The Warsaw Climate Negotiations, and Reason for Cautious Optimism

The Nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-19) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came to a close in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, November 23rd, after what has become the norm – several all-night sessions culminating in last-minute negotiations that featured diplomatic haggling over subtle changes to the text on which countries were finally willing to agree.  The key task of this COP was essentially to pave the way for the negotiations next year at COP-20 in Lima, Peru, as a lead-up to the real target, reaching a new international climate agreement at the 2015 negotiations in Paris to be implemented in 2020, when the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end.  If that was the key objective, then the Warsaw meetings must be judged to be at least a modest success – the baton was not dropped, rather it was passed successfully in this long relay race of negotiations.

Before going further, I would like to acknowledge something else about COP-19 in Warsaw, namely the excellent logistics.  Anyone who suffered through the disastrous logistical arrangements for COP-15 in Copenhagen will not take this for granted.  Perhaps ironically, in the years I’ve been participating in these annual events, the two best organized conferences (in terms of logistical arrangements) were the two Polish COPs – COP-14 in Poznan in 2008 and COP-19 in Warsaw this year.

As I have written in many previous essays at this blog, the challenges standing in the way of an effective international climate change agreement are numerous and severe.  A brief historical account is necessary to explain the significance of what transpired in Warsaw.  However, if you’re familiar with international climate policy, particularly the history of these international negotiations, I suggest you skip the next section and move directly to “Issue #1:  Making Progress toward a Post-Kyoto Agreement.”

Some Historical Background to Place the Warsaw Talks in Context:  the UNFCCC, the Berlin Mandate, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Durban Platform

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (the first “Earth Summit”) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, contains what was to become a crucial passage:  “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.” [emphasis added]  The countries considered to be “developed country Parties” were listed in an appendix to the 1992 Convention ­– Annex I.

The phrase – common but differentiated responsibilities – was given a specific interpretation three years after the Earth Summit by the first decision adopted by the first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) of the U.N. Framework Convention, in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 1995 ­­– the all important Berlin Mandate, which interpreted the principle as:  (1) launching a process to commit (by 1997) the Annex I countries to quantified greenhouse gas emissions reductions within specified time periods (targets and timetables); and (2) stating unambiguously that the process should “not introduce any new commitments for Parties not included in Annex I.”

Thus, the Berlin Mandate established the dichotomous distinction whereby the Annex I countries were to take on emissions-reductions responsibilities, and the non-Annex I countries were to have no such responsibilities whatsoever.  This had wide-ranging and profound consequences, because it became the anchor that prevented real progress in international climate negotiations.  With 50 non-Annex I countries coming to have greater per capita income than the poorest of the Annex I countries, the distinction was out of whack within a few years.

But, more important than that, this dichotomous distinction meant that:  (a) half of global emissions would be from nations without constraints; (b) the world’s largest emitter – China – would be unconstrained; (c) aggregate compliance costs would be driven up to be four times their cost-effective level, because many opportunities for low-cost emissions abatement in emerging economies were taken off the table; and (d) an institutional structure was perpetuated that made change and progress virtually impossible.

The dichotomous Annex I/non-Annex I distinction remained a central – indeed, the central – feature of international climate negotiations from COP-1 in Berlin in 1995 continuously until COP-15 in 2009, when hints of possible change first appeared.  The Copenhagen Accord (2009) and the Cancun Agreements (2010) began a process of blurring the Annex I/non-Annex I distinction.  But this blurring was only in the context of the interim pledge-and-review system established at COP-15 in Copenhagen and certified at COP-16 in Cancun, not in the context of an eventual successor to the Kyoto Protocol.  Thus, the Berlin Mandate retained its centrality.

Then, in December, 2011, at COP-17 in Durban, South Africa, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was adopted.  Under some interpretations, it essentially eliminates the Annex I/non-Annex I (or industrialized/developing country) distinction.  In the Durban Platform, the delegates decided to reach an agreement by 2015 that will be applicable to all countries by 2020.

