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  • 1. Striving for No Joanna Depledge Research Articles Striving for No: Saudi Arabia in the Climate Change RegimeJoanna DepledgeIntroduction A key starting point for the conduct of global negotiations under the UN system is that delegations are actively seeking an agreement that will meaningfully ad- dress the problem at hand. Sometimes, however, negotiations must contend with cases of obstructionism, that is, negotiators who are at the table with the aim of preventing an agreement. Given that they face no imperative of striking a deal, governments for whom no is the preferred outcome can have a dispro- portionately high impact on the negotiations, not only by formally blocking agreements, but on a day-to-day basis by slowing down progress or souring the atmosphere. This article examines Saudi Arabias involvement in the climate change regime, and argues that the delegation has long played the role of ob- structionist. This is not the only case of obstruction on the international stage, or indeed in the climate change regime, but it merits particular analysis for two main reasons. Firstly, as a strong example of obstruction, Saudi Arabias partici- pation in the climate change negotiations sheds light on this rather under- studied phenomenon in international relations.1 Secondly, the story of the Saudi delegations role throughout the history of the climate change negotia- tions remains largely untold in the literature, despite its inuence on the politi- cal dynamics of the regime.2The article begins with a discussion of the nature of obstructionism, be- fore analyzing the specic circumstances of Saudi Arabia, and the setting of the climate change regime, that have facilitated its emergence as an obstructionist. The article then examines Saudi Arabias participation in the climate change ne- gotiations, and considers its effectiveness in the pursuit of its goals. Finally, the article investigates options for addressing obstructionism, and considers possi- ble signs of change in Saudi Arabias approach to climate change and the negoti- ations. 1. Although see Wallihan 1998; and Zartman and Rubin 2000.2. Although see Grubb et al. 1999, 57; and Oberthr and Ott 1999, 26, 64 and 84.Global Environmental Politics 8:4, November 2008 2008 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology9

2. 10 Striving for No Diagnosing Obstructionism The study of obstructionism can face a tricky problem of diagnosis.3 It is to be expected of all negotiators that they will vigorously defend their national inter- ests. To this end, negotiating strategies can span a wide spectrum, from coopera- tive, problem solving approaches, to more competitive, aggressive behavior. Blufng, posturing, double-blufng, threatening, bribing, horse-trading, exag- gerating demands, sealing secret dealsall are integral to global negotiations, even among negotiators anxious for a strong agreement. To a large extent, there- fore, obstructionism is a matter of degree. What distinguishes a systematic ob- structionist from an occasional one, however, is the sustained and aggressive use of obstructionist tactics over time, applied not just on one or two issues but on the general thrust of the negotiation process. In essence, obstructionists are ac- tively seeking as little progress as possible, as late as possible, and would be con- tent with, and even prefer, no agreement.Why do governments join a negotiation whose concerns they apparently do not share, or whose aims they reject? The short answer is because they fear the agreement that others might reach. In this sense, obstructionism is a particu- lar feature of large multilateral negotiations on collective action problems, nota- bly environmental ones, where a state may harbor concerns over the negative side effects of serious measures to tackle the problem. In such cases, a state may join a negotiation process not only to promulgate its own concerns, but also in an attempt to stop others from reaching a strong collective deal, or to delay and weaken that deal. This is made easier by the fact that the UN system rarely places constraints on participation in global negotiations, especially on environmental matters, where maximum involvement is seen as desirable, even from those who do not share the negotiating aims.Obstructionist delegations do not need to be large or powerful, in terms of political, economic or military resources, to exert considerable inuence over the course of a negotiation. Downie, for example, refers to an exploitable power to destroy, of which Saudi Arabia would be a prime example, given its large oil reserves.4 Saudi Arabia, however, does not need to invoke the potential carbon emissions that lie under its territory in order to obstruct negotiations. There are many other, more prosaic tools at the disposal of potential obstruc- tionists. Zartman and Rubin, for example, note that dawdling, blustering, stone- walling, appealing to rules and generally making a nuisance are highly effec- tive tactics, enabling comparatively weaker states to upstage the more powerful, especially in a context of consensus decision-making;5 it is, of course, always easier to block consensus than to advance a new initiative. Fundamentally, how- ever, the leverage exerted by obstructionists lies in the fact that their negotiating goal is not a substantively meaningful agreement. As Fisher et al. note in the 3. Wallihan 1998.4. Downie 1999, 104.5. Zartman and Rubin 2000, 277. 