Meeting in the middle of Top-Down and Bottom-Up

In the conclusion of The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement, Daniel Bodansky states, “The challenge now is to retain sufficient flexibility to achieve strong participation while also raising ambition—both in terms of legal form and, more importantly, in the collective level of effort” (Bodansky 11) in regards to achieving the best possible post 2020 agreements. Bodansky believes the effectiveness of the outcome will be dependent on stringency, participation, and compliance, (Bodansky) however, this view leaves out other essential themes; accountability, ambition, transparency, and flexibility. The greatest outcome possible will require all of the above. This could be achieved by a “mixed track” approach, meeting exactly in the middle of “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches.

Daniel Bodansky lists different options for a Durban Platform outcome, each with aspects that may work and others that raise questions. (Bodansky) The outcome of the Durban Platform needs to dive in to a transparent-stringent-internationally-legally-binding approach that must become the norm through raising national accountability and action transparency.

Legally-binding agreements must be set, focusing heavily on the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC) of different countries; specific emissions reductions strategies and plans need to be set for each country/region. (Bodansky) Although the bottom-up approach may seem “the easiest to achieve politically” (Bodansky 8), it lacks ambition because individual bodies are setting their own actions based on preferences. In order to promote more ambitious action plans, others need to be involved in helping set agreements. If there were a way to physically take every country, in dialogue with each other, and have them set agreements for each one but converse collectively on them, this would be the most ideal situation.

This would require keying in on the CBDRRC aspects in order to promote the most equitable yet stringent plans. (Bodansky) “Countries will be more willing to negotiate commitments if the terms of engagement ensure that both they and their counterparts are negotiating within tracts appropriate to their respective circumstances” (Bodansky 10). The fact that dialogue would be cohesively international, would ensure this and furthermore, would hopefully, raise accountability and increase compliance.

Additionally, mandatory language such as “shall” rather than hortatory language, “should”, needs to be precedent. Plans need to be joint and certain from the beginning, but also allow room for alteration and change in the future, again through open dialogue. (Bodansky)

Picture the practice of any team sport, the coach asks, “Do we want to run today?”. The accountable athlete, who always wants to better themselves, will say yes and the complacent   athlete who does not often push themselves, will say no… In the end, it’s a trick question anyway, and the coach expects everyone to say yes. When you have a cohesive accountable team working towards specific goals, everyone knows to say “yes” because it’s what they have to do to achieve their goals. The unified and liable team, it the team that make it to the play offs.

This is what must happen in climate governance. Communication needs to be open, cooperative, and decisive. Somewhere between the bottom-up and top-down approaches, internationally we must come together to create justifiable expectations. The same way that each individually teammate, plays an essential role in getting to that play-off game. In order to have the best outcome of the Durban Platform, the utmost cooperation and accountability must be present.

Works Cited

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.


A Bottom-Up Approach to Climate Negotiations

The Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding international agreement on climate change that pledged parties to emission reduction targets, had a commitment period lasting from 2008 until 2012 (UNFCCC Kyoto). Now that this period has ended, climate negotiators are concerned with trying to create a second commitment period to reduce GHG emissions. Scheduled to end its work in 2015, the date by which a protocol or international agreement should be completed, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is tasked with developing a protocol or other agreement with legal force (UNFCCC Ad Hoc). There are a multitude of ways to go about this–most broadly, the three options are a top-down, a bottom-up or a mixed-track approach.

A top-down approach to climate change would mean that after an international greenhouse gas concentration target is agreed upon, both the manner in which a country will achieve this goal, and individual country targets, will also be decided upon internationally through a general allocation formula. The opposite of this, a bottom-up approach, would consist of an agreement to allow states to define their commitments individually. The Kyoto Protocol was somewhere in between these two approaches, and was considered a mixed-track approach. Emissions targets were decided upon internationally, but this number was merely a sum of individual national commitments, and countries had very different emission reduction targets that they were able to decide partly on their own (Bodansky 4).
Moving forward, the next step should be one that lies somewhere in between a mixed-track and a bottom-up approach. It should take into account the agreed upon limit for rising global average temperature–2 degrees Celsius–and also allow countries to decide in what manner they want to go about reducing emissions.

