The European Union as a global climate leader: confronting aspiration with evidence

  • Charles F. ParkerEmail author
  • Christer Karlsson
Original Paper


In rhetoric and action the European Union has attempted to be a global leader in forging solutions to confront the problem of climate change. Using unique survey data collected at five consecutive UN climate summits from 2008–2012, this article provides evidence on the extent to which the EU is actually recognized as a leader in the UNFCCC climate negotiations, investigates how perceptions of EU leadership have evolved overtime, and helps make sense of the role that the EU has played in recent negotiation outcomes. The survey’s findings show that recognition of the EU as a leader dropped sharply in 2009 at the COP 15 summit in Copenhagen, but has climbed again in subsequent years. The results reveal a fragmented leadership landscape in which the EU must share or compete for leadership with other actors, such as the USA and China, who hold drastically different institutional design preferences and leadership visions than those promoted by the EU. The article’s findings provide insight into the dynamics that both foster and frustrate the EU’s aspiration to lead the effort to reach a deal on a binding post-2020 climate change agreement in Paris at COP 21.


Climate change Climate negotiations Copenhagen summit Durban summit Durban Platform for Enhanced Action European Union (EU) Leaders Leadership Leadership recognition Leadership modes United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 



The authors would like to express their gratitude to the anonymous reviewers, the editors at International Environmental Agreements, and the participants of the ECPR and Nordic Political Science Association workshops on the EU for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of this article. We would like to thank Mattias Hjerpe and the members of the International Negotiations Survey team ( at the Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research (CSPR) for distributing surveys at the UN climate summits, COP 14–18, as well as to the COP delegates who participated in the survey. A special thank you is also extended to the UNFCCC secretariat for making this study possible. Charles F. Parker is grateful for the financial support provided by the Center for Natural Disaster Science (CNDS).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Centre for Natural Disaster Science (CNDS)Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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