Since the formation of the US and Australian sponsored Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP) in 2005, there has been a series of international climate change agreements involving elite state actors only. The APEC Sydney Leaders Declaration of 2007, G8 Hokkaido Leaders Declaration of 2008 and US Bush Administration Major Economies Meetings (MEM) of 2007-08 all display a shift towards a model of international climate governance based on small groups of economically powerful states, to the exclusion of less powerful states and civil society. The role of some developing countries at the recent Copenhagen COP 15 meeting, together with logistical difficulties in civil society participation at that meeting, have strengthened calls for international climate governance to be pared down to a smaller decision making forum involving only ‘key’ countries in terms of emissions and economic output.
This paper seeks to explain the above developments by an interpretivist research design based on international legal analysis and critical constructivist discourse analysis. It is argued that the above developments embody a discourse of ‘exclusive mini-lateralism’ that represents an important discursive challenge to the ‘inclusive multilateral’ design that has dominated international climate change governance since the formation of the UNFCCC in 1992. The exclusive mini-lateralist discourse seeks to shift inter-subjective meaning underlying the processes of international climate governance away from openness, transparency and accountability towards an acceptance of secrecy and power-based outcomes that will allegedly provide greater global effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Any continued strengthening of the exclusive mini-lateralist discourse will provide a significant challenge to the deliberative potential of international climate change governance over coming years.
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