New publication: UNFCCC before and after Paris – what’s necessary for an effective climate regime?

My colleagues Lukas Hermwille, Hermann Ott, Christiane Beuermann and I just published a new article in Climate Policy.

The article is available free of charge for a limited time here.

What can reasonably be expected from the UNFCCC process and the climate conference in Paris 2015? To achieve transformative change, prevailing unsustainable routines embedded in socio-economic systems have to be translated into new and sustainable ones. This article conceptualizes the UNFCCC and the associated policy processes as a catalyst for this translation by applying a structurational regime model. This model provides an analytical distinction of rules (norms and shared meaning) and resources (economic resources as well as authoritative and allocative power) and allows us to conceptualize agency on various levels, including beyond nation states. The analysis concludes that the UNFCCC’s narrow focus on emission targets, which essentially is a focus on resources, has proven ineffective. In addition, the static division of industrialized and developing countries in the Convention’s annexes and the consensus-based decision-making rules have impeded ambitious climate protection. The article concludes that the UNFCCC is much better equipped to provide rules for climate protection activities and should consciously expand this feature to improve its impact.

Policy relevance

The international community is negotiating a new global climate agreement, to be adopted at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in December 2015 in Paris and to be applicable from 2020. This article analyses the successes and limitations the UNFCCC has had so far in combating climate change and it develops recommendations on how to enhance efforts within and beyond the framework of the Convention. From our analysis we derive two main recommendations for an effective and structurationally balanced treaty: First, multidimensional mitigation contributions going beyond emission targets could strongly improve countries’ abilities to tailor their contributions around national political discourses. Second, the UNFCCC regime should be complemented with another treaty outside of the UNFCCC framework. This ‘Alliance of the Ambitious’ would allow the pioneers of climate protection to move ahead and enjoy the benefits of cooperation. The dynamics generated through such a club approach could be fed back into the UNFCCC, leading to increased ambition by others in future commitment cycles.


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