Abstract

This article is part of Environmental Politics Special Issue: Non-State Actors in the New Landscape of International Climate Cooperation (Environmental Politics, Volume 26, Number 4, July 2017)

A striking development in climate governance is the emergence of systems for non-state actors to make voluntary commitments alongside state undertakings. Because these commitments involve diverse actors carrying out diverse activities in diverse settings, they provide unprecedented opportunities for experimentation and learning. Yet voluntary commitment systems (VCS) rarely promote experimentation and provide few systematic learning mechanisms. Based on work with Duncan Snidal, an argument is made for a more strongly experimental approach. First, VCS should encourage designed, controlled policy experiments consistent with scientific standards. Second, even where formal experiments are infeasible, VCS should treat commitments as informal experiments, orchestrating them to promote innovation, comparability, analysis and systematic learning. Collaborative initiatives and other governance organizations can act as orchestrators, encouraging and supporting formal and informal experimentation through persuasion, technical and material assistance, recognition, third-party assistance and other incentives.

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