Negotiating an Intractable Climate Deal: The Kyoto Process and Beyond

AuthorSatabdi Das
Publication Date01 December 2013
Date01 December 2013
Satabdi Das is Research Scholar, Department of International Relations,
Jadavpur University and Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science,
South Calcutta Girls’ College. E-Mail:
Negotiating an
Intractable Climate
Deal: The Kyoto
Process and Beyond
Satabdi Das
Climate change, commonly known as global warming, has threatened
the very survival of the planet earth. Being a global problem it requires
global actions but international actions to combat the climate cataclysm
have been largely unsuccessful due to countries’ self-interested behav-
ior. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol itself have tried to control emis-
sion of heat-trapping gases but failed due to incomplete participation.
Such grim situation is also evident in other landmark climate summits
where the rift between developed North and impoverished South and
their bargaining over burden-sharing responsibility for climate change
have contributed to the inefficacy of any effort to reduce emission.
However, now the clash of interest is not only limited to developed
and developing worlds, there are other shades of conflict and signs of
political regrouping. This article will briefly narrate the landmark climate
conferences, held under the aegis of United Nations, the positive out-
come of them as well as the lacunae in order to highlight the political
battle underlying global environmental parleys.
Climate change, Kyoto Protocol, UNFCCC, Post Kyoto process,
North–South divide, Global climate regime
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
17(2) 205–228
2013 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598414535061
206 Satabdi Das
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 17, 2 (2013): 205–228
In today’s world the most difficult and complex historic crisis which
looms large and poses an existential threat to humanity is ‘climate
change’, commonly known as ‘global warming’. Governments, policy
makers, scientists, as well as civil society groups of different countries
are now more concerned about this change in climate and its disastrous
effects. Numerous scientific studies have also stressed the urgency of
drastic reductions in Green House Gases (GHGs) emissions to stabilize
global warming at a manageable level. The UN sponsored
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was created
in 1988, to assess the process of climate change, options for its preven-
tion, and how to adapt to its consequences, has fundamentally changed
the views and dealings of global community towards the problem of
global warming. However, now the issue of climate change has moved
from being only a scientific matter to being the most contentious and
distinct issue in global environmental politics.
Such environmental consciousness of mankind in the twenty-first
century led the international community to seal a consensual deal on tak-
ing measures to confront climate change and wished that such measures
would bear fruit. The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) marked the first significant
as well as meaningful attempt by the community of nations to curb GHG
emissions. However, the greatest challenge in this effort is to bring all
parties together as although they agree to the urgency of curbing emis-
sions, they contested over the sharing of the global common property
resource, the atmosphere.
Against this background, the chief argument of the article is that in
various climate summits, negotiations mostly revolved around the ques-
tion of burden sharing rather than environmental protection and there-
fore countries’ action or inaction in these summits were directed largely
by their urge to secure respective national interests. Ultimately their self-
interested attitudes have minimized the scope of mobilizing the political
will and vision required to reach an agreed outcome. The history of
international climate negotiation is thus filled with tensions between dif-
ferent groups. So, the objectives here are to focus on how powerful
actors, norms, and procedures have profoundly shaped the process and
to seek to probe the shift in global climate regime that is divided along

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