With the failure of the international community to negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol in late 2011, and with little prospect of U.S. ratification of any treaty framework that includes binding greenhouse emission targets, hope for a sustainable and effective international climate policy appears dim. In this article I identify several conditions for and obstacles to effective international climate policy leadership with a view toward creating the conditions for that leadership to emerge, and suggest how such an overtly strategic analysis might address some key unexplored territory in climate ethics. First, I sketch the nature and role of leadership in international climate policy negotiations, defining leadership as the ability to induce action by other parties, and to subsequently generate further and reciprocal action by followers. Next, I analyze the current decision structure related to national action on climate change, showing how leadership might help to overcome resistance to cooperation. I then suggest the use of conditional promising as a means for inducing climate policy leadership by either the United States or China. By transforming the decision structure from one in which the exercise of such leadership carries high risks and promises few rewards into one with lower risks and higher probabilities of success, this approach casts leadership as an essential element for mobilizing international cooperation in protecting the climate system. Rather than viewing such leadership as a spontaneous and persuasive power that need only be summoned by would-be leaders and is thus independent of actions by potential followers, this approach understands leadership as a power to trigger cooperation that in some cases can be induced by pledges of reciprocal action.
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