Good COP, Bad COP

Developing Regulation
by -- December 11th, 2009

What role should developing nations play in forming climate regulation?

On Tuesday (December 8 ) the Guardian published an article stating that a “Danish text” detailing a second-draft GHG agreement negotiated among rich nations had leaked.

While some questioned Denmark’s role as a neutral actor in the COP15 proceedings, the main outrage was due to the implications of the leaked document itself. And most of that outrage was voiced by those left out of these informal talks — the developing nations.

Broadly, the discontent can be grouped into two main issues: 1) the content, and 2) the process through which it was conceived.

Content: The agreement, on the whole, puts greater expectations for action on developing nations and gives developed countries the power to oversee this action. Specifically, climate control financing would be relegated to the World Bank, and World Bank loans would be contingent upon the implementation of certain GHG reduction levels and reduction mechanisms in recipient countries. Also, the agreement allows nearly double the per capita emissions for developed nations as it does for developing ones, and proposes nullifying the Kyoto Protocol (the only binding legal agreement on climate regulation, which was geared toward developed-country changes). In sum, the restrictions placed on developing countries would be great and perhaps uneven, despite the fact that these countries have contributed the least to the problem. Issues of international inequity abound.

Process: Fear and anger have also erupted because of the manner in which these talks were undertaken. They were secret and non-inclusive of most nations. Developing nations argue that these select nations were going to try to push this agreement through without allowing the discourse of opposing parties in the developing world. This would weaken the role of the UN (an inclusive body) in regulating GHG emissions and circumvent the entire UN and COP process.


Upon leakage, Denmark and the other nations involved have repeatedly noted that these agreements were merely precursors to larger UN debate and that they were not at all formal.


The anger of developing nations is understandable and founded. However, there is a logic to explore with what was done. Together, the top dozen or so emitters account for around 75% of world GHG emissions. To reach another 10% of world emissions, one must add another ten countries to that list (Victor, 2006*). While trying to bargain with a dozen countries may sound difficult (especially when they vary in natural resources, infrastructure, and stage of development — like the US and China), imagine adding another 10 nations to the table. Each additional nation would have a much smaller marginal benefit to the group’s reduction potential and would introduce more divergent interests to the group, jeopardizing group success. Strictly with regard to overall emissions, it is necessary for all the main emitters to be on board, but not all (though most) other nations.


There is obviously a balance to be struck, and it must be remembered that global collaboration will be required to resolve GHG emissions problems. As it likely does help to start such talks on a smaller platform, perhaps it would be wise to not only include those countries with the greatest emissions and deepest pockets, but to redefine the group as those that do or will soon have the greatest control over global atmospheric GHG levels. Such a definition would still include the rich countries, but some developing ones as well (such as Brazil, which has great carbon reduction potential in the Amazon). Regardless, limited negotiation groups should be aimed at attaining eventual full ratification, and, as such, should ensure that an adequately diverse range of interests are initially involved. If this is not done, climate regulation inequity will inhibit action.


*Victor, David G.
Toward Effective International Cooperation on Climate Change: Numbers, Interests and Institutions
Global Environmental Politics – Volume 6, Number 3, August 2006, pp. 90-103

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