Reinforcement of multilevel governance dynamics: creating momentum for increasing ambitions in international climate negotiations

  • Katharina Rietig
Original Paper


Compared to the disappointment of the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, the results of the recent Conferences of the Parties can be regarded as positive progress. This was made possible due to lesson drawing and learning among states. Recent evidence from the UNFCCC negotiations suggests that countries began to reflect on the “Copenhagen experience.” They are setting up domestic climate legislation in the form of low carbon development plans and share their knowledge and experiences in the international climate change negotiations. Country representatives engage in workshops and roundtables to showcase their mitigation plans and low carbon development initiatives, thereby raising ambitions and creating group pressure on other countries. This article examines how the diffusion of policies across countries is motivated and facilitated by knowledge transfer and learning within multilevel-reinforcing governance dynamics between the domestic level and international negotiations. It analyzes how changes in the negotiation setting from confrontational formal negotiations to a more open forum and bottom-up pledge-and-review process, in combination with a positively framed win–win low carbon economic development narrative resulted in the diffusion of climate policies across developed and developing countries. Communicating these climate initiatives on the national level has shifted the debate. Countries emphasize less the win–lose perspective of economic costs and sacrifice. Thus, they focus less on the question of who should reduce emissions’, but identify co-benefits instead. The institutionalized knowledge sharing within the UNFCCC is also creating positive competitive dynamics among countries to increase their ambition and to take on a leadership role. This shift in the negotiations carries potential for a more ambitious aggregate negotiation outcome and opens up a window of opportunity.


International negotiations Climate change Policy diffusion Lesson drawing Low carbon economic development Multilevel governance UNFCCC 



Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action


Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol


Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention


Conference of Parties


European Union


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions


Nongovernmental Organization


United Nations


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change



I am grateful to Michael Mason, Richard Perkins, Michele Betsill, Joyeeta Gupta, the participants of the climate governance workshop at the International Studies Association conference in San Francisco 2013, the participants of the LSE Grantham Research Institute Seminar in June 2013 and especially the two anonymous referees at International Environmental Agreements for their helpful feedback and comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environment, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment & Centre for Climate Change Economics and PolicyLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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