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The Legitimacy of Leadership in International Climate Change Negotiations


Leadership is an essential ingredient in reaching international agreements and overcoming the collective action problems associated with responding to climate change. In this study, we aim at answering two questions that are crucial for understanding the legitimacy of leadership in international climate change negotiations. Based on the responses of three consecutive surveys distributed at COPs 14–16, we seek first to chart which actors are actually recognized as leaders by climate change negotiation participants. Second, we aim to explain what motivates COP participants to support different actors as leaders. Both these questions are indeed crucial for understanding the role, importance, and legitimacy of leadership in the international climate change regime. Our results show that the leadership landscape in this issue area is fragmented, with no one clear-cut leader, and strongly suggest that it is imperative for any actor seeking recognition as climate change leader to be perceived as being devoted to promoting the common good.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support for this research from Mistra—the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, through the Climate Policy Research Program, Clipore.

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Correspondence to Christer Karlsson.

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Karlsson, C., Hjerpe, M., Parker, C. et al. The Legitimacy of Leadership in International Climate Change Negotiations. Ambio 41 (Suppl 1), 46–55 (2012).

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  • Climate change
  • Leadership
  • Legitimacy
  • Followers
  • Views on leadership
  • COP