Explaining Breakthroughs in Climate Change Negotiations

Why All is Not Lost to Stalemate

An electricity power plant smokestack iin Berlin, Germany
Explaining Breakthroughs in Climate Change Negotiations : Why All is Not Lost to Stalemate - Virginia Benninghoff


More than twenty years of climate change negotiations have left many observers pessimistic about the prospects of reaching a meaningful global agreement. Despite the urgency of making deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, disagreements between parties seem to have led to stalemate. This paper takes a more optimistic view, examining two of the unexpected successes of the negotiations. The analysis suggests that while onlookers—in a realist mindset—predicted failure for both the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), negotiators used problem-solving to achieve consensus and concrete results. Based on the analysis of the integrative bargaining that led to these results, if negotiators and observers adopt the liberal "problem-solving mindset," a comprehensive agreement that creates value for all parties is more likely in the 2015 Paris negotiations.


It is tempting to characterize international climate change negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a stalemate. Their signature achievement, the Kyoto Protocol (KP), was not ratified by the United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases at the time; the hype surrounding the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen ended largely in disappointment; and every COP has been characterized by very late nights, impossible schedules, and extended deadlines to reach some sort of consensus. Despite the long days and hard work, the world is already starting to experience the effects of climate change; Parties’ targets for reductions are not ambitious enough to stay below the stated goal of two degrees Celsius; and divisions between developed and developing countries still run deep.

After more than 20 years of formal negotiations on this issue, and without an achievable and agreeable solution in sight, it is no wonder that observers hold very low expectations. However, there are at least two examples where those expectations have been exceeded, and they offer a glimmer of hope that stalemate does not have to be the norm. The first dates back to COP 3 in Kyoto. Less than seven months before the KP would be negotiated, Brazil put forward a “sweeping, radical” proposal.[1] With so little time left, skeptics highly doubted it would be incorporated into the agreement.[2] However, what became known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under Article 12 was later hailed as “one of the most notable developments at Kyoto,” earning it the nickname “Kyoto Surprise.”[3] It was the “result of an unlikely combination of motivations and interests which produced a dynamism that even the strongest opponents of participation of developing countries in joint implementation ultimately could not resist.”[4],[5]

The second example came just last year at COP 19. As the November meetings in Warsaw approached, observers were not optimistic that Parties would take meaningful steps to advance the concept of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Two months before, Jen Iris Allan and Peter Dauvergne gave a gloomy forecast: “…REDD+ seems unlikely to fulfill its early promise as a major international mechanism to improve both forest and climate governance.”[6] In a pleasant surprise for REDD+ advocates, the decisions taken by COP 19 to further define the mechanism, known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, became its “singular achievement.”[7]

This paper explores possible explanations for these unexpected outcomes, drawing examples from similarities in the two cases. The following analysis seeks to determine why predictions of the outcome of the negotiations were misguided, using P. Terrence Hopmann’s framework for bargaining and problem-solving, as well as elements of liberalism and realism.[8] The results of this analysis suggest that Parties were in fact in a problem-solving mode, but a tradition of realism has made observers too quick to assume Parties are taking bargaining stances, which in a complex environmental negotiation are unlikely to yield meaningful results. When these negotiations are viewed through the problem-solving paradigm, successful results no longer seem so unlikely.

Review of Literature Analyzing the CDM Negotiations

Very little writing on the Clean Development Mechanism uses theoretical tools to analyze the negotiations. Most of the literature is focused on how to improve the functioning of the CDM.[9]Emma Paulsson, in her overview of CDM literature, finds that only a few authors have taken theoretical approaches. Among them are economic explanations (with Marxist elements) of the climate regime and the differences between the CDM and the voluntary carbon market. Another considers the CDM as an example of the type of public-private partnership that will characterize future international treaties.[10]

Emma Lund’s work is a step closer to explaining the outcome through a theoretical framework. She examines the structural influence of Business and Industry NGOs (BINGOs) over the CDM reform process, determining that they hold more clout than Environmental NGOs (ENGOs).[11]Irja Vormedal also concluded, in researching regulatory decisions on carbon capture and storage under the CDM, that BINGOs exert considerable influence through their formal and informal networks, possibly because of corporate technological power.[12]

Other treatments of the subject have considered the difficulties of negotiating the Marrakech Accords and attribute the drawn-out process to stringencies in the Kyoto Protocol, many uncertainties, and a few misunderstandings, rather than to the CDM itself.[13]

