Forks in the road - Alternative Routes for International Climate Policies and their Implications for the Netherlands

November 28, 2011 | 00:00

Forks in the road - Alternative Routes for International Climate Policies and their Implications for the Netherlands

In recent years many ‘alternative routes’ for international climate policies have emerged or have been suggested in response to a perceived too slow progress in the climate negotiations. In these proposals, three general pathways can be identified.

One of these pathways proposes institutional reforms within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The second pathway contains emission reduction initiatives proposed by institutions outside the UNFCCC, and the third are so-called ‘reframing routes’ that focus on a different main policy topic but have greenhouse gas emission reductions as a co-benefit. Each of these general pathways can be subdivided into various sub-routes.

It is concluded that each of these ‘alternative routes’ offers specific advantages in terms of increasing societal support for greenhouse gas emission reductions or in reducing the complexity of multilateral negotiations. However, none of these routes, if followed in isolation, seem to have the potential to become a substitute for the UNFCCC negotiations, at this point in time. They should, therefore, be regarded as useful complements to, rather than substitutes for the international climate negotiations under the UNFCCC, which can be supported on national levels to achieve further progress in greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The development of alternative routes could be a signal that future international climate policies are becoming part of a broader societal debate in which non-climate factors, such as biodiversity, air quality and economic development will play an important role. In addition, the linkages with a secure supply of resources, employment, innovation and business opportunities are likely to become increasingly important. This could also imply that climate as a policy topic will become institutionally more embedded in other policy domains beyond the environment, such as foreign policy and economic policy, and that other actors in future climate policies will become more important, including businesses, non-governmental organisations and civil society.

Progress on a long-term, legally binding agreement in within the UNFCCC seems complicated, at this stage, and the focus on this route has been replaced by an approach of ‘pledge and review’. What the exact future of the UNFCCC will be in this context remains to be seen. Taking into account the development of ‘alternative routes’ for international climate policies as discussed in this report, three scenarios for future institutional development of international climate policies and the role of the UNFCCC herein seem possible:

1. A ‘Diversity Rules’ scenario, in which the status quo of the climate negotiations is extrapolated into the foreseeable future as a continuous slow progress within the UNFCCC negotiations. Reforms within the UNFCCC in this scenario are incremental, other multilateral institutions, in particular those for which climate is a topic, serve as preparatory bodies for the UNFCCC, and links to other international environmental policy topics remain incidental;

2. A ‘De Facto Implosion’ scenario, in which the negotiations collapse; for example, following an important party’s pull out. In such a case, the importance of reframing routes and multilateral routes in which partial climate coalitions are discussed (‘coalitions of the willing’) would increase. International climate policies would become more fragmented and the relative importance of other international environmental themes other than climate would rise;

3. A ‘Climate Umbrella’ scenario, where various international environmental policy topics will become more closely connected under one institutional umbrella. Climate can become the central connecting theme in such a scenario, with the UNFCCC as a clearing house for various environmental policies related to climate change. This will entail major internal reforms at the UNFCCC. Alternatively, ‘reframing’ of climate policies could become dominant. As a result, a closer integration of international environmental policy topics could be realised under a reframing route, such as ‘green growth’. In that case, the role of the UNFCCC would be more limited and crucial international policy lines would be set out elsewhere.

Possible responses by the Netherlands to each of these scenarios would depend on the degree to which climate change as a policy topic is considered to be a priority area in the Netherlands. Awarding climate change a high priority as a policy topic could cause the Netherlands to take on an active role in climate coalitions of the willing (limited groups of ambitious countries; sectoral approach) and in creating a multilateral framework connecting various topics centred on climate. If other policy topics would be considered more important, national climate policies could still be pursued by increasing ambitions regarding alternative routes where climate change mitigation is a co-benefit. The alternative routes could combine several benefits for the Netherlands, particularly those related to air quality and ozone layer protection (health, traffic congestion, urban quality of life); security of supply (more efficient use of resources; innovation); green growth (innovation, opportunities for Dutch business) and non-state climate initiatives (activating support for climate policies within civil society).

To read the full report, click here.


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