How to solve the climate negotiation problem – it’s all relative


The next milestone in the long-running climate negotiations is scheduled for 29 April – 3 May 2013 in Bonn, where it is hoped progress will be made on the way to renegotiating the Kyoto treaty by 2015. History to date however favours the pessimist – unless something changes to overcome the disagreements between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries. In this paper we present what we believe is a workable alternative based on the concept of “emissions intensity” in which emission targets are related to economic activity, rather than the current paradigm of absolute emission reductions for developed countries and little obligation on developing countries. Expressed in this way, targets can be agreed for all countries, not just developed countries. They would also be more flexible and give governments more control over achieving the targets. As such they would be more palatable to governments and voters alike, and real progress could be made.


International climate negotiations are not known for their harmony and speed of decision-making, and the international climate talks in Doha in December last year were no exception. After the usual heated exchanges, the most that could be agreed was effectively to kick the can along the road to the next major meeting in 2015 when it is hoped a successor to the Kyoto Protocol can be thrashed out.

Although this delay is disappointing it does provide a valuable opportunity to take stock of the current negotiating process and consider more deeply how it can be improved. And improvement is sorely needed. After 18 rounds of international talks, the disagreements that undermined the Kyoto Protocol, and all talks that have taken place ever since, remain – thwarting any hopes of significant progress. Something needs to change.

The purpose of this paper is to support this process by providing an objective assessment of the difficulties encountered in the current negotiating process, and how an alternative approach could help break the deadlock.

The scope of this paper is focused on climate mitigation, ie actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, as these are the root cause of the problem. It does not deal with climate adaptation or compensation mechanisms, which could, and arguably should, accompany any future targets.

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