Global Climate Change Negotiations


There were many interesting talks at the Interdisciplinary Climate Change Workshop last week—too many for me to describe them all in detail. But I really must describe the talks by Radoslav Dimitrov. They were full of important things I didn’t know. Some are quite promising.

Radoslav S. Dimitrov is a professor at the Department of Political Science at Western University. What’s interesting is that he’s also been a delegate for the European Union at the UN climate change negotiations since 1990! His work documents the history of climate negotiations from behind closed doors.

Here are some things he said:

• In international diplomacy, there is no questioning the reality and importance of human-caused climate change. The question is just what to do about it.

• Governments go through every line of the IPCC reports twice. They cannot add anything the scientists have written, but they can delete things. All governments have veto power. This makes the the IPCC reports more conservative than they otherwise would be: “considerably diluted”.

• The climate change negotiations have surprised political scientists in many ways:

1) There is substantial cooperation even without the USA taking the lead.

2) Developing countries are accepting obligations, with many overcomplying.

3) There has been action by many countries and subnational entities without any treaty obligations.

4) There have been repeated failures of negotiation despite policy readiness.

• In 2011, China and Saudi Arabia rejected the final agreement at Durban as inadequate. Only Canada, the United States and Australia had been resisting stronger action on climate change. Canada abandoned the Kyoto Protocol the day after the collapse of negotiations at Durban. They publicly blamed China, India and Brazil, even though Brazil had accepted dramatic emissions cuts and China had, for the first time, accepted limits on emissions. Only India had taken a “hardline” attitude. Publicly blaming some other country for the collapse of negotiations is a no-no in diplomacy, so the Chinese took this move by Canada as a slap in the face. In return, they blamed Canada and “the West” for the collapse of Durban.

• Dimitrov is studying the role of persuasion in diplomacy, recording and analyzing hundreds of hours of discussions. Countries try to change each other’s minds, not just behavior.

• The global elite do not see climate change negotiations as an environmental issue. Instead, they feel they are “negotiating the future economy”. They focus on the negative economic consequences of inaction, and the economic benefits of climate action.

• In particular, the EU has managed to persuade many countries that climate change is worth tackling now. They do this with economic, not environmental arguments. For example, they argue that countries who take the initiative will have an advantage in future employment, getting most of the “green jobs”. Results include China’s latest 5-year plan, which some have called “the most progressive legislation in history”, and also Japan’s plan for a 60-80% reduction of carbon emissions. The EU itself also expects big returns on investment in climate change.

I apologize for any oversimplifications or downright errors in my notes here.


You can see some slides for Dimitrov’s talks here:

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, A climate of change.

For more, try reading this article, which is free online:

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, Inside Copenhagen: the state of climate governance, Global Environmental Politics 10 (2010), 18–24.

and these more recent book chapters, which are apparently not as easy to get:

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, Environmental diplomacy, in Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, edited by Paul Harris, Routledge, forthcoming as of 2013.

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, International negotiations, in Handbook of Global Climate and Environmental Policy, edited by Robert Falkner, Wiley-Blackwell forthcoming as of 2013.

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, Persuasion in world politics: The UN climate change negotiations, in Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, edited by Peter Dauvergne, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK, 2012.

• Radoslav S. Dimitrov, American prosperity and the high politics of climate change, in Prospects for a Post-American World, edited by Sabrina Hoque and Sean Clark, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2012.

18 Responses to Global Climate Change Negotiations

  1. Richard Creamer says:

    In the U.S., capitalism and politics present large barriers


    Create and publish a set of ‘influence’ diagrams which show specific governmental regulatory policy makers and members of Congress (yes – actual, specific people) with clear, visual links to the special interest groups which directly, or indirectly, influence these people to resist the enactment of climate change remediation policies.

  2. svein vik says:

    What concrete action were suggested that are win/win??

    Other than make less CO2. It seems these suv driving climate
    lobby people want to use agri land for fuel and let the poor starve.
    Maybe we can make burgers out of oil. Let them eat oil.

    One of the Copenhagen speakers (with a west indian accent) said
    as much. Let the poor have all the oil they want. As per the IPCC
    reports it will not make a significant difference anyways.

    Svein Vik
    Kitchener, Ontario.

    • John Baez says:

      One of the big lessons here was how the EU is overcoming the prisoner’s dilemma by convincing lots of countries and subnational entities that it’s in their best interest to reduce carbon emissions pre-emptively, before binding commitments are negotiated.