Review of Literature Analyzing the REDD+ Negotiations

Much has been written about the problems that REDD+ will face in practice, but few scholars have applied theoretical frameworks to the negotiations that produced the agreement. Some theoretical and analytical work has investigated the REDD+ negotiations, but most of it has scrutinized the key players. In surveying Nepali stakeholder perceptions of the inclusiveness of REDD+ consultations at the climate change negotiations, Tim Cadman and Tek Maraseni found that while respondents considered the talks to be inclusive, they also ran into barriers to meaningful participation, such as lack of resources and capacity-building.[14] Research on indigenous peoples’ voices in REDD+ deliberations has shown that these stakeholders have limited, indirect influence on the outcomes.[15]

Allan and Dauvergne implicitly use coalition analysis to determine why negotiations on REDD+ have stagnated in the recent past. They assert that a unified G77/China position generally allows developing nations to win financial and technical resources from the developed world in the climate negotiations. Noting the shifting power asymmetries in the developing world, the authors suggest that the breakdown in a unified G77/China REDD+ position has delayed the establishment of the REDD+ mechanism.[16]

Phases of CDM and REDD+ Negotiations, As Viewed through Realist and Liberal Lenses

In considering the course of the CDM and REDD+ negotiations, one is struck by the similarity between the paths followed in each case. The following sections summarize the history of these negotiations, dividing them by Lillian Randolph’s "Suggested Model of International Negotiation."[17] In each stage, comparisons can be drawn using the different elements Randolph assigns to each of her phases. In addition, it is useful to consider the explanatory power of the realist and liberal theories of negotiations in each phase. The former is often in the form of a structural analysis, while the latter is characterized by process analysis.


Structural analysis examines the relative distribution of power among parties, defined by their means of attaining their desired outcomes. It predicts that the party with more power will achieve the better outcome for itself. The more powerful party has more means to exercise deprivation (threats and coercion for instance), which is characteristic of distributive or zero-sum bargaining, and gratification (promises or offers of better alternatives), which is associated with integrative or positive-sum bargaining. However, the actual means of parties are less important than the perceived means; a sense of equality and symmetry among parties facilitates movement toward an agreed outcome.[18] Parties with less means often attempt to achieve symmetry through their sheer commitment to the issue, aligning with third parties or forming groups in multilateral negotiations, and holding out for justice.[19]

The hallmarks of process analysis are its attention to the contextual details. According to Fen Osler Hampson, these are the organizational, bureaucratic, cultural, and institutional factors that weigh on actors’ decisions. The analysis examines the development of trust within this context. Actors learn from previous experiences (especially with their negotiating partners) and are subject to human needs, motivations, biases, and expectations.[20] Therefore, imperfect information, mistaken estimates, and incorrect assumptions are integrated into the analysis. Furthermore, third parties or non-state actors, such as the epistemic communities that inform scientific aspects of environmental negotiations can be taken into account.

A number of stages (not necessarily linear) are identified in process analysis, including diagnosis and formula-creation. In diagnosis, parties concentrate on their own interests and position in the conflict and attempt to assess how the other parties’ interests might differ from their stated positions. During the formula stage, parties come to a common definition of the problem/solution and a common sense of justice. Under a minimal agreeing formula, for example, parties only attempt to solve the most pressing and harmful issues, leaving the rest until later. A resolving formula, on the other hand, encompasses all of the underlying problems.[21]

Both structural and process analyses can explain various elements of the CDM and REDD+ negotiations. However, the following examination of each phase of the negotiations suggests that the process approach can more aptly explain the interim outcomes during many years of negotiations, as well as the final outcomes.

Pre-negotiation Phase

According to Randolph, the pre-negotiation phase is characterized by both the ability and willingness to negotiate. The former requires the issue at stake to be negotiable and under discussion by two or more parties who have reason to believe their goals may be reached through negotiation. A degree of mutual trust, the capability to trade resources, and sufficient time are also important prerequisites for negotiations. The willingness to negotiate increases the chances that parties will commence formal negotiations. Willingness is stronger when parties have a direct interest in the outcome and when the certainty of achieving a solution is higher.

Before the CDM was even conceptualized, a long-running debate about joint implementation (JI) was taking place within the KP negotiations.[22] JI would allow countries to partly meet their KP commitments through offsets from projects in other countries. Some Parties strongly opposed such an allowance, concerned that it would shift responsibility for meeting emission reductions to developing countries. However, certain countries in the developing world’s negotiating block (G77/China) started to drift from that position.[23] By virtue of being part of a larger negotiation process, and given the history of discussions on the issue, Parties’ ability to negotiate on the CDM was firmly established. Furthermore, most Parties were deeply vested in the final decision, displaying a clear a willingness to negotiate.

