Climate Change


Climate change has now grown from a scientific concern to one of the most pressing issues of our time. This seminar aims to look at the topic from a political viewpoint, and analyze the different mechanisms of cooperation in the fight against climate change. The first part provides an appraisal of climate change as a political issue: it examines how environmental issues, and climate change in particular, became a topic on the international agenda. The second part addresses the intertwining relationship that exists between international relations and climate change: how does diplomacy influence climate talks, and how does global warming impact upon the relations between states? Finally, in the third part of the seminar, students will be asked to put themselves in the shoes of UN delegates in a role-playing game simulating discussions on the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The simulation will seek to apply the knowledge and insights gained from the seminar into the design of a new, international cooperation mechanism.

The seminars provides an introduction of the politics of climate change, and tries to decipher the political mechanisms involved in the fight against global warming. The seminar should be of interest for all students interested in international relations and environmental policies, and environmental diplomacy in particular. No prerequisite nor prior knowledge of the topic is needed.


Background readings:

  • Broadhead, L. (2002) International Environmental Politics : The Limits of Green Diplomacy. Boulder (CO): Lynne Riener.
  • Giddens, A. (2009) The Politics of Climate Change. London: Polity Press.
  • Stern, N. (2007) The Economics of Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press – Introduction
  • Van Kooten G.C. (2004) Climate Change Economics. Why International Accords Fail. New York : Edward Elgar.

Session 1 – Environment and International Politics

 How the environment came to be a topic on the political agenda. Genesis of international cooperation in the matter. The first summits and treaties on the environment: Stockholm 1972, Rio 1992. How can past international arrangements help us to understand the mechanisms behind the fight against climate change? A look at the similarities and differences between climate change and other environmental problems, and the strategies developed to mitigate them.

Session 2 – Geography of emissions

 Which countries are the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gas? Why some countries pollute more than others. The measure of emissions. Common but differentiated responsibilities.

Session 3 – Geography of impacts

 An assessment of the consequences of climate change. Costs of the impacts. The Stern Review. Likeliness of the impacts, and the discounting issue.

Session 4 – Population Displacements and security risks

Impact on population settlements. The rising problem of climate change ‘refugees’. Expected displacements related to climate change. Geography of these migrations. Security concerns. Climate change, democracy and fragile states.

Session 5 – Security issues

Security concerns and climate change. Concept of human security. Distributional conflicts and risks of destabilisation.


Background readings:

Session 6 – International Cooperation

International cooperation vs. national action. Drafting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Carbon markets and market-based mechanisms.

Session 7 – A history of the negotiations

Key obstacles and progress in the negotiations. Country coalitions. Prospects for a future climate regime and a new protocol.

Session 8 – Mitigation and adaptation: what we can do.

A review of current mitigation policies and targets. Climate models. Setting a price for carbon. Joint implementation and clean development mechanisms. Carbon market. Possible other mechanisms. The balance between mitigation and adaptation. How the focus has turned on adaptation. Adaptation as a coping strategy. Financing adaptation: dedicated funds and clean development mechanisms. The global injustice of climate change.

Session 9 – Climate controversies

The discovery of climate change. The birth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The rise and reasons for climate skepticism. The communication of climate change.

Session 10 – The post-Copenhagen state of the international negotiations.

An assessment of the results of the latest UN conference on climate change, and perspectives for a new climate regime. How negotiations are organized. Reflections on the governance of climate change.


Sessions 11 – 12

The Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and the agreement that could follow up the Protocol is still being negotiated. The future of the Protocol after 2012 is one of the most pressing issues of the current discussions at the UN. The goal of the role-playing game is to simulate a UN session aimed at discussing the post-2012 future of the Protocol. The students will be asked to form teams, represent a country and research on the positions and policies of their assigned country regarding climate change.

Keeping in line with the interests and positions of their assigned country, they will then try to come to an agreement on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and design a burden-sharing mechanism for future cooperation.


  •  Sjöstedt, G. (2007) Climate Change Negotiations: A Guide to Resolving Disputes and Facilitating Multilateral Cooperation. New York: Earthscan.

General remarks and organisation


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