      The province of Ontario was mentioned as a good example of a subnational entity that’s reducing carbon emissions:

      • Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Greening our Ways.

      Ontario has targets to reduce carbon emissions

      • 6% below 1990 levels by 2014,
      • 15% below 1990 levels by 2020,
      • 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

      and it’s estimated that current initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will deliver 60% of the reductions needed to reach the 2020 target.

      Another good example is the west coast of the US and Canada. We got some good news today:

      • Christopher Simmons, Calif. Gov. Brown joins Oregon, Washington, British Columbia leaders to combat climate change, California Newswire, 29 October 2013.

      The pact seeks to enhance cooperation through a range of activities, including:

      • Accounting for the costs of carbon pollution in each jurisdiction;
      • Harmonizing 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions and developing mid-term targets needed to support long-term reduction goals;
      • Taking steps to expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, aiming for 10 percent of new public and private fleet vehicle purchases by 2016;
      • Enlisting support for research on ocean acidification and taking action to combat it;
      • Adopting and maintaining low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction; and
      • Continuing deployment of high-speed rail across the region.

      Earlier this month, the California Air Resources Board announced an agreement with Quebec outlining steps and procedures to fully harmonize and integrate their cap and trade programs. Signing the agreement is the latest step in a process to link the two jurisdictions that began more than five years ago. In April 2013 the Air Resources Board adopted a regulation setting January 1, 2014 as the start of the linkage, which will enable carbon allowances and offset credits to be exchanged between participants in the two jurisdictions’ programs. The linked programs will provide a working model for other states and provinces that are seeking cost-effective approaches to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

      In September, Governor Brown joined China’s top climate official, National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua, to sign a first-of-its-kind agreement on climate change between the commission and a subnational entity. This followed landmark partnerships established earlier this year on the Governor’s Trade and Investment Mission to China, including agreements signed with China’s Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian to improve air quality and with Jiangsu province to promote renewable energy.

      • kay14081963Kay zum Felde says:


        I want to say hi, to help the climate problem, and I want to add something to the discussion, which I don’t know, if it was already mentioned. A main fault by capitalism is in my opinion, that it relies on profit maximizing. This means, blue collar workers people get not paid well enough to live, at least in many countries. Thus they aren’t able to buy products, that help saving the climate, like fair trade products. I’m from Germany, we have not invented the world in a new form, but everyone here has at least a health insurance, even if it is often two class and even it is so that capitalism has a big influence here. The big goals, that the new government has announced, before the last elections, for saving the climate seemed to be gone.

        Take care Kay

  3. Toby Bartels says:

    >Only Canada, the United States and America

    Do you mean ‘Only Canada and the United States of America’ or ‘Only Canada, the United States [of America] and [???]’?

    • Justin White says:

      I took it to mean Mexico, the only other country in North America. Still, it would be nice if it were clarified.

      I hate that my country (Canada) cancelled our Kyoto Protocols. That was one of the things that kept us in good standing on the international level. It makes no sense to piss of china for something that we needed to do regardless of international well-being and only hurts us.

    • John Baez says:

      Sorry: “Only Canada, the United States and Australia”.

  4. typo? says:

    “Only Canada, the United States and America had been resisting”

    • John Baez says:

      That should have been “Australia”, not “America”. Thanks, I’ll fix it.

      In short: the former British colonies with lots of land and lots of fossil fuels left to extract.

  5. domenico says:

    I don’t understand: if the technological fight against the climate change is economically advantageous (in the future perspective), then why it is necessary negotiations?

    I think that can be more useful (like diplomatic effort), to help countries in the developing world, or with high rate of development, to use clean energy plant, and open clean technologies: if there is a market, then there is business, and constraint to new plants (there is an acceleration of the change); if the cost of the clean technologies will be competitive, or the extraction cost increase the cost of the old industrial plants, then some countries will be forced to change idea.

    If some countries don’t want negotiations, then the business will make negotiation.

    • John Baez says:

      Developing the technology to fight climate change is economically advantageous if binding commitments eventually force everyone to reduce carbon emissions: then you can sell other countries the technology. Many countries assume this will eventually happen.

      But reducing carbon emissions before other countries do is economically disadvantageous. That’s why the diplomats want the binding commmitments. And that’s also why they’re endlessly arguing about who does how much.

