Kyoto and the COPs: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

Hague Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 23, pp. 17-90, 2010

74 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2012 Last revised: 2 Oct 2017

See all articles by Rafael Leal-Arcas

Rafael Leal-Arcas

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law

Date Written: November 3, 2011


This article argues that the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was doomed to fail ab initio because it systematically misunderstood the nature of climate change as a policy issue between 1985 and 2009. 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 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 2009 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. Part 2 is devoted to the main legal, structural, and policy responses to climate change by providing an analysis of most Conferences of the Parties. Part 3 provides then an analysis of the Kyoto Protocol. Part 4 then analyzes the position of the three main players in climate change: the U.S., China, and the European Union. The article concludes with some recommendations for the future.

Keywords: climate finance, Cancún Agreements, Copenhagen Accord, Kyoto Protocol, COPs, EU Emissions Trading Scheme

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Leal-Arcas, Rafael, Kyoto and the COPs: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead (November 3, 2011). Hague Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 23, pp. 17-90, 2010, 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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