An international agreement, as Daniel Bodansky explains, is “not only…the stringency of its commitments, but also the level of participation and compliance…” (Bodansky 2). The problem with a top-down approach is that it is tough to get the participation of a wide range of countries because each country has different economic capacity, poverty levels, and economic diversity. Make it too stringent, and more countries will reject it. The only way to get a substantial number of countries to accept an international agreement is to make it less stringent, which won’t have enough of an impact on global emissions to substantially mitigate global warming (Bodansky 2). A bottom-up approach is much better for reducing global emissions, as more participation from countries is inevitable because they will have the freedom to implement actions based on their economic capacity, growth rates and their amount of survival emissions. But there is one glaring concern with this bottom-up approach, which is that letting individual Parties decide for themselves what measures to take might result in a lack of ambition. Countries might be more concerned with their economies in the short run, rather than with mitigating climate change, and will enact less stringent measures than they would in a top-down approach.

At COP16 in Cancun, the Parties agreed to a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (UNFCCC Cancun). Actions implemented by countries should be dedicated to controlling emissions to a point that would prevent temperatures from increasing more than that. To counteract subpar ambition in mitigation actions, Bodansky says, a legal agreement could be created stating that national targets and actions need to be judged by a panel of international experts both ex ante and ex post to make sure actions that are taken will be able to keep warming at or below the agreed upon 2 degrees Celsius limit (Bodansky 9). This might be a little harder to implement in an agreement than in a pure bottom-up approach, but because the Parties have already agreed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, it is much more likely for them to agree to this than, say, expanding agreements under the Kyoto Protocol, in which countries have already expressed disinterest in (Ministry).

On October 1, 2014, David Victor and Charles Kennel, in the journal Nature, argued that the 2 degrees Celsius limit should be ditched in favor of testing conditions such as CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, ocean heat content and temperature in the Polar Regions to track the stress humans are putting on the environment (Victor). They argue that these measurements are better indicators of human stresses on the environment than the global average temperature. While this may be true, the fact that world leaders have accepted 2 degrees Celsius as the highest acceptable amount of warming is a huge step, and must be taken into account in the ADP’s proposed second commitment agreement. To try and change this will slow international climate negotiations down significantly. But, moving forward from this 2nd commitment period, it might be possible to have Parties accept different indicators of global warming in the future. As Bodansky states, strong participation with less effectiveness can lead to strong participation and more effectiveness in the future, while less participation and more effectiveness might be held back by the fact that narrow participation can lead to carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns. (Bodansky 2). If a legal agreement can be forged that allows states to choose individual emission-reduction techniques and targets, but is able to make sure they are strong enough to meet the 2 degrees Celsius limit that has already been agreed upon, it might be possible to have strong participation with moderately strong effectiveness, and such effectiveness may only get stronger in the future.





















Works Cited

Bodansky, Daniel. The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement. Publication. Arlington, Va: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2012. Print.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Foreign Policy. Japan’s Position Regarding the Kyoto Protocol. MOFA. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Dec. 2010. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.” Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Cancun Climate Change Conference – November 2010.” Cancun Climate Change Conference – November 2010. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Kyoto Protocol.” Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.

Victor, David G., and Charles F. Kennel. “Climate Policy: Ditch the 2 °C Warming Goal.” Nature Publishing Group, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

COP21 calls for Momentous Mixin’

By Elizabeth Plascencia

A chart modeling past and projected climate meeting participation (Photo: Till Neeff, Elsevier, ES & P)
A chart modeling past and projected climate meeting participation (Photo: Till Neeff, Elsevier, ES & P)

A match was lit at COP17 in Durban, South Africa. The supplementary body known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was established that December. The inclusive nature of this platform is proposed to ignite change at COP21 in Paris. The mandate of the ADP calls to “…develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and for it to come into effect and be implemented by 2020” (UNFCCC, 2014). “Bottom-up” and “top-down” are two predominant approaches to climate change policy within the two decades of the work under the Convention. This seemingly urgent call of action as per the ADP requires a symbiotic relationship between the two. A “mixed-track” approach is better suited to achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action under the balanced dimensions of stringency, compliance, and participation for all Parties.

The international climate regime exhibits both approaches working well independently to a certain extent. Therefore it is proposed that a combination of the two will facilitate a more efficient and effective global combat on climate change by 2020. Within the article The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement, Bodansky clarifies the range of confounding variables to international agreements, historic context relating to the Convention, and options to possible Durban outcomes. I initially gravitated towards the “bottom-up” approach as better suited on the basis of personal optimism regarding local grass-roots movements and voluntary national programs. Upon reading the article I soon realized that there are hard to ignore pros to the “top-down” method and that solely voluntary programs do little when brought in a global context. I found that the policy informs and enforces to a further extent in which “International law can serve a number of catalytic and facilitative functions. Gathering such as the annual meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties can focus attention, help raise public concern, and prod states to do more” (Bodansky, 2012). Legal agreements, legislation, and recommendations remain crucial in terms of maintaining stringency. However, it is important to be mindful of all Parties’ capacity in order to balance compliance and participation.