      It’s a prisoner’s dilemma / tragedy of the commons, with some important extra complications. In this case, it pays to cooperate to some extent even before you’re forced to, in the hopes that eventually everyone will force everyone else to cooperate more.

      • Giampiero Campa says:

        It’s a prisoner’s dilemma / tragedy of the commons, with some important extra complications.

        To state the obvious, an additional extra complication is that rewards (which by the way are uncertain to some degree) are heavily shifted into the future.

        That is if we make sacrifices now, it will be mostly future generations (i want to say especially the ones living closer to the equator, but i know this is probably marginal) who will reap the rewards, not us.

        As this study points out, shifting the reward progressively into the future decreases the overall chances of agreeing to make sacrifices now.

        • domenico says:

          I am thinking that countries without infrastructures (like transmission lines, gas pipes, telephones lines) have an advantage: they can built, and use, new technologies.
          It is better to use wind turbine, or solar plants, with a local transmission line, or a cellular phone technologies (dispersed structure) rather than a big plant with an expensive distribution (old telephone lines).
          I have not made calculations, but I think that the cost of an old infrastructure must be included in the cost of the energy plants; the underdeveloped countries have no advantage to use old technologies, and many new plants are built in the underdeveloped countries, in absence of distribution (there is a market).
          There is flexibility in the green plant, can grow in the place where it is necessary energy.
          I think that in modern states with great extension, with new development area, wind and sun can be a competitive resource: in this moment there is a great research, and good results, on solar panels and wind turbines.

    • domenico says:

      I read today a summary of a Singh article on the local direct current grid for photovoltaic, that is more efficient of a power inverter (better of 30 percent).
      There are many electrical devices that use direct current (for ship or caravan that transform energy in a battery charge) like television, laptop, radio and each electrical device that use transistors: in each not-analog device, there is a transformation of alternate current in direct current in the power supply.
      So why don’t standardize the direct current devices with dedicated direct current plug-socket, so that can be possible to use these device with an automotive battery: there is no inverter cost, a good performance, and a possible world market for travel (a single tension and a single socket), and this can accelerate the use for isolated area, and underdeveloped countries.
      Each of this device don’t produce carbon dioxide, and permit to reduce a little the pollution.

      • So why don’t standardize the direct current devices with dedicated direct current plug-socket

        Oh yes, believe me, as an EE i would love to see that happening. And yes i’m sure there would be huge savings in using DC all the way for power transmission (not just for very high voltage as it is right now).

        Yes it also would be much better to plug in DC devices directly without needing an AC/DC converters (although for many devices you’d probably need DC/DC converters to supply the right voltage to the device downstream.

        So why not do it ? The main problem is backward compatibility, you can’t just jump from one system to the next overnight. This means you have to build a parallel system that gets slowly adopted. Much like IPV6.

        This imposes costs on the electronic manufacturers, (to provide the DC/DC converters or enhance the existing ones), but mainly i guess it would be governments which will have to pick up the huge bills of building this new system alongside the old one. Although this would generate many jobs, i don’t see it happening in this political climate. So … perhaps one day …

  6. Ian MacKenzie says:

    The role of Canada is playing in undermining progress in global climate negotiations needs much deeper consideration. Canada still gets the benefit of the doubt because of its traditional global “honest broker” role — but that faith is misplaced, given the behind the scenes activity of ministers Kent and Baird (environment and foreign affairs respectively) at both Copenhagen and Durban. The Conservative government of Steven Harper is oriented by an interest in maximizing oil sands production with minimal regulatory constraints, and by a willingness to muzzle its own Environment Canada scientists on impacts short and long term. I only wish they would consider the economic dimensions of action on environmental issues — they are still locked into a program of denial that environmental impacts even exist, and are even now engaged in new forms of legislation to roll back assessment requirements for major projects. As a sidenote, sadly Cameron and the Brits now seem to want to act ever more boldy in the same way, possibly taking cues from Harpers’ successes.

  7. According to this very interesting report carbon emissions have increased at a slower pace in 2012 with respect to previous years.

    This is important since it is happening while the global GDP is growing, (albeit mildly). So we are starting to see a decoupling of emissions from GDP, specifically (see second slide) the energy intensity of GDP has decreased by 5%, (and the carbon intensity has decreased by about 1.2%).

    This is a related article with additional links and perspective.

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