A bottom up approach with comprehensive stringency policies

The year 2015 marks when people are hoping to have a new grand proposal on emissions reductions and climate change mitigation processes.  When looking at the various designs in which this proposal can take, a bottom-up approach, with emphasis on comprehensive evolutionary stringency policies would allow for strong participation at the onset, flexible requirements early on and a longevity of commitment.

The first key to any policy is to get a lot of participants.  Historically a bottom-up approach achieves this.  Bodansky uses the UNFCCC as an example of a bottom up approach.  The UNFCCC is one of the largest international regimes ever and they accomplished this by having very minimal stringency policies to be more appealing to Nation-states (Bodansky 2).  Climate change is a global issue, and although Nation states come to the negotiation table already knowing what their individual positions are, they are never the less engaged in negotiations and talking to each other.  This in turn helps to create more cooperation and interdependency. If a country reduces emissions in league with other countries, that country will theoretically also receive the benefits of other nations reducing emissions (Bodansky 2).   This can be supported by Peter Wilson’s definition of idealism international relation theory stating it “will empower world public opinion, and make it a powerful force that no government can resist…(Wilson 1).  Oppositely a top-down approach will not do this, because of the low participation aspect of countries.  However, even though a select few could successfully draft a proposal and use their sway to get in accepted a top-down approach does not include the vast majority of the nations.  In order for Climate change to be successfully combated, especially in the long term, all nations need to be a part of the negotiations and have equal stake.

A traditional bottom-up approach would not be feasible in this situation, because of its lack in stringency.  Bodansky explains that for a bottom-up approach to work stringency has to be: “part of an evolutionary framework that leads to greater action later (Bodansky 2).”  The first step is to have low commitments with high participation.  Next there must be a comprehensive timeline of commitment increases up-front.  One of the drawbacks of the Kyoto protocol is possibly that the second commitment period was to steep. Countries, like Canada ratified the protocol and participated but then dropped out as they realized that the emission reductions were to steep.  Similarly Japan and Russia are thinking of doing something very similar.  The stringency policies should be smaller incremental increases, over a longer period of time.  This way, more countries are engaged over longer periods of time, which would lead to lower emissions in the long-term.  Bodansky talks about a variable geometry structure in which countries can pick and choose which instruments to be a part of.  This would work well in conjunction with optional protocols (Bodansky 3).  For example, the MARPOL (International Convention on the Prevention of Pollutants from Ships) has mandatory protocols that deal with higher risk aspects like oil and noxious liquid, while less risk aspects are deemed as optional protocols (Bodansky 4).  If a bottom up approach were created in which, certain emission reductions were considered mandatory, while others were optional, more countries would participate and hopefully stay involved because of the flexibility aspect.


Wilson, Peter  Idealism in international relations: Originally published in Dowding, K., Encyclopedia of power. Thousand Oaks, USA: SAGE Publications, 2011, pp. 332-333.

Bodansky, Daniel and O’Connor, Sandra Day. “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement.” December 2012. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Web.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *