Evaluating Peace and Reconciliation in International Climate Negotiations

Evaluating Peace and Reconciliation to Address Historical Responsibility within International Climate Negotiations


Achieving an effective and inclusive climate regime may require resolving conflicts about historical responsibility and future-oriented climate action. Despite differences in context, peace and reconciliation processes offer a wealth of experience for addressing the tensions between past-oriented concerns about historical responsibility and future-oriented desires for deeper mitigation.

Using an iterative workshop process that included researchers, practitioners and policy experts in the climate policy and peace and reconciliation spheres, this project aimed to produce a theoretically sound and politically relevant proposal that applies lessons from peace and reconciliation processes to international climate policy debates.


International climate policy negotiations have been at a crossroads. Geopolitical changes combined with the increasing urgency of ambitious climate action have re-opened debates about equity in the international climate arena.

Tensions about historical responsibility have been particularly difficult and could intensify as climate impacts become more severe, as developing countries face mounting pressure to take mitigation action, and as the UNFCCC workstream on loss and damage is reviewed at COP 22 in 2016.

Resolving conflicts about the role of historical responsibility in a future-oriented climate policy may be necessary to enable a global transition to a regime capable of facilitating the depth of collective action required.

This project built on international experience with peace and reconciliation processes in order to develop a new approach to climate equity that may be better suited to reconciling past-oriented concerns about historical responsibility and associated obligations with future-oriented desires for broader and deeper mitigation.

Although substantial policy experience has been gained through efforts to address other complex conflicts at the interface of historical responsibility and imperatives for new collective futures – such as the transition from apartheid in South Africa – lessons from these processes have not been examined or applied in the climate context. The contexts may seem profoundly different, but international climate policy debates share three key similarities with conflicts in which peace and reconciliation processes have been pursued. These elements include:

  1. Unavoidable interdependence and mutually harmful consequences of not finding an agreement;
  2. Limited ability to address justice concerns through existing legal systems (national or international); and
  3. Profound disagreements about how the past and future should relate in a period of transition.

Through an iterative series of academic research and policy workshops, this project aimed to assess the theoretical and political utility of a peace and reconciliation approach in the climate context. The product of this process was a set of policy briefs and recommendations, that illustrate how this approach could be used to reshape the contours of current climate negotiations.

Ongoing conflicts about the role of historical responsibility and the type of future regime desirable within the global climate arena have the potential to systematically undermine an ambitious global agreement, a challenge this proposal aims to tackle directly.


We held three workshops over the course of the project:

  • The First Workshop was held at the Hague Institute for Global Justice in September 2015.
  • The Second Workshop focused on developing a politically oriented, concrete policy proposal of how to apply lessons and tools from transitional justice to the climate context. It was held in Brussels in March 2016.
  • The Third Workshop  coincided with the UNFCCC sessions in Bonn in 2016, that led up to the 2016 loss and damage mechanism review.

The project was concluded with a final roundtable dinner to present the findings of the policy briefs produced under the project, held back-to-back with the COP22 in Marrakech in November 2016.


The project research lead was Climate Strategies Member Sonja Klinsky. This project was funded by the KR Foundation and supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation {KAS).

Further Reading

PL Sonja Klinsky has recently published a book, underpinned by the research completed in this project: The Global Climate Regime and Transitional JusticeIt is available to rent or by from the Routledge website.

The research work was summarised in a number of relevant blog posts: