‘It will be as different as night from day’, is how Senator John Kerry described the impact of Barack Obama’s election victory on America’s stance in international climate politics. Kerry made this prediction in December 2008 at the fourteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-14) to the UN climate convention in Poznan, Poland, which he attended on behalf of the President-elect. For a short while, the imminent political change in the White House seemed to lift the otherwise downbeat mood among delegates in Poznan, and a renewed sense of optimism set in about reaching compromise on a new climate deal by the end of 2009, at COP-15 in Copenhagen. The US presidential election of 2008 is still rightly seen as a turning point in international climate policy.

However, questions remain about the depth of America’s policy shift and its significance for international politics. Copenhagen proved to be the first international test for the Obama Administration’s new approach to climate policy, and the outcome – a non-binding political statement without numerical commitments for emission reductions – failed to live up to expectations. Originally billed as the most important factor shaping the global approach to tackling climate change, Obama’s Presidency has left some observers feeling underwhelmed. Yet Obama himself managed to broker a deal in the final hours of the doomed Copenhagen conference, and 2010 could be the make-or-break year for domestic climate action in America. Has Obama done enough to prepare the ground for a new international climate regime?


Falkner, R. January 2010. Getting a deal on climate change: Obama’s flexible multilateralism. Obama Nation? US foreign policy one year on [Nicholas Kitchen (ed.)], p. 37-41. LSE IDEAS Special Report, London.

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