Just like the CDM’s pre-negotiation phase, the foundation for international consultations on REDD+ was laid in the early 1990s. Two culminating documents of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, followed by the establishment of several forest-related international bodies, are testament to both the willingness and ability of Parties to negotiate on forest issues, though no global agreement on forests resulted from these processes.[24] When the role of deforestation in climate change began to be discussed in the context of the KP, the issue was already controversial.[25] In particular, the disunion of the G77/China on REDD+ is reminiscent of its lack of unity around the CDM.

The development of the forests issue largely mirrors advancements in technical knowledge. Avoided deforestation was not made eligible for certified emission reduction credits under the KP—largely because poor information and limited technology made monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emission reductions nearly impossible. At COP 7 in Marrakech (2001), the technical impossibility of avoiding leakage and ensuring additionality was cited as another reason for excluding avoided deforestation from the CDM.[26] Not until 2005 at COP 11 in Montreal was reducing emissions from deforestation (RED) placed on the agenda again, this time at the request of the newly-formed Coalition for Rainforest Nations. General agreement among the Parties on the importance of the concept resulted in its being delegated to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) for study.[27]

The Bali Action Plan, agreed to at COP 13 in 2007, introduced the second “D” (forest Degradation) into official text, at the prompting of the Commission des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale (COMIFAC).[28] The "+" which stands for “conservation, sustainable management of forests and forest carbon stocks,” also made a first appearance in the Plan. In 2008 the SBSTA presented its findings to the COP in Poznan and further advanced "REDD+" with all its component parts.[29]

From a realist point of view, the lack of cohesion among the developing country negotiating block on these issues weakens its position, allowing developed countries, already stronger in economic terms, to dominate. However, the lengthy debate around JI, which developed countries strongly supported, demonstrates that other forces must have been at play. The complexity of the issue, which involved creating ways to count and verify emissions reductions, defining what justice should look like, and determining the costs, made it harder for parties to properly complete a diagnosis stage. Without knowing how to calculate costs, how could they determine their true interests in the conflict? Without being able to verify emissions reductions, how could they know JI was actually a solution at all?

At first glance, the long delay on REDD+ might indicate that developed countries’ power was influencing the outcome. Looking through a process analysis lens, though, highlights the other factors, such as technical complications, which could only be resolved through the work of epistemic communities. Furthermore, a structural take ignores organizations like COMIFAC that exert outside influence and often embody the specific cultural, environmental, and economic needs of countries. These organizations add weight to government negotiators’ positions and help explain why the developing countries were often more powerful than an assessment of their means might suggest.

Negotiation Phase

In the second phase of Randolph’s framework, the shape of the negotiation forms; it might be unilateral, bilateral, polarized multilateral, or non-polarized multilateral. If the shape is symmetrical, parties are on even footing. Otherwise, a stronger party may create a hegemonic form of negotiations. (The other parties often reciprocate this with coalition building in an attempt to create symmetry.) Parties may form groups or choose to negotiate individually. Proposals are put forward and compromise may be reached. Both the CDM and REDD+ decisions resulted from a series of proposals put forward by Parties, resulting in compromises that were agreeable to the Parties, but, at least initially, contained little substance about actual implementation.

It was not until May 1997 that the CDM was extracted from the JI negotiations and was considered as a separate mechanism. Brazil’s breakthrough proposal for a Clean Development Fund included a methodology for determining each industrialized country’s emissions cap and an enforcement mechanism in the form of a fund to which non-compliant Parties had to contribute. The funds would be used for mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries. The G77/China coalition, while not opposed to the idea, did not embrace it.[30]Developed countries were delighted at the prospect of "geographical flexibility" in fulfilling their commitments, but were unenthusiastic about a "fine" on each ton of carbon that exceeded their ceilings.[31]

Grasping that the Brazilian proposal could serve its interests, the U.S. re-crafted the proposal to its liking and began negotiating with Brazil. The two countries worked together to reach a mutually agreeable version. By the second week of COP 3, the CDM had been added to the negotiating text. The proposal resembled the U.S. version more closely, but it managed to win the necessary support from the G77/China, though a number of issues remained contentious.[32] Many of the details regarding the actual functioning of the CDM were left for further negotiation.

