Exclusive Minilateralism: An Emerging Discourse within International Climate Change Governance?

Jeffrey Scott McGee


Over the past five years there have been a series of significant international climate change agreements involving only elite state actors. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, APEC Sydney Leaders Declaration and US Major Economies Process all displayed a shift towards a model of international climate change governance involving a small group of economically powerful states, to the exclusion of less powerful states and environmental NGOs. The modest result from the UNFCCC COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 and subsequent UNFCCC meetings has strengthened calls for international climate governance to be pared down to smaller decision making forums of key states only. This article argues that these developments evidence an emerging discourse of ‘exclusive minilateralism’ in international climate policy that is challenging the inclusive multilateral discourse that has formed the bedrock of international climate change governance since the inception of UN climate regime in the early 1990s. The exclusive minilateralism discourse offers a significant challenge to both the cosmopolitan and discursive democratic aspirations of international climate change governance. One response to the exclusive minilateral discourse is to reform the UNFCCC consensus-based decision making rule to provide the COP with greater ease of decision making on key issues relating to mitigation and adaptation. Another response is to more formally include the exclusive minilateralism discourse within the UNFCCC COP process. This could be achieved by forming a small peak body of states and key NGO groups to act as an influential advisor to the COP process on key issues requiring expedition and resolution.


Climate Change; Democracy; Governance; Minilateralism; Copenhagen Accord

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/portal.v8i3.1873