3. Joanna Depledge 11 elaboration of their concept of best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), the relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily upon how attractive to each is the option of not reaching agreement.6 The very attractive BATNA of obstructioniststhat is, they actually prefer non- agreementraises their bargaining leverage in the negotiation. Linked to this, obstructionists tend to be relatively unconcerned about seeming obdurate or extreme in their positions, thus increasing their room for maneuver compared with other delegations, for whom maintaining a reputa- tion for cooperation may be more important. The most active obstructionists also tend to be those who do not fear domestic opprobrium, either because the dominant domestic constituencies approve of the policy of obstructionism, or because the government is not operating within an open political system with active channels of accountability, such as a free press and strong non- governmental organizations (NGOs). Saudi Arabia and the Climate Change Regime Diagnosis of Saudi Arabias obstructionism in the climate change regime is made easier by the openness of the delegation concerning its aims and tactics. The Saudi delegation is often very candid in threatening to block progress (see examples below). Perceptions of Saudi obstructionism are also widely held among climate change delegates and other observers of the climate negotia- tions. Oberthr and Ott, for example, claim that OPEC [Organization of Petro- leum Exporting Countries] members . . . and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in partic- ular . . . missed few opportunities to slow down progress7 during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. The environmentalist newsletter ECO agrees that Saudi Arabias efforts to destroy the Kyoto Protocol are now legendary.8 Kjelln, a vet- eran negotiator, speaks of the sometimes libustering tactics of the Saudis that have undoubtedly slowed down negotiations.9 Developing country dele- gates interviewed by Dessai widely perceived OPEC as having a negative, ob- structive role in the process.10 Reporting on negotiations in 2004, the inde- pendent newsletter the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) wrote of the concern of delegates at the clear endeavors by oil-producing countries . . . to wash down all attempts to address future actions and adaptation . . .11 Re- porting on the 2007 Bali Conference, the Guardian newspaper (UK) described Saudi Arabia as a regular obstructer at such talks.12 On most days during the climate negotiations, ECO awards a fossil of the 6. Fisher et al. 1992, 1067. Oberthr and Ott 1999, 26.8. ECO 2000.9. Kjelln 2008, 77. 10. Dessai 2004, 20. 11. ENB 2004e. 12. Adam 2007. 4. 12 Striving for No day to the delegation deemed to have taken the most environmentally regres- sive stance that day. Saudi Arabia is a frequent recipient of that award. On awarding Saudi Arabia a fossil of the day at the eighth Conference of the Parties13 (COP 8) in 2002, ECO commented never have we seen more success- fully destructive tactics on their part.14 In 2004, ECO reported hearing from a Saudi delegate that the delegation viewed receipt of the Fossil awards as a mat- ter of national pride and aspired to get as many as possible to show how effec- tive (obstructive) it was.15 The nature and timing of Saudi Arabias adherence to the 1992 UN Frame- work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol suggest a possible obstructionist motive for joining the climate change regime. Saudi Arabia only acceded to the UNFCCC once it had already come into force, and just in time to enable its full participation in decision-making during the last few days of the rst COP in 1995, where it fought hardalthough ulti- mately in vainto prevent the launch of negotiations on what became the Kyoto Protocol. Its accession to the Kyoto Protocol also appears strategic, only taking place once it became clear that the Kyoto Protocol would enter into force, following ratication by the Russian Federation. Saudi Arabia acceded in time to ensure that it would become a Partyand therefore able to fully inuence proceedingsat the rst session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 1) in November 2005.16 It is interesting to note that eight OPEC members waited until there was certainty that the Kyoto Protocol would enter into force, and then acceded to it within a few months17 (the Protocol had been open for ratication


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