2009 was arguably the first time Parties started to truly negotiate how to put meat on the bones of REDD+. The Copenhagen Accord, which was only “noted” by COP 15, recognized the importance and challenges of REDD+. Safeguards for ensuring social and environmental responsibility in implementation of REDD+ were identified. The text suggested Parties use IPCC guidelines to start identifying drivers of deforestation and ways to address them. At COP 16 in 2010, this text was officially adopted with a few minor amendments.[33]

And so, just like the CDM in 1997, REDD+ was generally agreed to in 2010, but the details of its implementation were left for later negotiations. Through 2012, the SBSTA worked on MRV, reference levels (against which future deforestation rates can be compared), safeguards, and drivers of deforestation, with the hope of completing its work by COP 19. Much progress was made at an inter-sessional meeting in Bonn in June of 2013. Three important decisions were drafted and a compromise on verification was bracketed into the text.[34] 

As a structural analysis would predict, in the end, the CDM more closely resembled the position of the more powerful Party. Interestingly, though, many of the common elements of a structural description of bargaining were missing: threats and coercion were noticeably absent. Instead, elements of construction and concession were used to create a minimal agreeing formula. The agreed text had finally created a common definition of the problem and its solution. Both sides (developed and developing) were able to incorporate their definition of justice: developed countries would be able to use the most cost-effective means of reducing emissions, while developing countries ensured they would benefit from the CDM projects and that developed countries would pay the costs. Similarly, REDD+ was also intended to make emissions reductions more cost-effective for developed countries, but developing countries won the inclusion of safeguards to avoid exploitation. In both cases, only the minimum was agreed, without resolving the underlying issues that would complicate the roll-out of these initiatives in practice. 

Agreement Phase

During the agreement phase, a settlement is reached on the obligations of parties, thus providing impetus for a change in the status quo. Ambiguity also decreases as accrual of benefits and other implications of any compromise become clearer.

Since the Kyoto Surprise emerged so quickly at COP 3, it is ironic that it took four years for the details to be determined.[35] Nevertheless, it was not until the Marrakech Accords in 2001 that the mechanism was fully fleshed out, and only in 2003 did Parties decide on rules for including land-use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) in the CDM.[36] REDD+ now stands in a similar position to that of the CDM in 2001. Three years after Cancun, COP 19 gave REDD+ all the components needed to make it a functioning mechanism, including an indication that funds will be partially channeled through the Green Climate Fund (GCF). However, just as 2001 left a few issues on the table for the CDM, 2013 did not resolve all the financial and institutional questions related to REDD+ implementation.[37]

The distribution of power in the climate negotiations is always hard to determine for any one particular issue, since at any one time there are numerous crosscutting issues being discussed. It is safe to say, however, that certain countries do dominate because of their large economies and weighty contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions. The "smaller" Parties (in terms of power, emissions, and economies) have counteracted this asymmetry by banding together, insisting on their right to develop as the developed world already has, and committing themselves fully to all aspects of the issue. They have been quite effective and the structure might be characterized as only a "small asymmetry."[38] This structure is said to be the most unproductive under realist theory, because parties will become entrenched in attempts to "upset (and therefore counter-maintain) the near-symmetry" rather than focusing on resolving the issue at hand.[39]

Despite small asymmetry, Parties managed to be quite productive in the agreement phase, moving from a minimal agreeing formula to a resolving formula, which allowed them to tackle the thorny areas of both the CDM and REDD+. The Parties recognized the basic issues that would prevent the CDM and REDD+ from being implemented and agreed to make substantive decisions on how to deal with those issues. Without such a formula, bottom-up efforts would have created ad hoc methods for starting projects (and did for some time), but Parties themselves would have failed at the intended coordinated global cooperation. They would have continued to agree to short-term fixes, which are meaningless when only long-term sustained action can avert the climate crisis.

Implementation Phase

In the last phase of negotiations, parties implement the agreement and benefits start to accrue. If parties are receiving positive benefits, the agreement is more likely to endure. If problems arise in implementation, or there is asymmetry in receipt of benefits, the implementation phase may spill over into a new process of negotiation.

The CDM market actually formed before the rules were finalized. So many projects were vying for verification in the early years of the program that the Executive Board faced a backlog. As these growing pains were mitigated, the CDM became a vibrant, flourishing market.[40]Unfortunately, the price of carbon has dropped quite low in recent years, prompting calls for reform of the CDM.

Many of the finer institutional and financial points of REDD+ that remain unresolved are complicated by the fact that REDD+ projects, like CDM projects, emerged in full force before the UNFCCC rules were established.[41] Stakeholders already committed to REDD+ projects may insist that new funding and rules associated with the GCF be reconciled with their established procedures to ease the transition. 

A realist perspective might predict that Parties would violate the rules in absence of enforcement or bend the implementation in their favor. In fact, the implementation phase was done in good faith with even the most powerful Parties abiding by the agreed international law. The interactions during the implementation phase build trust among Parties, which will be important as this phase spills over into the next pre-negotiation phase. The phases always overlap as Parties move to new issues or work to solve remaining problems in the agreement. Success, then, has the potential to feed more success as negotiations continue.

