This article compares the degree to which the European Union (EU) managed to play a leadership role at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Copenhagen negotiations in December 2009 and the Cancún negotiations in December 2010. Our notion of leadership is composed of (a) direction (i.e. the degree to which an actor pushes towards a recognised collective purpose), and (b) goal-attainment (which is explained by three factors: coherence, the opportunity structure, and politicisation). The outcomes of the Copenhagen negotiations have been rather disappointing for the EU in terms of its substantial ambitions and leadership expectations. At Cancún, the Union had a firmer hold on the outcomes, but its goals have also been less ambitious compared to the Copenhagen negotiations.
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