties would have to agree to amend the UNFCCC.
An agreement could also build off of existing international laws. For instance, one
could argue that it is an international human rights violation to ignore the consequences of
sea level rise on small island nation states, and that funding must be provided for
adaptation. Sea level rise can also be considered in relation to the International Tribunal Law
of the Sea. 32 Essentially, existing international laws can be a sort of crutch to the difficult
ordeal of constructing a new compromise.
Within the selected legal structure(s), the text can be served as a package deal, or
parties can be permitted to select which parts they will and will not commit to. The
combination of mandatory and optional clauses can allow for both flexibility and
complication. For example, the United States is party to the UNFCCC, but did not ratify the
Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol itself, however, is a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Yet the legal force called for in Durban is a separate issue from the legally binding
nature of the treaty. Though technically legally binding, the Kyoto Protocol has no real teeth.
Nine years after it was signed, the parties developed a complex procedure for the case of
non-compliance. Sanctions include suspending flexibility mechanisms (that is, prohibiting
participation in joint implementation and clean development projects, and emissions
trading) for a certain country. Another possible sanction is to reduce the amount of
greenhouse gases a country is allowed to emit in the coming commitment period; this isnt
the biggest motivator considering the existence of another commitment period is never
assured. Due to the slow-moving nature of oversight and punishment, it may be that the
most risk a country runs by not following through on emission reductions is the damage to
its reputation.33 In contrast to the stick measures, one carrot of the situation is that


29

https://blogs.dal.ca/melaw/2014/05/29/legal-form-options-for-the-2015-climate-deal/
http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/durban-platform-issues-and-options.pdf
31
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/us/politics/obama-pursuing-climate-accord-in-lieu-of-treaty.html
32
http://cdkn.org/2012/03/what-legal-form-should-a-global-climate-change-deal-take/
33
http://amsterdamlawforum.org/article/view/133/255
30

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participating in the carbon market through the agreements mechanisms can be


economically attractive for a given country.
Many of the developed countries that committed to emission reductions in the Kyoto
Protocol have actually increased their overall greenhouse gas emissions since ratifying.34
Overall, the Kyoto Protocols emission reduction targets should have amounted to a 5%
reduction in global emissions by 2012 instead, emissions grew by 58%.35
The 2015 agreement can be designed top-down, bottom-up, or contain elements
of both. A top-down agreement is contractual and includes more punitive measures for
noncompliance. This can result in more success in reaching stringent targets, but can also
alienate countries that find it too restricting. A bottom-up, voluntary-based approach can
encourage broader participation, though it may be more difficult to get countries to commit
voluntarily to ambitious emission reductions. In the same vein, methodology for measuring
greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, can also be dictated top-down. Or, each country can
design its own plan, though this could make for inconsistency. The UNFCCC demonstrates a
more bottom-up approach, as it depends upon national commitments and plans to reduce
emissions made by its member parties. The Kyoto Protocol is top-down, as national emission
targets were decided for each country by the governing body.
Most countries, but not all, call for the 2015 agreement to be binding that is, to
have mandatory provisions such as the greenhouse gas emission limits, with punitive clauses
in play to ensure compliance. After all, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions requires
more than just promises to cut emissions. Parties need to be held accountable for their
actions and to follow through effectively on their promises. However, parties may be more
hesitant to make bold commitments if failing to achieve a binding target results in harsher
consequences. There also exists the opinion that in order to reach a binding agreement that
all parties would be comfortable signing, there would need to be too much compromise,
and the agreement would emerge too weak. Thus, perhaps the answer is to rely on national
ambition and advancing technology to foster bolder pledges. Moreover, to avoid watering
down the agreement in an effort to please almost 200 parties, some experts advocate for a
mini-lateral approach that deals with the 20 or so countries that make up the lions share of
global emissions.36 Essentially, this contends with the question of starting with more
countries and less stringent commitments, or fewer countries with deeper commitments. The
wording of the agreement matters too, in regards to its legal forcefulness. At COP19 in
2013, in reference to greenhouse gas emission reductions the word commitments was
changed to contributions.37 Parties agreed to submit Intended Nationally Determined
Contributions (INDCs) by early 2015 that outline how they would contribute to the global
effort.
At COP20 in 2014 in Lima, parties hashed out what would be the structure of these
INDCs. They decided that each country could describe the greenhouse gas mitigation it are