Rather than adopting the Annex I/non-Annex I (or industrialized/developing country) distinction, the Durban Platform focuses instead on the pledge to create a system of greenhouse gas reductions including all Parties (what matters, really, is all key countries) by 2015 that will come into force by 2020.  Nowhere in the text of the decision were phrases such as “Annex I,” “common but differentiated responsibilities,” “distributional equity,” “historical responsibility,” all of which had long since become code words for targets for the richest countries and blank checks for all others.

By replacing the Berlin Mandate, the Durban Platform opened an important window.  National delegations from around the world took on the challenging task to identify a new international climate policy architecture that is consistent with the process, pathway, and principles laid out in the Durban Platform, namely to find a way to include all (key) countries (such as the 20 largest national and regional economies that together account for upwards of 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions) in a structure that brings about meaningful emissions reductions within an appropriate timetable at acceptable cost, while remaining within the overall framework provided by the UNFCCC, including the celebrated principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Issue #1:  Making Progress toward a Post-Kyoto Agreement

In Warsaw, the negotiators were tasked under the Durban Platform track (the so-called “ADP” track) to develop a work plan of substantive topics and a related calendar that will lead to the development of the text of an agreement of a new comprehensive policy architecture that can be discussed at COP-20 in Lima one year from now and then subject to final consideration and adoption a year after that at COP-21 in Paris.  This they did, and in the process they identified six components for the new architecture:  mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building, and transparency of action and support.  Some of these are more necessary than others, but it was this package that generated agreement in Warsaw.

The actual agreement in Warsaw could only be achieved through carefully negotiated text.  The delegates’ obligation is to eventually adopt “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties…”  In truth, the phrase “under the Convention” is not necessary, because any decision by the UNFCCC is under the Convention, and therefore it is the case that any agreement produced under the Durban Platform is still subject to the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”  But the large emerging economies tend to view the phrase “under the Convention” as supporting the dichotomous distinction of, on the one hand, commitments for Annex I (industrialized) countries to reduce emissions, and, on the other hand, no obligations for non-Annex I (developing) countries, who would take actions only voluntarily and only with financial assistance from the Annex I countries.  The same set of large emerging economies insisted that if they were to be included in the agreement, then the word “commitments” must be replaced by “contributions.”

It is looking increasingly likely that the 2015 agreement will take the form of a hybrid architecture, combining:  (1) a bottom-up system of national commitments (sorry, national contributions) that arise from – or are at least consistent with – national policies and goals; plus (2) top-down, centralized management of oversight, guidance, and coordination, with an eye to increasing ambition over time.  At the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, we outlined such a hybrid international climate policy architecture four years ago (“A Portfolio of Domestic Commitments: Implementing Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”), and we explored it further just last month in a new report (“Identifying Options for a New International Climate Regime Arising from the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”).  In Warsaw, we co-hosted and participated in two sessions that explored these ideas in considerable detail (you can learn more about that here; we will soon place all of the slide decks from those sessions at the Harvard Project web site).

Issue #2:  Loss and Damage

As I predicted at the conclusion of last year’s climate negotiations (COP-18) in Doha, Qatar, the issue that held the greatest potential for blowing up this year’s talks in Warsaw was the topic of “loss and damage,” which the delegates agreed to put on the agenda for discussion this year at COP-19.  The phrase “loss and damage” is typically understood to refer to the range of damages and loss associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.  Discussions about potential international policy in this realm frequently bring up thoughts about who should pay for such loss and damages, presumably those most responsible for climate change.

Since climate change is a function not of current emissions, but of concentrations, responsibility for damages is presumably correlated with cumulative emissions.  Hence, the industrialized countries, in particular, the United States, worry that negotiations on “loss and damage” would soon raise the specter of unlimited legal liability.

The link is less direct than one might think, however.  First, there is the global commons nature of the problem, meaning that climate change cannot be linked to emissions from a specific country.  Second, there is the highly stochastic link from climate change to changes in weather patterns, so that no specific weather incident – whether Superstorm Sandy in New York, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – can be deterministically linked with global climate change.  These two scientific realities mean that moving from “loss and damage” to legal liability would be a long and perilous road.

