Five new players: is climate governance changing?

Sensemaking / Five new players: is climate governance changing?

As a range of new actors step into the climate change arena, will the UN be able to hold it together at this important time?

By Will Ingram / 24 Nov 2015

While the COP21 Paris climate conference is soon to make headlines around the world, many are harking back to the failings of the previous summits. Some commentators point out that former attempts at a deal have been too exclusive; that negotiations have been too ‘top-down’ and presided over by a ‘priesthood’ of UN technocrats.

Are we seeing evidence of this changing?

Here are five new groups that are getting involved in the run-up to Paris, which illustrate that solutions won’t necessarily be limited to the UN in the future:

- The US and China announced a bilateral deal in November 2014 to significantly cut emissions. This was independent of the UN process. The US and China are the world’s two biggest emitters, accounting for over a third of global emissions, and have previous avoided ambitious commitments. This announcement could set a precedent for other large emitters, and is likely to inject some momentum into the Paris negotiations.
- Ten major food companies have called on world leaders to act swiftly and decisively on a climate deal. Such corporations are waking up to the impact that climate change will have on their supply chains, and their growing awareness is likely to translate to meaningful action on their part.
- Religious leaders including the Pope, Islamic and Buddhist leaders have made a number of proclamations calling for a fair and binding deal. What was formerly an environmental and economic issue is becoming a moral one as well. Is this a symptom of increasing concern from the World’s masses? As the effects of climate change are felt by the increasingly religious global South perhaps this voice will become louder.
- Cities and Mayors are clubbing together to voluntarily work towards reducing local emissions and climate change risks. With half the world now living and consuming in cities such groups represent great multilateral potential, and with increasing urbanisation around the world perhaps these groups, rather than national governments, will play a larger role.
- The six largest banking institutions in the US have called for a “strong global climate agreement” and want to see the introduction of carbon pricing. They have also committed significant resources to finance climate solutions. This compliments the UN-led Green Climate Fund, which brings finance to the fore of negotiations. The banks fear reduced prosperity from climate change, but their involvement could be symptomatic of serious private sector engagement with the deal in Paris.

These players would not have been noticeable in the previous top-down system of climate governance. Will we see more of the same?

The involvement of the finance sector is a growing theme, featuring warnings of climate risk from the governor of the Bank of England, for example. In what form is finance likely to play a role in the Paris negotiations? Such willingness from the banks to get stuck in could see the Green Climate Fund significantly bolstered. Alternatively, a lack of such enthusiasm could see the $100 billion per annum committed to developing countries to face up to climate change fall way short.

This enthusiasm could also be gripping the business world. Is this an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate social value and play a greater role in public life?

Religious institutions could also further increase their role in public life by identifying routes to action that are in line with their principles, setting an example, and calling on their followers to respond. We see the public call for this voice with the increase in public activism around the subject.

The rising role of non-UN actors in the talks and subsequent processes (that is to say, polycentric climate governance) has been long predicted, with Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom giving it a face years ago. These massive signals of bilateral US-China agreements and collaboration between cities suggest that the processes of climate negotiations are no exception to trends on global governance. The question is: will a move towards polycentricism weaken the UN-led process that is still vital for the negotiations in Paris?

As climate governance spills out in all directions, can it be held together?

Image credit: Adopt A Negotiator / Flickr

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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