Networks of Negotiation for International Climate Change Cooperation

Zack Almquist, Benjamin Bagozzi


International climate change negotiations are primarily undertaken at annual Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with the UNFCCC’s 21st COP (starting November 30th, 2015) serving as a potential watershed moment for global climate change cooperation given its mandate to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement for all the nations of the world. Recent negotiation stalemates, and the political stances of several key countries, have led many to conclude that, as was the case in Copenhagen in 2009 and thereafter, little progress has been made towards achieving this lofty goal. We shed light on the intricacies of these negotiations through a novel analysis of the country-level network underlying international climate change negotiations, which we extract from country-representatives’ high-level segment speeches during the five most recent COPs. In examining this network for the 2010-2019 period and assessing its evolution over time, we find that China exhibits a remarkably high degree of centrality in the network that is several orders of magnitude higher than even the second most central nation-state. By contrast, the U.S. and key European states fail to achieve more than an above average level of centrality. Our analyses further suggest that these divergent trends have been increasing in trajectory over recent years. Taken together, our findings surprisingly imply that characterizations of U.S. and European leadership as central to successful climate change cooperation are increasingly inaccurate, and that China is without a doubt looked upon as the leader of contemporary climate change cooperation.

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