But this is a very important issue in the climate negotiations for many developing countries, in particular, for the small island states that are most at risk.  Hence, it should not be surprising that this area of discussion – in some ways only a sideshow of the primary talks on reducing emissions and the risk of climate change – almost caused the talks to collapse.

In the end, the delegates agreed to finesse the topic by creating the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which does not mention liability or promise compensation, but rather states that this is a topic to be discussed further at future meetings, and under the general topic of adaptation to climate change.

Issue #3:  Finance

Those are two – the Durban Platform, and Loss and Damage – of three major issues that were considered in Warsaw.  The third was “finance,” that is, the question of when and how the industrialized countries will meet the commitment they made at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to begin delivering $100 billion per year of financial assistance to developing countries in 2020 to help with mitigation and adaptation.  Not surprisingly, there was little or no progress on that front.  More about this in a future essay.  For now ….

The Path Ahead – Any Reason for Optimism?

Given my description above of the debates and “resolution” regarding the major issues, is there any cause for optimism regarding the path ahead.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to see the half-full glass (or one-tenth full glass) of water, and in this case I think there really is cause for cautious optimism regarding the path ahead.

This is based upon a singular reality – the growing convergence of interests between the two most important countries in the world when it comes to climate change and international policy to address it, namely, China and the United States.

First of all, the annual carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of these two countries have already converged. Whereas U.S. CO2 emissions in 1990 were almost twice the level of Chinese emissions, by 2006 China had overtaken the United States.  We are the world’s two largest emitters.

Second, as I explained above, cumulative emissions are particularly important, because they are what cause climate change.  Any discussion of distributional equity in the climate realm inevitably turns to considerations of historic responsibility.  Looking at the period 1850-2010, the United States led the pack, accounting for nearly 19% of cumulative global emissions of GHGs, with the European Union in second place with 17%, and China third, accounting for about 12% of global cumulative emissions.  But that is changing rapidly, because of the fact that emissions are flat to declining throughout the industrialized world, but increasingly rapidly in the large emerging economies, in particular, China.  Depending upon the relative rates of economic growth of China and the United States, as well as many other factors, China may top all countries in cumulative emissions within 10 to 20 years from now.

Third, China and the United States both have historically high reliance on coal for generating electricity.  At a time at which U.S. dependence on coal is decreasing (due to increased supplies of unconventional natural gas and hence lower gas prices ), China continues to rely on coal, but is very concerned about this, partly because of localized health impacts of particulates and other pollutants.  Importantly, both countries have very large shale gas reserves.  U.S. output (and use for electricity generation) has been increasing rapidly, bringing down CO2 emissions, whereas Chinese exploitation and output has been constrained by available infrastructure (i.e., lack of pipelines, but that will change).

Fourth, in both countries, sub-national climate policies – cap-and-trade systems – are moving forward.  In the case of the China, seven pilot CO2 cap-and-trade regimes at the local level are under development, while in the United States, California’s ambitious AB-32 cap-and-trade system continues to make progress.

Fifth and finally, there is the reality of global geopolitics.  If the twentieth century was the American Century, then many observers, including leaders in China, anticipate (or hope) that the twenty-first century will be the Chinese Century.  And, as I was quoted by David Jolly in the New York Times as saying, “If it’s your century, you don’t obstruct, you lead.”


There was no fundamental setback in Warsaw to the stream of work that needs to be accomplished in Lima in 2014 in preparation for an agreement to be reached in Paris in 2015 under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.  This, combined with the reality of increasing convergence of Chinese and U.S. perspectives and interests, leaves me cautiously optimistic (or perhaps, just hopeful) about the path ahead.


You can view and listen to an assessment of the Warsaw negotiations in a discussion in which I participated on the PBS NewsHour on November 27th, moderated by Judy Woodruff.

For other summaries and analyses of Warsaw’s COP-19 climate conference, I recommend:

Carraro, Carlo.  “COP19:  Between Weak Commitments and Tiny Successes.”  International Center for Climate Governance.  November 27, 2013.

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.  “Outcomes of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Warsaw.”  November, 2013.

Stowe, Robert.  “COP-19:  Different Strokes?”The Energy Collective, November 27, 2013.

