International climate negotiation conditions: past and future

PhD thesis by Wytze van der Gaast, defended succesfully 26 January 2015


The objective of international climate negotiations is to agree on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Well-known negotiation results are the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The latter contained legally binding commitments for developed countries. A new climate agreement is scheduled for the UN Climate Conference of 2015 (Paris).

This study has analysed climate negotiations since 1990. The study explains how international climate policy making is complicated by the following aspects:
- Climate change is a global issues which requires a global solution.
- Countries assess international agreements against domestic priorities and only join a climate coalition if benefits are higher than costs.
- Scientific knowledge of climate change has only gradually emerged during negotiations, which complicated making long term agreements.

The study identifies three conditions that need to be fulfilled, at least, for negotiations to result in effective climate policy:
1. The agreement must reflect countries’ positions.
2. For that, the negotiation process must be flexible with multiple trajectories and small steps.
3. At crucial moments, decisive tactical manoeuvres need to be made and much can depend, e.g., personalities and negotiation atmosphere.

The study concludes that an effective climate policy with global country participation is more likely if climate measures are embedded in (developing) countries’ longer term sustainable development priorities. This conclusion is based on the presumption that such a bottom-up approach creates stronger incentives for countries to undertake climate policy actions if they also support meeting countries’ national development goals.

The full dissertation is available at the website of the University of Groningen: International climate negotation conditions: past and future (pdf).