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Paris: Beyond the Climate Dead End through Pledge and Review?

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Abstract:  The Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015 marks a decisive break from the unsuccessful Kyoto regime. Instead of targets and timetables, it established a Pledge and Review system, under which states will offer Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reducing emissions that cause climate change. But this successful negotiation outcome was achieved at the price of vagueness of obligations and substantial discretion for governments. Many governments will be tempted to use the vagueness of the Paris Agreement, and the discretion that it permits, to limit the scope or intensity of their proposed actions. Whether Pledge and Review under the Paris Agreement will lead to effective action against climate change will therefore depend on the inclination both of OECD countries and newly industrializing countries to take costly actions, which for the OECD countries will include financial transfers to their poorer partners. Domestic politics will be crucial in determining the attitudes of both sets of countries to pay such costs. The actual impact of the Paris Agreement will depend on whether it can be used by domestic groups favoring climate action as a point of leverage in domestic politics—that is, in a “two-level game” simultaneously involving both international and domestic politics.

Keywords:  climate change; climate cooperation; pledge and review; Paris agreement



© Robert O. Keohane, Michael Oppenheimer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.