Reflections from Cambridge on the Climate Talks in Doha

Ever since I returned – some two weeks ago – from Doha, Qatar, the site of the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), I have planned to offer some commentary on this year’s annual climate negotiations, including the principal outcome, namely, the “Doha Gateway.” I decided to wait, mainly in order to put some geographic and temporal distance between the conference and my thoughts, so that I could reflect on “the forest,” rather than enumerating “the trees.”

Then, a few days ago, a reporter from the Harvard Gazette, Alvin Powell, came to my office to discuss this very subject. Having covered this and related topics for a number of years, he has considerable background on both the science and the policy. And he had done his homework to prepare for the interview. When I read the published result just now in the Harvard Gazette, I realized that this is – in fact – the reflection I had wanted to write for readers of this blog. So I’m offering it here.

The interview started with a quick history of climate negotiations, a brief description of my own role at COP-18 in Doha, and then an assessment of the conference’s outcome. From there, the conversation became more freewheeling, with Mr. Powell asking me about the status of U.S. climate policy, as well as the potential role and responsibility of a major research university such as ours. At the end of the interview, we returned to reflections on the slow pace of international climate negotiations.

You can read the original version in the Harvard Gazette here, but I also offer the published version below without any editing (but with the addition of some hyperlinks for interested readers).

Harvard Gazette

Climate change on world stage

Q&A with Robert Stavins on prospects for adopting a plan to confront it

By Alvin Powell

Harvard Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

International climate talks wrapped up last week in Qatar. Harvard Professor Robert Stavins attended and characterized the gathering as a qualified success, representing another step in a long process of reaching a workable international agreement.

Gazette staff writer Al Powell talked with Stavins about the work of international delegates and the prospects for a meaningful agreement going forward.

GAZETTE: Can you explain the purpose of these talks?

STAVINS: In 1992, at a United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro, a major outcome was the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Among other things, that convention provided for annual conferences at which representatives of countries would get together to discuss and negotiate how to address the threat of climate change. These annual negotiations go by the name of a “Conference of the Parties,” commonly abbreviated as a “COP.” COP-1 took place in Berlin in 1995, and COP-18 just took place in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012.

GAZETTE: What is your role at these conferences?

STAVINS: My role is typically on behalf of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. Our purpose is to help the various national negotiating teams identify modes of international cooperation that will address climate change in ways that are scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic.

We hold events to which everyone is invited, two events this time. One of the mandates that came out of the Durban conference in December 2012 was for the delegates to think about new ways they can make use of the market to address the threat of climate change. We put together a panel of people to talk about potential “new market mechanisms.” We had a room with a capacity of several hundred, and every seat was taken. People were standing in the aisles, sitting on the floors, and spilling out into the hallway waiting to get in. In other words, interest in our intellectual contributions was at a high level. Importantly, the session was jointly sponsored with the Enel Foundation and the International Emissions Trading Association, which is a trade association of companies interested in emissions trading and related mechanisms.

The second event was co-sponsored with the government of the State of Qatar, and looked forward, post-Doha, to the potential paths ahead, with particular focus on the problems of arid countries, a chronic issue for the Middle East. The panel included Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme, who is one of the key thinkers and leaders on these issues.

In addition, we carry out bilateral meetings with negotiating teams and also do press meetings. Typically, we hold a couple dozen such meetings.

GAZETTE: How do you feel the conference went?

STAVINS: My view is that these international negotiations need to be viewed not as a sprint, in which you win or lose, but as a very long distance relay race, and the Qataris succeeded in handing off the baton.

The Qataris invited us to Doha last summer to help them begin to think about what success at the December conference would look like and how they could achieve it. There were three aspects to what we identified in advance as success, and they achieved all three, though maybe not to the degree or in the way that every country in the world would have preferred.

GAZETTE: What were those three?

