Addressing the Post-Kyoto Stress Disorder

International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 20 October 2009

In December 2007, the international community adopted the Bali Action Plan which launched a process to reach an 'agreed outcome' on long-term cooperative action on climate change, with a scheduled end in Copenhagen, December 2009. The term 'an agreed outcome' suggests a lack of agreement on both the legal form that the likely outcome of this process could take, and the level of ambition that it should reflect. This lack of agreement continues to haunt the process. There are a range of legal form options for a new climate instrument — from a set of Conference of Parties decisions to a legally binding instrument, either to replace or supplement the Kyoto Protocol — and the choice between them for States is predicated primarily on political and strategic considerations. Nevertheless the legal status, procedural requirements, symbolic signalling effects and regime-building characteristics of different legal form options will play an important role in determining the legal form of the Copenhagen 'agreed outcome'. This article identifies and explores the range of legal form options available to States in the negotiation process, and outlines the political and strategic considerations at play and will ultimately govern choice of legal form. This article argues that one of the most significant factors hindering substantive progress on a post-2012 climate agreement is what is characterized here as the 'post-Kyoto stress disorder', a lack of trust amongst some developing countries that industrialized countries will, given current and past form, honour their commitments, and/or take the lead in the new climate agreement. This article makes the case that post-Kyoto stress disorder will likely prevent certain legal form options from acquiring traction in the process and favour others.