Analysis through a Liberal Problem-Solving Paradigm

Hopmann explains the differences between problem-solving and bargaining in negotiations using the main tenets of liberalism and realism. For instance, on the issue of gains, liberalism focuses on absolute gains. Realism, on the other hand, concentrates on relative gains, viewing the negotiation as a zero-sum game.[42] He also notes that realism tends to be descriptive—in reality, bargaining is the more common behavior. Liberalism is more prescriptive, holding that the “cooperative search for joint gains” is the ideal way for parties to approach a negotiation.[43] However, he suggests that perhaps both paradigms, used in conjunction, can provide the fullest picture of all aspects of a negotiation. He challenges the reader to find empirical evidence of the “more subtle problem-solving behaviors [that] are more difficult to detect.”[44] Given liberalism’s explanatory power in the phases described above, one might suspect that a problem-solving paradigm could shed light on the unexpected results of the negotiations. The following analysis concludes that the CDM and REDD+ negotiations are in fact two concrete pieces of evidence that problem-solving is at work in multilateral environmental agreements.

The bargaining paradigm can undoubtedly be applied to these negotiations and explain certain aspects of them. The CDM provides an example. The bargaining process begins with initial offers, such as Brazil’s Clean Development Fund, followed by commitments to stand firm on a position, like the American insistence that the emissions cap be based on current emissions.[45]In the end the outcome was somewhere in between the American and Brazilian positions, but closer to the American one, as the realist bargaining paradigm would predict.[46] 

The U.S. position was hardened by the two-level games it was playing during both the William J. Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.[47] The Byrd-Hagel Resolution of June 1997 made it nearly impossible to make concessions that would be ratified domestically. The resolution, passed unanimously with a vote of 95-0 in the U.S. Senate (the body responsible for ratification of treaties), stated that the U.S. should not be a signatory to any agreement that would harm the U.S. economy or that imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions for Annex I (developed) countries without also imposing limits on non-Annex I (developing) countries.

Later, at the Marrakech Negotiations, the Bush administration’s inflexible position was one of the biggest obstacles to establishing the CDM’s rulebook.[48] In the meantime, intra-organizational bargaining proved detrimental to some coalitions’ positions overall. The EU could perhaps have achieved more of its policy goals, but by the time it had a coordinated position, it was too late.[49] A breakdown in a coalition or complicated two-level games can force the negotiator into a weak position, allowing him/her to be exploited. Repeated exploitation by one’s negotiating partners leads to a breakdown in trust, which has in fact diminished confidence in the UNFCCC process as it drags on.[50]

Clearly the bargaining paradigm has explanatory power for this case. However, its common use to predict negotiation outcomes may have prompted the widespread surprise at the positive CDM and REDD+ outcomes.[51] 

Parties in both instances actually seem to have had more of an integrative bargaining mindset than analysts expected. It is true, as realists would point out, that powerful countries have their own interests in mind first and foremost. In the climate change negotiations, developing countries are motivated by prospects for their own development, financing from the developed world, and holding developed nations accountable (a search for a sort of justice). Market forces and the prospect of business opportunities largely motivate developed countries. From this perspective, it might seem that there is little overlap, and thus a small bargaining space.

On the contrary, the problem-solving paradigm still recognizes that countries have interests, but Parties have simply realized that climate change may be a way to create value. Integrative bargaining “refers to a situation in which the parties may jointly enlarge the benefits available to both, so that both may gain from creating a larger amount of value to be shared by them.”[52]The Parties are not seeking relative gains, but rather absolute gains. For example, a negotiation over a piece of land has to be relative because whatever land one gains, the other loses. However, if it were possible to create new land, the distribution, even if unequal in relative terms, will result in gains on both sides. The gains will not be realized for either side if they do not work together to create the new land in the first place. In the case of the CDM and REDD+ negotiations, markets and co-benefits (other than climate change mitigation) offered an incentive to engage, as the markets will form "new land."[53] Impasses can happen when Parties are stuck in a realist paradigm, but from these two successes, it is clear that when a mechanism can create new welfare gains for both sides, progress is made.

