The Glue that Binds or the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back? Exploring the Implications of U.S. Reengagement in Global Climate Change Negotiaitions

34 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2010 Last revised: 26 Oct 2010

See all articles by Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne

Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: 2010


For many years the roles of the main state players in climate politics were well defined, if not desirable. The United States was the rogue state; the European Union was the vocal champion; the rapidly developing economies were the understandably absent but essential missing links and the small island states and the least developed countries were the indignant victims. Recent global climate negotiations, however, reveal the extent to which political roles and relationships are in flux and a new, more complex political alignment is emerging.

Leading up to 2009, the global community had long pressed the United States to re-engage in international climate policy and to implement progressive domestic action on climate change. The United States had been viewed as “the indispensable nation” whose presence or absence from international climate negotiations controlled the ability of the international community to build a meaningful global climate regime. Heeding these calls, and led by President Barack Obama, the United States actively re-engaged in international climate negotiations leading up to, and during the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The rapid re-engagement of the United States in international climate politics in 2009, however, failed to offer the panacea needed to facilitate global consensus and action on climate change. Instead, U.S. efforts to renew global climate leadership revealed the extent to which global power is now shared among key nation-states. In this way, negotiations at the Copenhagen Climate Conference began to reveal the parameters of a new political order. The United States, China and India are at the center of that political order, with China increasingly revealing the extent to which it can control global negotiations.

Following this realignment, a central question confronting the global community is whether the re-ordering advances efforts to create a global framework for addressing climate change or, in fact, prompts devolution of power to a smaller group of political players. That is, has the United States unwittingly ceded its position as the “indispensable nation” to China and, if so, what are the consequences not only for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process but also for alternative or parallel efforts to structure an effective and equitable global climate change regime.

To begin to unpack these questions, Part II of this Article examines the evolution of climate politics from 1997–2010. Part II first considers the value of the popular narrative of global climate change politics, which focuses on singling out political leaders and laggards, before looking individually at the evolving roles of the United States and China in global climate politics. Part II continues by discussing how 2009 turned out to be an eventful year for global climate politics, beginning with great optimism but ultimately ending amongst dissolution and divergence Part III examines, in more detail, the events of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to reveal the extent to which global climate politics have undergone significant reordering since the 1997 negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol. Finally, Part IV explores the implications of the emergent political order for future climate change negotiations and argues for the importance of maintaining an emphasis on multilateralism moving forward into a post-Kyoto world.

Keywords: climate change

Suggested Citation

Carlarne, Cinnamon Piñon, The Glue that Binds or the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back? Exploring the Implications of U.S. Reengagement in Global Climate Change Negotiaitions (2010). Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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