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International Environmental Policy

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow

The Kyoto Protocol has singularly failed to shape international environmental policy-making in the way that the earlier Montreal protocol did. Whereas Montreal placed reliance on the force of science and moralistic injunctions to save the planet, and successfully determined the international response to climate change, Kyoto has proved significantly more problematic. International Environmental Policy considers why this is the case. The authors contend that such arguments on this occasion proved inadequate to the task, not just because the core issues of the Kyoto process were subject to more powerful and conflicting interests than previously, and the science too uncertain, but because the science and moral arguments themselves remained too weak. They argue that ‘global warming’ is a failing policy construct because it has served to benefit limited but undeclared interests that were sustained by green beliefs rather than robust scientific knowledge.
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Chapter 2: The International Environmental Policy Process: Increasing Complexity and Implementation Failure

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow


Robert Putnam (1988) once characterized the problem faced by governments as international actors as being that they had to play ‘two-level games’. They simultaneously have to play at two boards, but each with its own logic and set of rules: the international arena, where treaties are negotiated, and the domestic arena, where treaties are ratified. We suggest that climate change negotiations are incomparably more complex than this. Putnam was writing from a top-down, United States perspective, where the separation of powers at the federal level is a significant factor. The executive branch of government can sign treaties, but they can be ratified only if supported by a substantial majority in the legislative branch of government (by a two-thirds majority of the Senate). Nevertheless, the politics of ratification is important for even those nations where such formal scrutiny by the legislature is not present. This is because the decisional logic that might carry negotiators to the point of consensus in the international arena might also take them some distance beyond the preferred national position when viewed subsequently in the cold light of day. Putnam was also writing predominantly about what Hoffman (1966) referred to as ‘high politics’, or politics concerning the very existence of the state: defence, foreign policy, law and order. Such issues relate primarily to undertakings by states themselves, that is with immediate power to behave in a particular way as actors in the international arena. Little further action is required beyond the stage of ratification, except for states...

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