Examples from the negotiations exhibit many of the characteristics Hopmann gives to problem-solving behavior. Both were governed by norms and institutions fashioned in the antecedent phase by a liberal institutionalism tradition that created bodies like the UN and its subsequent offshoots.[54] The sensitivity to two-level games described above is also a trend in problem-solving.[55] Another trend is the emergence of "problem-solving workshops" and effective leadership and management of complexity in the group.[56] For the CDM, this took the form of a contact group, chaired by Brazil, which started discussion immediately at COP 3. Over two days, under Brazil’s skillful leadership, the group transformed the G77’s text into an article for the negotiating text.[57] The Brazilian architects also effectively led the CDM negotiations to their successful conclusion in Marrakech.[58] 

The concessions that came out of these consultations suggest that Parties were working toward the Pareto-Optimal frontier.[59] During the CDM negotiations, the EU did not like how little time there was to consider Article 12’s implications, but agreed to go along in the interest of reaching some agreement. The EU was also amenable because some of its former opposition to JI was more of a gesture to developing countries, which were now on board with the CDM. The negotiated CDM contained a number of attributes that appealed to developing countries. To assuage the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and others that felt particularly vulnerable to climate change, developed countries agreed that these countries would receive a fee levied on CDM activities within their borders. In addition, AOSIS was offered additional funds for adaptation projects to win its support for developing country participation in project-based JI. The mechanism acted as a new source of funding for sustainable development, in the form of emissions trading and offsets. Developing countries agreed to these mechanisms in exchange for removing mention of voluntary commitments on their part.[60]

REDD+, with its comparably large number of stakeholders and an obvious North-South divide, also experienced many transmutations to accommodate the various interests. In many ways the transformation of RED to REDD+ illustrates the Parties’ willingness to widen the scope and inclusiveness wherever technically feasible. The extra "D" and "+" represented COMIFAC’s (and others’) specific forest situations. NGOs influenced the inclusion of safeguards. Large international conservation NGOs lobbied for biodiversity while aid and development organizations advocated for poverty reduction and protection of local communities’ livelihoods.[61] The process that SBSTA used to find a compromise on verification, combining the “underlying needs, aspirations, and interests of the parties” is an apt example of Parties “working together to invent mutually beneficial solutions to joint problems that satisfy those basic needs.”[62],[63]


One of the scenarios that Hopmann describes where bargaining alone will not reach a solution is a situation in which “[t]here are multiple parties whose preferences are quite different and crosscutting rather than reinforcing, so that there is no clearly defined and mutually agreed issue dimension along which bargaining may occur.”[64] Indeed, this is an apt description of the current state of the climate change negotiations, suggesting it will take more than bargaining to move beyond stalemate. Realizing that bargaining will not produce an equitable and durable decision in this scenario and convinced that negotiators were stuck in a bargaining rut, observers unsurprisingly predicted failure in both the CDM and REDD+ negotiations.

Both the CDM and REDD+ were actually extremely popular concepts.[65] Both are ways to help developing countries reduce emissions, and the North sees them as less expensive methods of meeting its obligations under the KP and/or voluntary targets. The CDM is a win-win solution because it transfers financial and technological resources to the South, while industrialized countries earn emissions credits and garner substantive participation from developing countries.[66] One explanation of REDD+’s popularity is that, being so vague and broad, everyone interpreted it as they wished. Much like the CDM, it helps bridge the gap between North and South, provides funding to the South, and gives flexibility to North.[67]

The underlying reason behind this popularity is that Parties perceive these mechanisms to be capable of creating value. They are intended to be market mechanisms that, presumably, benefit both the buyer and seller. In fact, “[a]ssuming that there was full compensation of opportunity and other costs, REDD+ actions would – in principle – produce only winners.”[68] Before the problem of climate change arose, this opportunity was not recognized. However, when Parties  saw a chance for all participants to reap absolute gains (of varying degrees) they moved into problem-solving mode. Without agreement, the opportunity for any gains by any party would be lost. Both the CDM and REDD+ were not simple issues to resolve and still have many flaws. The length and difficulty of the negotiations were not a result of hard positions or lack of flexibility; instead, delays came because Parties truly had a lot of problem-solving to do. There were as many conceptions of REDD+ as there were negotiators, and verifying emissions reductions under the CDM was not simple.[69] 

While the negotiators did use bargaining tactics in some instances, it is clear that the problem-solving paradigm is more useful in deconstructing the CDM and REDD+ negotiations. The negotiation process, while still not easy, serves as an example for Parties as talks continue. The success of talks at COP 20 in Lima this year will be crucial for ensuring a strong agreement is reached in Paris in 2015. Breaking the stalemates on a variety of issues currently being negotiated will be greatly facilitated if Parties concentrate on how new value and absolute gains can be created for everyone involved. Perhaps a realist (structural) approach can explain stalemated aspects of the climate change negotiations. However, if the successful outcomes of the CDM and REDD+ negotiations are any guide, it will be more useful for Parties to heed what a liberal (process) approach prescribes. If a problem-solving mindset can take hold both inside and outside the negotiations, the chances of finding this value-creating solution will increase greatly.

