The Paris Agreement on climate change brought states from the North and South together under a common framework to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This was a remarkable institutional adjustment for a regime that had always maintained a strict distinction between developed and developing countries and imposed meaningful obligations only on the former. To better understand this change, I look at the negotiations surrounding the issue of ‘differentiation’. The rising emissions of the emerging economies created a demand for institutional change on the part of key industrialized countries; however, they faced resistance from the increasingly assertive BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). The challengers ultimately adopted strategic cooptation as their main negotiation strategy, offering compromises in the areas of climate finance and the legal form of new commitments. The climate case sheds light on the impact of power shifts in the domain of global environmental governance and illustrates that calls for change sometime comes from established rather than rising powers.
- The success of the global climate regime will depend on its ability to attract participation by a large number of heterogeneous states, from the developed and developing world alike. This implies that debates over ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ will remain a central part of the negotiations.
- States seeking to challenge existing global governance institutions should base their negotiation strategies on a realistic assessment of the power resources available to them and to the defenders of the status quo.
- The emerging economies, alone and working together as the BASIC group, will play a central and growing role in climate negotiations. Their bargaining power will increase along with their greenhouse gas emissions but so will the pressure on them to take action.
- The issue of ‘differentiation’ in climate negotiations has been contentious but also offers a source of institutional flexibility that can facilitate compromise, between North and South but also across other political divides.