Frustration and anger are growing at the lack of progress and consensus in climate negotiations at the UNFCCC. If governments are going to take on meaningful commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions within the context of a new, legally binding climate agreement, it may be necessary to change the working methodology of the UNFCCC negotiations themselves.

This policy brief proposes six changes that could improve the negotiating process and facilitate consensual outcomes. These include using a single negotiating text; discontinuing “on-screen” negotiations; eliminating the norm that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and dividing the climate change problem into pieces that may be more readily acceptable; giving negotiating roles to ministries besides foreign affairs; establishing a group of states to play the “regime-builder" role; and employing the leadership skills necessary to make this all happen.

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Climate scientists agree that human activity has been changing our planet’s climate over the long term. Without serious policy changes, scientists expect devastating consequences in many regions: inundation of coastal cities; greater risks to food production and, hence, malnutrition; unprecedented heat waves; greater risk of high-intensity cyclones; many climate refugees; and irreversible loss of biodiversity. Some international relations scholars expect increased risk of violent conflicts over scarce resources and due to state breakdown.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for effective policy changes for more than two decades. The world’s governments have been negotiating since 1995 as parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) . Their 2015 Paris Agreement created a new regime for joint action; among other things, it is the first UN climate agreement to oblige all parties to make some contribution. Each party made a pledge pertaining to the period 2020 to 2025 or 2030. But it is widely agreed that if they are all implemented, together these 2015 pledges will still fall far short of what is needed to meet the collective goals and avoid widespread catastrophes. Important details of the Paris Agreement itself also remain to be negotiated. Nor is the UNFCCC the whole of international climate governance. Many initiatives have also been launched by smaller sets of countries, national governments, provinces, cities, civil society, and private investors and companies.  

This project was designed to generate improved ideas for both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process and other possible sites of climate governance. In 2015, we published nine policy briefs and papers, which can be found below. The ideas in two of them appeared in Paris during COP21. Several offered original recommendations for more effective action outside the UNFCCC. A new series of publications appeared in 2016-2017.  
  • Pamela Chasek is professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program at Manhattan College in the Bronx, New York. She is also the executive editor of the IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a reporting service on UN environment and development negotiations.

  • Lynn Wagner regularly observes and analyzes multilateral environmental negotiations through her work with IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin. She is currently the senior manager of IISD Reporting Services’ Knowledge Management Projects. 

  • I. William Zartman was granted a distinguished honouree award from CIGI in February 2015 for his extraordinary contributions to the advancement of innovative global governance thinking and praxis.