STAVINS: First, they successfully brought to a close negotiations on a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, that is, extending the protocol beyond its first commitment period, which expires at the end of 2012. The second commitment period is now set. It will run to 2020. Second, they also brought to a successful close negotiations in what was called the Long Term Cooperative Action track, which included a set of issues that were put on the table at COP-13 in Bali in December 2007. Third, they began to make some progress on the one remaining negotiating track, which is the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. They initiated discussions about establishing, by 2015, a comprehensive new international agreement, for implementation by 2020, that will include all key countries in the world, including the major emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, and Mexico. That itself is a departure from the Kyoto Protocol, which is focused exclusively on a subset of countries of what used to be characterized as the industrialized world.

The negotiators from around the world did not make as much progress on the Durban platform as I would have hoped. But at a very minimum they did no harm, and that’s very important. That is, they did not introduce any problematic text into the negotiations that will later cause problems. In general, my view of these annual Conferences of the Parties is similar to the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm, and keep things moving ahead.

GAZETTE: In looking at news coverage, I read about two emotions, anger and despair, felt by some after the conference. Are those warranted?

STAVINS: AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States] nations are the most extreme in their point of view, for very good reasons, and they were surely disappointed by the outcomes. They’ve been very vocal, again for good reason. But the major emitters, the only ones that can do anything about the problem — the United States, China, the other large economies of the world, among them — there was recognition that in the real world, this is what success looks like.

I think of this as if we’re back at Bretton Woods in 1944, when Europe was in shambles. An agreement was reached at Bretton Woods, but it took 50 years to establish the World Trade Organization, and to continue the process of putting the global financial house in order. The problem of global climate change is actually more difficult politically than the economic problems that the world faced after World War II. We have this terrible situation where those who can reduce their emissions now are not the ones who will be damaged by climate change. You’re asking current voters to foot the bill, while it’s the future generation that will benefit from reduced damage. Furthermore, any country taking action will foot the bill for its costs, but the benefits of those actions — reduced climate change — will be spread globally. Hence, for any individual country the direct benefits of action will inevitably be less than the direct costs of action, despite the fact that global benefits may be considerably greater than global costs. That’s the global commons problem, and it creates an incentive for each country to free ride on the actions of others. So politically, it’s an exceptionally challenging problem.

GAZETTE: What about the gap between the emissions cuts that were promised and that have been achieved?

STAVINS: What became clear to me at the conference is that there is increasing acceptance of three facts from a broad set of delegations. One was that the frequently discussed target of limiting concentrations to 450 parts per million [of CO2 in the atmosphere], which is equated to approximately 2 degrees centigrade maximum warming, is simply not achievable.

Number two, there’s increasing recognition that a bottom-up international policy architecture is probably the future path forward, not a top-down approach. By top down, I mean a highly centralized approach like the Kyoto Protocol, with targets and timetables, as opposed to a bottom-up, pledge-and-review approach in which each country essentially says, “Look, this is what I can do,” and they put all of those into the hopper.

The third thing I observed was that there was greatly increased acceptance of the reality that market–based approaches to emissions reduction are absolutely essential. One heard this in the past from economists and from certain countries, but now it is unanimous, except for the small set of Marxist economies that essentially object to the world economic order.

GAZETTE: Where does the U.S. stand on that issue?

STAVINS: The U.S. has been at the forefront of that approach back to the Clinton administration. What’s interesting is that the official U.S. commitment under this pledge-and-review approach, a 17 percent reduction below 2005 emissions by the year 2020, is very likely to be achieved.

The reason is the combination of CO2 regulations which are now in place because of the Supreme Court decision [freeing the EPA to treat CO2 like other pollutants under the Clean Air Act], together with five other regulations or rules on SOX [sulfur compounds], NOX [nitrogen compounds], coal fly ash, particulates, and cooling water withdrawals. All of those will have profound effects on retirement of existing coal-fired electrical generation capacity, investment in new coal, and dispatch of such electricity. Combined with that is California, which Jan. 1, 2013, is putting in place a CO2 cap-and-trade system that is more ambitious in percentage terms than Waxman-Markey was in the U.S. Congress. Add to that the recent economic recession, which reduced emissions. And more important than any of those is what new, unconventional sources of natural gas in the United States have done to the price and price trajectory of natural gas, and the dramatic movement from coal to natural gas for generating electricity.

GAZETTE: Are there things that places like Harvard can do?

