Mixed Track: Not Letting the Negotiations Fall Through the Cracks

Infographic Path to Paris COP IISD Final

A comprehensive international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is derived from the need to halt human-induced shifts in the climate system as soon as possible. These shifts are dependent “on cumulative emissions rather than on emissions at any particular point in time” or place for that matter.[1] There may be some nations, such as China or the United States, that need to reduce their emissions significantly more than others, but they cannot be the only reductions. Every other nation that is party to the UNFCCC must make reduction efforts if there is to be a holistic commitment by the entire international community. This means that nothing can fall through the cracks, which has been seen in past “top down” and “bottom up” approaches. A less rigid and more all-inclusive agreement needs to be reached. This agreement will have to come in the form of a “mixed track” initiative in order to allow for the flexibility needed by the broad range of interests displayed in the Parties.

This new agreement will come out of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), whose directive is to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.”[2] The ADP is also charged with having this agreement ready for the 2015 negotiations. This would allow for it to be adopted and for implementation to begin in 2020, at the end of the extended Kyoto Protocol.

This new instrument will need to address the issue from a new perspective, as old agreements have not been comprehensive enough. A “mixed track” initiative would allow for flexibility and what is termed as “variable geometry” within the negotiations.[3] What this means is that certain parties would be able to take up different pledges in order to meet requirements set out for their particular region. This approach is not the one-size fit all that has been seen in the past. It avoids some of the pitfalls experienced by the stricter “bottom up” and “top down” approaches. An example of improvements to be made on the “top down” approach can be seen in the Kyoto Protocol’s lack of flexibility in developing emissions reductions targets. A more flexible approach would allow for non-absolute targets and allow for more participants, while promoting equity through nationally appropriate targets. This level of flexibility can be seen in the “bottom up” approach style, however the dependence on domestic governments in the development of national protocols has held some nations back from developing plans.

The “mixed track” approach would offer the “variable geometry” that Bodansky mentioned. Nations would be able to develop a plan for emissions reductions, while still acting under the international regime target of emissions reductions, and have a higher likelihood of meeting that plan- seeing it was developed with domestic interests in mind. An issue of complexity does come to my mind when I think about this approach. Developing a system that could capture the many interests and needs of the international community without duplicating processes could prove to be difficult. But, no system is going to be a simple design. If this “mixed approach” could be agreed upon and developed it could get the job done.

Works Cited

Bodansky, Daniel & Elliot Diringer. 2010. The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for

Climate Change.

Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington, VA. Bodansky, Daniel. 2012. THE DURBAN

PLATFORM: ISSUES AND OPTIONS FOR A 2015 AGREEMENT. Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.



[1] Bodansky and Diringer, 2010

[2] UNFCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1

[3] Bodansky, 2012

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.


Have your cake and eat it too with the “Mixed-track” Approach


The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) has two objectives taken on by two different workstreams. The goals of the ADP are to develop a new framework that will govern all parties under the UNFCCC by the COP 21 in 2015 and to close the ambition gap by ensuring the highest mitigation efforts by all parties. Keeping in mind the golden number, 2 degrees Celsius, is the limited amount of global temperature rise. The complexities of climate change involve multilevel governance. Finding the best approach towards climate governance is a heavily debated topic, given the difficulty of reaching a global agreement. Two opposing approaches are a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. These approaches are used to link the economy and greenhouse gas emissions.  Top-down involves a, “contractual approach favoring binding targets and timetables” (Bodansky, 1). While bottom-up involves, “facilitative approach favoring voluntary actions defined unilaterally”(Bodansky, 1). David Bodansky argues that an effective international agreement relies on multiple variables: stringency, participation, and compliance. However, “weakness along any of these three dimensions will undermine an agreement’s effectiveness” (Bodansky, 2). Which is why he argues both models should be merged in order to cumulate an effective agreement.


The Kyoto Protocol was expected to lead a long-term top-down approach for mitigating climate change. Developed and developing countries could not come to a consensus in the negotiation process. Instead, countries have taken on their own climate obligations through a bottom-up approach. The failure of the top-down approach through the Kyoto protocol allowed for alternative approaches to take way, such as the Cancun Agreements.  At Cancun, “the Brazilian government declared it would halt all deforestation in Brazil by 2025” (King, 2011).  A bottom-up approach essentially implements policies at the lowest level of organization. Thus, proposing the idea that action can be taken at every level. There are numerous municipal initiatives and cities that are the centers of innovation for more sustainable practices. While a top-down approach focuses its attention on mitigation, a bottom-up approach concentrates on adaptation and the notion of vulnerability. Local approaches tend to have more short-term results, whereas top-down methods involve long-term impacts.

A hybrid, or “mixed track,” approach will be necessary in order to establish absolute commitments. Both approaches have different strengths and weaknesses, but together the weaknesses are compensated. For example, bottom-up attracts participation and implementation but does not effectively enact regulations. On the other hand, top-down results show the opposite. Mitigation and adaptation are both equally important in combating climate change and can both be reached through a mixed track approach of governance. We must not only rely on global agreement and regulation, but also on local implementations and participation. A legally binding treaty would ensure compliance but in addition we need local projects and governance in order to take fast action. The combination of both top-down and bottom-up approaches will be the most effective route in achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action.

Works cited

David Bodansky, “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2012): 1-11.

King, David, and Achim Steiner. “Is a Global Agreement the Only Way to Take Climate Change?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, n.d. Web. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/27/durban-climate-change-delivery