“It is universally acknowledged that at climate conferences, politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of power and on practical and material factors overrides explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises. CoP 21, or the 21st conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that wrapped up in Paris on December 12, 2015, was no different.”

The above is an excerpt from an article written by Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, Chandra Bhushan. It was written just after the countries famously celebrated the success of COP 21 in Paris, France.


The climate power game actually begins with COP 22 Marrakech and beyond.

Realpolitik will be central to the success of the Paris Agreement. We know this because it has been central to the failure at Copenhagen in 2009.


In 2009 he 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the 15th Conference of the Parties or COP 15 was held in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, Denmark. The Copenhagen Summit was positioned as the world’ “great hope” to achieve the goal of securing our planet for generations to come.


Yvo de Boer, the then executive secretary of the UNFCC, famously said in his opening address at COP 15, that the “clock has ticked down to zero.” He added, “The time for formal statements is over, The time for restating well-known positions is past.”

COP 15 did not work.

In fact, COP 15 became infamous as the “global diplomatic debacle.”

It left, Yvo de Boer heartbroken.


In a confidential letter published in the 2010 book, Climate Wars – The Runaway Summit by journalist Per Meilstrup, Yvo de Boer laments, “”How could several years of negotiation and high level diplomacy be allowed to end up this way?”

Per Meilstrup summed up COP 15 thus, “Copenhagen failed to live up to even the lowest expectations. What is more, the summit produced diplomatic chaos on a scale the world has seldom seen. When US President Barack Obama arrived at the Bella Center on the last day of the negotiations, Hilary Clinton welcomed him by saying, ‘Mr. President, this is the worst meeting I’ve been to since the eighth-grade student council.’”

And as for the clock, it has stopped ticking.

The thing was, that at COP 15, the appreciation for the realpolitik of it all, was lacking.


In the 2011, paper titled, ‘When science meets strategic realpolitik: The case of the Copenhagen’, the researchers note, “there is a notable lack of substantive action to resolve or attempt to manage the problem at the level of global politics… despite widespread agreement that climate change is a major problem, powerful actors cannot subscribe to a single course of action that might help halt man-made damage to the planet.”

The researchers attribute failure of COP 15 to the fragility of legitimacy and authority. In other words, the climate conference got scuttled because the politics of domination prevailed over the politics of legitimacy.

Global politics is surely not easy. In 2010, Mathis Wackernagel, the president of Footprint Network noted, “Politicians are caught in a dilemma between political suicide and ecological suicide.”

At COP 15, the heads of governments managed both the suicides simultaneously!

And as if that was not enough for the ill-fated COP 15, we later discovered that COP 15 was spied upon by the Americans!

The NSA documents released by Edward Snowden made it clear that the American NSA spied on other government’ preparations for COP15 and planned to continue to do the same during the summit.

Climate Change negotiations have been and will remain firmly embedded in realpolitik.


Realpolitik, as wiki, defines it “is politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises.”

To meet the INDC targets and to exceed them (unless we are happy saying a farewell to low-lying island nations) requires focussed Climate Action by governments across the world. It will involve diplomacy and power play. It will involve realpolitik.

Climate Change now involves global politics at the highest level and is subject to an intricate juxtaposition of national and global self-interests.

Climate Action realpolitik is a reality we must embrace and work with.


We must remember the views of climate expert Barry Carin, as outlined in an opinion piece published in Policy Brief in 2013. He noted, “Climate change and climate finance is a realpolitik problem, which requires that we understand and apply the criteria for a feasible outcome. Climate negotiators must accept reality and recognize that countries’ disagreements are driven by national self-interest.”

Barry gave a four-point broad guideline that might help us achieve Climate Action better from within the realpolitik framework.

Accept reality – the world is not altruistic.

Accept that nations have their own selfish interests.

Accept incremental change.

Be clever about compliance.

COP 15 is past us.

We learned from COP 15 and hence we finally came up with the INDC concept in COP 21.

But till now, right till COP 21, it has been mostly about agreeing that there is a problem and then finally agreeing to do something about the problem in a way everyone agrees to.

COP 22 and onward is distinctly different.

The mandate for COP 22 is Climate Action – and partnerships that will encourage and enable this Climate Action are critical to it.


Imagine, if agreeing on what to do was difficult – then how difficult it is going to be to ensure that all the COP countries actually deliver on the Paris Agreement.

COP 22 is the COP of action.

COP 22 is also the COP of realpolitik.


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