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The Copenhagen Turn in Global Climate Governance and the Contentious History of Differentiation in International Law

McGee, Jeffrey, Jens Steffek. 2016. The Copenhagen Turn in Global Climate Governance and the Contentious History of Differentiation in International Law. Journal of Environmental Law, 28 (1): 37-63.

Abstract

The 2009 Copenhagen Accord marked a significant shift in global climate governance which has been substantially adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement. At Copenhagen, binding targets for states to reduce emissions were replaced by voluntary pledges. We argue that the Polanyian ‘double movement’ offers a useful lens to understand the Copenhagen shift in global climate governance as part of ongoing contestation in the international law system between principles of economic liberalisation and redistributive intervention. In the second half of the 20th century, redistributive design of international legal institutions became evident in a number of issue areas including trade law, oceans law and the seminal climate treaties. However, there has been ongoing US lead opposition to ‘redistributive multilateralism’ (RM), particularly over the last decade of climate negotiations. The Copenhagen model of voluntary pledges, therefore, needs to be viewed as an outcome of this opposition to RM and a related weakening of differentiation in international environmental law.

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