The costs of continuing conflict are greater with each passing year. Climate change is already proving a formidable challenge for people everywhere. From the coasts of New Jersey and New York, to low-lying islands in the Pacific, from indigenous homes near the Arctic Circle to drylands in Africa, from Europe to Pakistan, governments, businesses, and citizens are seeing unprecedented human, environmental, and economic costs. A problem of this magnitude requires cooperation among the major powers (which are also the major emitters) of the world and cannot be allowed to continue as a result of quarreling over relative gains. The world is counting on negotiators to put aside distributive bargaining, embrace a problem-solving attitude, and get the job done.

Notes & References

  1. Werksman, Jacob. 1998. “The Clean Development Mechanism: Unwrapping the ‘Kyoto Surprise’.” RECIEL: Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, Vol 7(2), p. 147-1.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Oberthür, Sebastian and Ott, Hermann E. 1999. The Kyoto Protocol: International Climate. Policy for the 21st Century. Paris: Springer. p.168, 165.
  4. See Background section for an explanation of joint implementation.
  5. Oberthür & Ott 1999, p.168.
  6. Allan, Jen Iris and Dauvergne, Peter. 2013, September. “The Global South in Environmental Negotiations: the politics of coalitions in redd+.” Third World Quarterly, Vol 34(8), p.1321.
  7. Allan, Jennifer; Antonich, Beate; Bisiaux, Alice; Kosolapova, Elena; Kulovesi, Kati; Luomi, Mari; and Savaresi, Annalisa. 2013, November 26. “Summary of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference 11-23 November 2013.” Earth Negotiations Bulletin (International Institute for Sustainable Development – Linkages), Vol 12(594).
  8. Hopmann, P. Terrence. 1995, November. “Two Paradigms of Negotiation: Bargaining and Problem Solving.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Scoial Science, Vol 542, p. 24-47.
  9. Given the recent difficulties with the carbon markets, many pieces have put forward ideas for reform and ways to improve incentives. Others evaluate the mechanism’s impact on developing countries, contributions to sustainable development, effect on carbon emissions, consequences for different industries, and ethical implications. For instance, many have expressed concerns that the CDM imposes Western values (such as the idea that markets are an efficient way to solve most problems) and have questioned the ethical validity of assigning the right to pollute. See Boyd & Goodman 2011.
  10. Paulsson, Emma. 2009. “A Review of the CDM Literature: From fine-tuning to critical scrutiny?” International Environmental Agreements, Vol 9, p 63–80.
  11. Lund, Emma. 2013. “Environmental diplomacy: comparing the influence of business and environmental NGOs in negotiations on reform of the clean development mechanism.” Environmental Politics, Vol 22(5), p. 739-759.
  12. Vormedal, Irja. 2008. “The influence of business and industry NGOs in the negotiation of the Kyoto mechanisms: the case of carbon capture and storage in the CDM.” Global Environmental Politics, Vol 8(4), p. 36–65.
  13. Bodansky, Daniel. 2001. “The History of the Global Climate Change Regime.” International Relations and Global Climate Change, eds. U. Luterbacher and D. Sprintz. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press and Lecocq, Franck and Ambrosi, Philippe. 2007. “The Clean Development Mechanism: History, Status, and Prospects.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Vol 1(1), p. 134-151.
  14. Cadman, Tim and Maraseni, Tek. 2013. “More equal than others? A comparative analysis of state and non-state perceptions of interest representation and decision-making in REDD+ negotiations.” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, Vol 26(3), p. 214-230.
  15. Schroeder, Heike. 2010. “Agency in international climate negotiations: the case of indigenous peoples and avoided deforestation.” International Environmental Agreements, Vol 10, p. 317-332.
  16. Allan & Dauvergne 2013. With the “Forests COP” following soon after their writing, it would be interesting to analyze this break in unity from a problem-solving/bargaining paradigm.
  17. Randolph, Lillian. 1966. “A Suggested Model of International Negotiations.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol 10(3), p.347.
  18. Zartman, I. William. 2009. “Conflict Resolution and Negotiation.” In The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution, eds. Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk, and I. William Zartman. Washington DC: Sage, p.325.
  19. Ibid, p.326.
  20. Hampson, Fen Osler. 1995. Multilateral Negotiations: Lessons from Arms Control, Trade, and the Environment. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, p.14-15.
  21. Zartman 2009, p.330.
