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Introduction: European Union political leadership in international climate change politics

Connelly, James; Wurzel, Rüdiger K.W.


James Connelly

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Professor Rudi Wurzel
Professor of Comparative European Politics and Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Studies.


James Connelly


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, few still doubt that climate change poses one of the biggest challenges facing humankind. Certainly, the European Union (EU) and most of its Member States have made climate change a major political priority. For Commission president José Manuel Barroso ‘[r]esponding to the challenge of climate change is the ultimate political test for our generation’ (CEC 2008: 2). Early scientific discoveries about anthropogenic climate change can be traced to the nineteenth century (Rowlands 1995). However, it was only in the late 1970s that the first international meetings on climate change took place. The ‘traditional position has been that only states are recognised as having legal personality in international law and therefore only states are capable of maintaining rights and contracting responsibilities’ (Macrory and Hession 1996: 133-34). It was therefore not a foregone conclusion that the EU would become an independent actor in international climate change politics. In the environmental policy field, it was the negotiations for international treaties to protect the stratospheric ozone layer which allowed the EU to establish its international ‘actorness’ (Vogler 1999; Chapter 2 by Vogler). However, while the EU acted as an environmental laggard in relation to ozone layer depletion diplomacy (dragged along by the USA’s determined leadership), in international climate change politics by contrast it early took on the role of an environmental leader (Compston and Bailey (2008); Damro and MacKenzie 2008; Grubb and Gupta 2000; Schreurs and Tiberghien 2007). Broadly speaking the following four phases of EU climate change policy can be identified: (1) late 1980s to 1992: formation and formulation phase; (2) 1992-2001: Kyoto protocol negotiation phase; (3) 2001-5: Kyoto protocol rescue phase; and (4) since 2005: implementation phase and Kyoto protocol follow-up agreement negotiation phase. Importantly, as is explained in more detail in the following chapters, various EU institutional actors, Member States and societal actors reacted differently to the challenge of global climate change while making use of the changing opportunity structures when trying to influence EU climate change policy: from their perspective the phases might appear differently.


Connelly, J., & Wurzel, R. K. (2010). Introduction: European Union political leadership in international climate change politics. In R. Wurzel, & J. Connelly (Eds.), The European Union as a leader in international climate change politics (3-20). London: Routledge.

Acceptance Date Oct 29, 2010
Online Publication Date Nov 1, 2010
Publication Date Oct 29, 2010
Publisher Routledge
Pages 3-20
Series Title Routledge/UACES Contemporary European Studies
Book Title The European Union as a leader in international climate change politics
Chapter Number 1
ISBN 9781136888243; 9780415640138
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