34

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/nov/26/kyoto-protocol-carbon-emissions
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/kyoto-climate-change-treaty-sputters-to-a-sorry-end-1.1184986
36
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/07/02/mini-lateral-approach-could-spare-un-climate-talk-gridlock/
37
http://www.rtcc.org/2013/11/28/un-climate-chiefs-agree-path-to-2015-looks-tough-post-warsaw/
35

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willing to take on according to its domestic circumstances, and can also choose to include
adaptation efforts.38
Thus, it is unlikely that a new agreement could take a similar top-down, legally
binding approach as was taken in the Kyoto Protocol, given. INDCs, though not the only
aspect of the agreement, create a structure in which countries determine their contributions
and plans to achieve them. Of course, a hybrid approach is possible where some binding
requirements are supplemented by bottom-up commitments. Thus, the 2015 agreement can
include elements of multiple approaches.
Some questions to consider:
What will the new international climate regime look like?
How can countries be held accountable to their pledges? What should be the treatys
enforcement mechanism? Should it be centrally strengthened or weakened in favor
of party sovereignty? What is more effective: punitive measures or the invisible hand
of the market?
To what extent should the legal form of the treaty rely on existing international law?
How can a new agreement written under the convention which itself was originally
written in 1992 adapt to changing times?39
How can the legal form of the agreement encourage broad participation and
ambitious commitments at the same time?


38

http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/lima_dec_2014/application/pdf/auv_cop20_lima_call_for_climate_action.pdf
http://www.field.org.uk/blog/2014/06/12/getting-the-right-legal-design-in-time-for-the-2015-climateagreement

39

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Further Readings
http://unfccc.int/essential_background/glossary/items/3666.php
Glossary of Climate Change Acronyms
Climate change negotiations are riddled with acronyms and wordy
terminology. Though technical, the UNFCCC website in general explains a lot of
background information and up-to-date decisions.
http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg3/index.php?idp=57
What is the Challenge?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides background on the
numbers game of mitigating human-induced climate change by reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/series/the-ultimate-climate-change-faq
The Ultimate Climate Change FAQ
A thorough and clear collection of facts and resources on climate change from
The Guardian.
www.carbonmap.org
The Carbon Map
This user-friendly tool can be used to explore how global responsibility for
greenhouse gas emissions depends on the perspective taken. Watch countries on the
world map grow and shrink according to their wealth, emissions, carbon reserves,
and more.
http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/durban-platform-issues-and-options.pdf
The Durban Platform: Issues and Options For a 2015 Agreement
Abstract: The Durban Platform talks, aiming for a new global agreement in
2015, present an opportunity to assess and strengthen the international climate
change effort. Since launching the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change
two decades ago, governments have tried both top down and bottom up
approaches. Neither has achieved the level of participation or ambition needed to
reverse the continued rise of global greenhouse gas emissions. Going forward,
governments should draw on both models to forge a more effective global
agreement.
http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/glep.2007.7.4.1
The Comparative Politics of Climate Change
This article gives a background to international climate politics and the
influence of national politics from the member parties. It analyzes why the US and
Canada did not participate in the Kyoto Protocol.

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http://www.precopsocial.org/sites/default/files/archivos/margarita_declaration_on_climate_
change.pdf
Margarita Declaration on Climate Change
This declaration came out of the Social Pre-COP Preparatory Meeting that
took place in Margarita Island, Venezuela, from July 15-18, 2014. It represents the
voice of civil society social movements and organizations, and demands changes in
the system, not the climate.
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/08/22/what-would-a-fair-un-climate-change-deal-look-like/
What Would a Fair UN Climate Change Deal Look Like?
RTCC explains a new online tool that allows users to input certain parameters
for an international agreement and see the necessary emission reduction
commitments that each country would have to make. You can play around with the
calculator tool at http://www.gdrights.org/calculator/.

Other sites:
World Resources Institute: http://www.wri.org/blog
Responding to Climate Change: http://www.rtcc.org/

About
Alison Kirsch is a researcher with the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University.
The Climate and Development Lab is a think tank in the Institute at Brown for Science and
Society, committed to informing a more just, equitable, and effective global climate change
policy.
www.climatedevlab.org

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