During its twenty years in existence, the climate regime has created some innovative new mechanisms but with little practical significance in terms of emission reductions, for they continue to rise. Over time, efforts by the climate negotiators have increased significantly but the effectiveness of the regime has not increased. The Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period is weaker than its predecessor and there are presently no binding obligations for countries with 85 per cent of total emissions. The main reason for the slow progress is the extremely malign nature of the issue-area as it goes to the heart of virtually all global economic activity. All actors need to do more to increase the effectiveness of the regime, but this particularly applies to the increasingly strong emerging economies in the Group of 77. They cannot continue to ‘hide’ inside this group, if progress is to be made.
A Few Achievements, but Many Challenges
The aim of this article is to assess and explain the effectiveness of the international climate regime in a problem-solving perspective, with a focus on mitigation. As CO2 emissions have increased by more than 60 per cent since the start of the climate negotiations, effectiveness is exceedingly low. In explaining the performance of the regime, the main focus is on its problem-solving ability, defined as a function of power, leadership, and institutional design. ‘Negative’ power and a lack of leadership constitute important reasons for low effectiveness. In this broader perspective, the role of institutional design, exemplified by the Paris Agreement and its Rulebook, is fairly modest, and its significance should not be exaggerated. The Agreement and Rulebook score high in terms of ambition, but whether the rules will ever realize those ambitions remains to be seen. Domestic interests and priorities of the most important emitting countries will be decisive in this regard.