Working towards the cooperation of 195 countries with distinct agendas and interests may seem like a nearly impossible task but in order to achieve equitable, efficient, and effective international policy a new approach must be considered. A “mixed-track” combining both “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches is better suited to achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action under the balanced dimensions of stringency, compliance, and participation for all Parties.

***Check out this article about projections for COP21 in Paris next year:

Works Cited

Bodansky, Daniel. “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. 2012

UNFCCC – Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. “What is ADP?” 2014

UNFCCC – Draft Decision “Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” 2014

The Best of Both Worlds for 2015

eiffel tower paris

After negotiations floundered at COP15 in Copenhagen to produce a broad-based and aggressive agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the Durban Platform was created to direct and motivate such an agreement for COP21 in Paris next year. It called for an “agreed outcome with legal force” that falls within the UNFCCC’s framework and principles. David Bodansky stated that, in order for an international agreement to succeed, it has to include three criteria (stringency, participation, and compliance), and outlined possible approaches that could stem from the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), either a top-down or bottom-up approach. From the information and framings provided by Bodansky, neither option is adequate as a viable solution by itself; rather, a mixed-track approach, which hybridizes both aforementioned approaches, would maximize the criteria and would provide a solid foundation for an international agreement to take effect after 2020.

The top-down approach, which could be seen as a continuation and expansion of what was seen in the Kyoto Protocol, places the main focus of climate governance and negotiations upon the international regime of the UNFCCC and other such institutions. These negotiations would focus upon an overarching emissions reductions target and how to delegate it among the Parties, and would present a take-it-or-leave-it type of agreement; nations would have to agree to the agreement as a whole, and would be legally bound to it and the prescribed actions within it. This, however, scares many nations within the UNFCCC, especially those key to any effective agreement (e.g. the United States, China, India, etc.) and could either jeopardize participation because it’s too stringent or stringency because countries would only sign on to an agreement that was not as aggressive as it could have and/or should have been. While it has produced success in the Kyoto Protocol, there are also hindrances inherently built into the approach that limit its effectiveness.

On the other hand, the Cancun architecture was born in response to the top-down approach taken with the Kyoto Protocol and advocated a bottom-up approach that placed national governments as the vanguards against the effects of climate change. Rather than having the international regime dictate what each country must do, this alternative approach empowers each nation to decide their best way to individually take action in mitigation and adaptation, which builds national buy-in and ownership of the country’s efforts. However, this produces an incentive for a nation to understate their capacity to mitigate/adapt or produce conservative and non-aggressive targets, thus imperiling the ultimate purpose of the UNFCCC to stem warming to two degrees Celsius.

As explained above, both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, but neither fully maximizes the three criteria that are key to a successful international agreement. Together, however, a viable middle ground could be reached that synthesizes the strengths of both approaches and that fulfills the stringency, participation, and compliance criteria. The bottom-up portion of a mixed-track approach allows countries to make commitments in areas that are both most effective and within its capacity to achieve, producing what Bodansky called a “variable geometry.” It provides enough freedom in action that each nation may find and take the course of action that works best for them, without imposing a one-size-fits-all solution that is unrealistic and incongruent with the political, economic, and developmental realities of a particular nation. Also, it satisfies the voluntary “pledge and renew” actions most nations are now interested in, as flexibility is the new mantra, so to say, of climate negotiations post-Kyoto; participation would be maximized with these types of actions rather than legally-binding commitments because most nations are not willing to take that step, as seen in the Kyoto Protocol. Within this flexible structure, the top-down portion provides enough incentive and enforcement/oversight to motivate aggressive and directed action, essential if the UNFCCC is going to keep warming below the two degree target. Through oversight and recommendations, the international regime can make sure that nations aren’t shirking their “common but differentiated responsibilities” while still motivating each nation to find the best solution that fits within that responsibility and capacity.

An aggressive and broad-based agreement is absolutely essential in order to meet the two degree target set by the UNFCCC at its conception in 1992. The best way to achieve this is not through a single mechanism or approach, or through a small group of nations; a wide array of options and avenues for action is necessary in order to gain the participation of a wide base of countries. Finding the colloquial sweet spot where an agreement is stringent enough to be effective at taking action and meeting the two degree target but not too stringent that there is insufficient participation. Therein lies the challenge for the UNFCCC and its individual member-states, but, with the best of both worlds, success is within our grasp.


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

“Preamble,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, accessed October 7th, 2014.