With the US relatively absent from multilateral negotiations, a general slowdown of implementation process began. Incentives to reduce emissions were not there without US involvement in a deal. The divergence of the two big players – the United States and the European Union – on their stance on a global climate deal led to the rise of new influential players. Brazil, India and China assumed a central role in discussions. Coalitions of small-but-vulnerable countries, such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), became prominent in the policy debate.
Throughout this time, the use of market mechanisms to reduce emissions in an effective and efficient manner gained considerable support among academics, scientists, and policymakers. This correlated with the growing certainty of climate science and the diminishing prospects of an international legal agreement sufficient enough to stabilize projected increases in temperature.
It was clear that the Kyoto Protocol, on an emissions-reducing basis, was not going to be adequate. Starting from the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) in Bali (2007), initial plans and timelines were established for a post-2012 (second-commitment period) agreement. But climate negotiations would soon face a turn for the worse.
The global financial crisis starting in 2007 and prolonged following recession in Europe set many competing priorities on the domestic and international agenda. Leadership and negotiations reached their dramatic nadir at COP15 in Copenhagen (2009), where discussions all but collapsed. It was clear, then, that any additional commitment periods of the Kyoto Protocol would be considerably more symbolic than pragmatic. The European Union, despite internal disputes, remained as a unified advocate, but its influence had long since waned.
Durban (COP17) and Doha (COP18) in 2011 and 2012, respectively, sought to salvage the slight progress made prior to the Copenhagen debacle. Deep divides still remained. While the Kyoto Protocol was amended to include an additional commitment period, the focus shifted towards the development of a legally binding climate deal to be agreed upon in 2015.
Bickering between developing countries and developed countries remained the standard discourse of negotiations, with prominent players often bringing discussions to a standstill. There were small victories in subsequent COPs – good progress on REDD+ in Warsaw, for instance – but the pace was slow. A draft text emerged, but laced with brackets, highlighting text which was yet to be agreed upon.
And that brings us to today. COP21 in Paris is all about framing the most comprehensive and ambitious climate plan in history. The days of legally-binding emissions agreements are gone. Instead, a more hybrid legal agreement is expected. Countries determine their own intended reductions in emissions, and are then kept accountable through the UN system through a coordinated system of measuring, reporting and verifying emissions reductions.
Countries are quick to point fingers about the failure of recent climate negotiations. Fault lies on both sides. Developed countries have shown lackluster leadership in fulfilling their promises, while developing countries have been reluctant to consider emissions reduction measures for themselves. Ultimately, as negotiations are drawn out and developing countries gain more bargaining power, the onus will begin to fall on them. A reliance on the historical set of leaders to address climate change will not be sufficient, particularly as catch-up growth across much of the world continues. Recent trends indicate that climate policy will, rightfully, have to become an equal and multiparty affair – not simply a negotiation between “laggards and leaders”– in order to succeed.
Tim Dobermann is the Project Lead for Research & Policy at SDSN Youth. He is a Country Economist for the International Growth Centre and has participated widely in both research and in policy dialogues pertaining to economic development and climate change. He holds a postgraduate degree in economics from the London School of Economics (LSE). All opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the author and not that of SDSN Youth.