Newsletter No. 1 • June 2016

Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement: new types of governance needed

COP 21 in Paris (i.e. the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is widely regarded as a success, reaffirming that multilateralism works and that governments can overcome their short-term political differences to address global challenges. Having been present in Paris during the second week of negotiations myself, I can confirm from my position as an observer on the sidelines that Paris indeed re-established confidence in the problem-solving ability of international negotiations when many had already written off governments as agents of change.

However positive the general assessment might be, while governments have concluded the first universal international agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees above the preindustrial levels (possibly aiming at 1.5 degrees), current intended nationally determined contributions (the concrete promises that governments make to reduce their domestic emissions) fall short of delivering the envisaged 2 degree world. Instead, non-state actors – including cities, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and a wide range of business actors – are urgently needed to close the currently existing ambition gap. 

In other words, climate change governance in 2016 is much more than the UNFCCC, its Kyoto Protocol (still in operation until the new Paris Agreement will enter into force in 2020), and the related international negotiations. Climate change governance in 2016 can more adequately be described as complex, messy and fragmented (Keohane and Victor 2010; Biermann et al. 2009; Abbott, Green and Keohane 2015). 

 Paris Climate Agreement Figure 1

Figure 1: Complex, messy and fragmented: the climate change governance triangle; based on Abbott and Snidal 2009; Abbott 2012; own data.

However, while scientists have started to describe and partially map the emerging regime complex of climate change and discuss its theoretical implications, adequate theories to make sense of these developments are scarce. In addition, our knowledge on the scope conditions for effective engagement of a plethora of transnational governance arrangements is, however, limited. How do 80 separate public and private institutions in the field of climate change mitigation interact? Are there overlaps in terms of goals, instruments and targeted actors? Do we observe synergies or does the so-called bottom-up approach constitute an inefficient way of governing? Which actors and political interests are reflected in the emerging regime complex? And, what evidence for increased effectiveness do we have? 

New research efforts to understand the increased messiness of climate change governance across multiple scales are needed. Global problems (from climate change to the financial crisis) are increasingly perceived as complex, as are the governance arrangements that have been devised to address them. Complexity science therefore seems to be a natural starting point for understanding the increased complexity of world affairs. At IVM, we are currently developing new approaches to study the institutional interactions in the climate change regime complex from a complexity perspective. For more information, see two ongoing projects: 

CONNECT (funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO).

CLIMenGO (funded by the Swedish Energy Agency).

Author: Philipp Pattberg