  22. The KP was agreed to in 1997, but one could argue its negotiations—or at least the issue definition, revealing of positions, and consultations—began in 1992 when the world gathered to craft the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  23. Werksman 1998.
  24. Allan & Dauvergne 2013.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Leakage occurs when emissions are reduced because of measures taken to stop deforestation in one area, but increase in another area because the drivers (such as agribusiness) simply move to an area under less rigid regulation or enforcement. Additionality is ascertained when it is known that reductions in emissions would not have occurred without the forest-saving measure put in place.
  27. The REDD Desk. 2013, Nov 8. “REDD+ Negotiations under the UNFCCC: The Story So Far.”        In What is REDD+. The REDD Desk website. Accessed 15 Dec 2013 at http://theredddesk.org/what-is-redd#toc-4. The SBSTA deliberated on policy, scientific, technical, and methodological issues.
  28. Degradation was excluded in the past because of technological challenges associated with its MRV.
  29. The REDD Desk 2013.
  30. Many of the smaller developing countries disliked that they would receive less funding because pay-outs were proportional to a country’s level of emissions.
  31. Oberthür & Ott 1999.
  32. Ibid. For instance, questions remained on how administrative costs would be covered, whether a new or existing financial institution would be responsible for administration of the funds, whether projects completed in advance of the commitment period could count, and the eligibility of carbon sink projects.
  33. The REDD Desk 2013.
  34. Ibid.
  35. The framework was supposed to be filled in by the Buenos Aires Plan of Action in 2000. Oberthür & Ott 1999.
  36. Lecocq, Franck and Ambrosi, Philippe. 2007. “The Clean Development Mechanism: History, Status, and Prospects.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Vol 1(1), p. 134-151.
  37. Allan et al 2013.
  38. Zartman 2009, p.326.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Lecocq & Ambrosi 2007.
  41. Allan et al 2013.
  42. Hopmann 1995, p. 29.
  43. Ibid, p. 29, 42.
  44. Ibid, p. 42, 24.
  45. Cole, John C. 2010. “Genesis of the CDM: the original policymaking goals of the 1997 Brazilian proposal and their evolution in the Kyoto protocol negotiations into the CDM.” International Environmental Agreements, Vol 12, p. 41-61.
  46. This is also similar to the structural approach—which is also a common paradigm of realists.
  47. Two-level games are played by negotiators who have a domestic constituency that they must “negotiate” with while simultaneously carrying out negotiations at the international level. See Putnam 1988.
  48. Matsuo, Naoki. 2003. CDM in the Kyoto Negotiations: How CDM Has Worked as a Bridge between Developed and Developing Worlds? The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  49. Oberthür & Ott 1999.
  50. Allan et al 2013.
  51. Even the EU was surprised by the U.S.’s willingness to compromise on G77 demands in order to save the CDM. Oberthür & Ott 1999, p.167.
  52. Ibid, p.27.
  53. Matsuo finds that the cooperation that happened around the CDM could be instructive for future negotiations—the potential of markets and economic incentives should be emphasized. Matsuo 2003.
  54. The repeated interactions the Parties have had through these institutions can also be examined from a strategic/game theoretical lens (repeated games).
  55. Hopmann 1995, p.30.
  56. Ibid, p. 45. Problem-solving negotiations also tend to have a mediator. However, this is not really a possibility in the traditional sense in the climate negotiations because virtually every nation on Earth is already involved on its own behalf.
  57. Werksman 1998.
  58. Cole 2010.
  59. Hopmann 1995, p.31. Along this frontier, no further moves can be made that would benefit one party without decreasing the other’s benefit. Any outcome not on the frontier is suboptimal (i.e. there is some combination of agreement that would yield additional benefit to both parties). While both parties may not benefit equally in moving toward Pareto-Optimal, both will still be better off absolutely with any shift outward at an angle between 0 and 90.
  60. Oberthür & Ott 1999.
  61. Angelsen, Arild and McNeill, Desmond. 2012. Chapter 3: The Evolution of REDD+. In Angelsen, Arild; Brockhaus, Maria; Sunderlin, William D.; and Verchot, Louis V., eds. 2012. Analysing REDD+: Challenges and Choices (pp. 31-49). Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
  62. Some Parties were keen on a process of international consultation and analysis, like that used for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), while others wanted independent 3rd party verification by experts from both developed and developing countries.
  63. Quote from Hopmann 1995, p.41.
  64. Ibid, p.44.
  65. Matsuo 2003 and Angelsen & McNeill 2012.
  66. Oberthür & Ott 1999 and Matsuo 2003.
  67. Angelsen & McNeill 2012.
  68. Ibid, p.40.
  69. To name just a couple of the complications.