STAVINS: My view is that the best thing that Harvard can do is to carry out first-rate research, combined with the best possible teaching, and effective outreach to the public sector and the private sector. That’s our comparative advantage. In other words, our greatest impacts on the environment, including with regard to global climate change, will be through our products (research findings, smart and capable alumni, and direct impact on the policy world and private industry), not our processes. The emissions reductions that Harvard will achieve as a result of changing our carbon footprint, for example, whether it’s through increased energy efficiency of some buildings or some other means, are absolutely trivial compared with our impacts on the world [through teaching, research, and outreach]. And all of us — students, faculty, and administrators — have only so much time available. A very important concept in economics is “opportunity cost,” and there’s an important opportunity cost of a faculty member’s time, for example. If they’re working on one thing, they can’t be working on something else.

GAZETTE: Isn’t there kind of a living-laboratory aspect to what we’re doing?

STAVINS: I agree with that. So the one caveat — which I always mention — to what I said would be if direct actions by the University to limit emissions or energy demand were part and parcel of a research initiative or part and parcel of teaching, then those would be part of our core functions.

GAZETTE: Does that extend to the conversation on divestment?

STAVINS: I guess the way in which it links to that issue is whether or not symbolic actions are of value, but again you have to weigh symbolic actions against truly meaningful actions.

GAZETTE: What’s the most important thing for a member of the public to know about the climate talks and about climate change generally?

STAVINS: I think the most important thing to understand is that this is a long-term problem. Economically, a cost-effective approach is going to be very gradual reductions in emissions, not sudden changes. We’re not confiscating everyone’s automobiles tomorrow, but putting in place incentives or regulations so that next time they buy an automobile they move in the right direction, one that is less carbon intensive.

A massive amount of technology change is going to be required. That’s long term, and the creation of durable international institutions is going to be necessary, and that’s long term. That’s why that cliché we always hear from ballplayers each spring when they’ve lost their first 10 games — that it’s a marathon, not a sprint — applies even more to global climate change policy.

People should get neither excited nor depressed, in my view, over one single negotiation. It’s an ongoing process that’s going to be with us for a long time.

GAZETTE: Are you confident that ultimately what needs to happen will happen?

STAVINS: I’m not sure that it will happen through a centralized, top-down, international agreement. Nor am I even certain that the core of the action will be through international negotiations. Remember, 20 countries and regions account for about 90 percent of emissions. So there are alternative venues where meaningful action can happen without requiring agreement from 195 countries! One way or another, — through national action, bilateral action, multilateral action — things will be addressed. That doesn’t mean they will be addressed without the world first experiencing significant climate change damages.

A Challenge for Climate Negotiators, and an Opportunity for Scholars

As I have written in many previous essays at this blog, the challenges standing in the way of an effective international climate change agreement are numerous and severe.  It is also true that the prospects for a truly meaningful deal may be better now than at any time in the past decade or more.  That is the theme of a new article I’ve co-authored with my Harvard Kennedy School colleague, Joseph Aldy.  The article, “Climate Negotiators Create an Opportunity for Scholars,” was published in the August 31st edition of Science.

Changes emerged gradually from the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in 2009, the Copenhagen Accord (2009), the Cancun Agreements (2010), and – most important – the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011).  Together these have now increased the likelihood that the ongoing negotiations can move beyond the debilitating Annex I/non-Annex I dichotomy of the Berlin Mandate (1995), as codified in the Kyoto Protocol (1997); and instead develop a comprehensive legal regime for implementation in 2020 that includes all key countries, based upon a more nuanced and effective interpretation of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” from the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 1992).

In our Science article, Joe Aldy and I trace this history and describe several potential international climate policy architectures that could be consistent with the process and principles laid out in both the Durban Platform and the UNFCCC.  Our article is very brief, and so rather than trying to summarize it here, I encourage you to follow this link to read the essay in its entirety.

The negotiating teams are now tasked under the Durban Platform with identifying a new comprehensive policy architecture by 2015 (for 2020 implementation).  The negotiators are therefore hungry for new ideas, in particular for outside-the-box thinking.  This presents an important opportunity for researchers in universities, think tanks, and advocacy groups around the world.