Alternative Architecture for Climate Change - Major Economies

European Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 25-56, 2011

32 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2011

See all articles by Rafael Leal-Arcas

Rafael Leal-Arcas

Queen Mary University of London - School of Law

Date Written: July 12, 2011


This article argues that the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change was doomed to face difficulties ab initio. It explains why this is the case by analyzing the Kyoto Protocol’s shortcomings and deficiencies. Moving the climate change agenda forward multilaterally among the 195 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is proving to be a serious challenge. The lack of progress in UNFCCC negotiations in recent years, especially the failure to obtain an international agreement on emissions limitations targets and timetables by all major developed and developing country emitters, has led many to question whether the UNFCCC is, in fact, the best and most effective forum for mobilizing a global response to climate change. The current approach to negotiating a comprehensive, universal, and legally binding global agreement on climate change is unlikely to succeed.

The near-disaster Conference of the Parties-15 in Copenhagen empirically demonstrated that the UN machinery is incapable of moving forward fast enough to produce a global climate deal. Moreover, international climate policy, as it has been understood and practiced by many governments of the world under the Kyoto Protocol approach, has failed to produce any discernable real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases since the mid 1990s. The UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol model was structurally flawed and doomed to face serious difficulties because it systematically misunderstood the nature of climate change as a policy issue between 1985 and 2009.

For the purposes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, the UNFCCC divides the world into developed countries (including countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy) and developing countries. It places the responsibility of reducing emissions with developed countries as if they were the only sinners of climate change. A better (and arguably fairer) way to tackle the climate change issue today is by bringing together the major GHG emitters, irrespective of their GDP. Why so? Because seen retrospectively, rich-countries have been (and continue to be) the major polluters; they are responsible for most of the GHG emissions, and have the financial and technological means to tackle climate change. However, seen prospectively, it is a developing-countries problem, as predictions indicate that, in the near future, developing countries will be the major polluters as well as the major victims of the consequences of climate change, especially countries near the equator. The longer we wait, the harder and more expensive it will become to deal with climate change. So the major GHG emitters (whether developed or developing countries), which are responsible for historic, current, and future emissions, should therefore be the ones to take action.

For the creation of a future global climate change agreement, the following fundamental points need to be kept in mind. First, assessing the emission reduction pledges: are they enough?; second, fast-track finance: what are the sources of finance and what are the targets; third, technology diffusion; fourth, the impact of investments in the energy sector; fifth, what will the political groupings be in the multilateral agreement on climate action and what will parties ask for?; sixth, what can be done to facilitate the UN process in the climate change context? Should the climate talks be ‘multi-track’?; seventh, what are the complementary and supporting routes to an agreement on climate action?: The EU presidency? The G-20? Bilateral agreements between major players?; eighth, can and will sub-national, national, and regional agreements reduce greenhouse gas emissions?; ninth, are there any ‘quick-win’ multipliers for climate action?

The article concludes that no breakthroughs will take place regarding a global climate change agreement until there is more political maturity on the side of the U.S., and until rapidly emerging economies such as China and India indicate that they are ready to play their part in tackling the climate change challenge, since they are part of the solution. Large emitters of GHG need to be involved for negotiations to come to a conclusion. Much progress is still needed until we reach an international agreement that covers all the world’s countries and that is strong enough to tackle climate change effectively and is equitable enough to gain the sympathy of all countries.

Keywords: climate change, flexible approach, incrementalism, climate-based RTAs, bottom-up approach, variable geometry, Major Economies Forum

JEL Classification: F00, F02, K33, K32, O10

Suggested Citation

Leal-Arcas, Rafael, Alternative Architecture for Climate Change - Major Economies (July 12, 2011). European Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 25-56, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Rafael Leal-Arcas (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London - School of Law ( email )

Lincoln's Inn Fields
Holborn, London WC2A 3JB
United Kingdom


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