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Non-State Actors in Global Climate Governance: From Copenhagen to Paris and Beyond

Bäckstrand, Karin, Jonathan W. Kuyper, Björn-Ola Linnér, Eva Lövbrand. 2017. Non-State Actors in Global Climate Governance: From Copenhagen to Paris and Beyond. Environmental Politics, 26(4): 561-579.


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)


Editorial: Introduction

‘Together now!’ was the slogan used in the invitation to the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (GCA), an initiative launched on the second day of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh in November 2016. During this event, the two high-level champions nominated by COP as an outcome of the Paris Agreement – the French Ambassador in charge of climate negotiations Laurence Tubiana and the Moroccan Minister of Environment Hakima El Haité – called upon businesses, regions, cities, industries and NGOs to showcase their climate activities and partner with states in the transition to the low carbon society. The champions’ effort to mobilize non-state climate action pre-2020 coincides with the launch during the last week of COP 22 of the 2050 Pathway Platform. Informed by the same cooperative spirit, this multi-stakeholder initiative rests upon a broad coalition among 15 cities, 22 states and 200 companies seeking to devise long-term, net zero, climate-resilient and sustainable development pathways.

These efforts to accelerate climate action by facilitating dialogue, knowledge exchange and cooperation among state and non-state actors intensify a trend in global climate politics: rapprochement of the realms of multilateral diplomacy and transnational climate action with the rationale to enhance the pre-2020 ambition. Officially, this process was set in motion during the ‘Action Day’ of COP 20 in Lima in 2014, when the Lima–Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) and the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) were launched to ‘galvanize the groundswell of actions on climate change mitigation and adaptation from cities, regions, businesses and civil society organizations’ (Chan et al. 2015, p. 467). However, in practice, this “widened frame” for climate diplomacy’ has a much longer history and reflects the growth and impact of transnational private actors, NGOs, social movement and transnational advocacy networks in world politics.

Ever since the UNFCCC was signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, it has formed a veritable center of gravity for a multiplicity of non-state actors and social networks. The numbers of participants at the annual COPs have increased over the years, peaking in Paris with more than 28,000 accredited participants, of whom 8000 were registered as non-state observers. With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the observer groups present at the annual COPs are now invited to play a more integrated role in multilateral processes through, for instance, monitoring of national action and experimentation with local, regional and transnational mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Here, we advance the concept of ‘hybrid multilateralism’ as a heuristic to capture this intensified interplay between state and non-state actors in the new landscape of international climate cooperation. We take the term non-state actor to include not only civil society and social movements, but also economic actors (business and trade unions) and subnational or substate actors (regional local governments, cities and municipalities). This definition is consistent with the United Nations Economic and Social Council recognition of observers who have received consultative status. We suggest that ‘hybrid multilateralism’ captures two major tendencies in global climate politics. First, it denotes a hybrid policy architecture that combines voluntary climate pledges by states with an international transparency framework for periodic review and ratcheting-up of ambition (Savaresi 2016, p. 5). Non-state actors are included in this hybrid arrangement, not just as observers of multilateral diplomacy, but also as actors overseeing the monitoring and implementation of states’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In fact, the informal review and monitoring has already started outside the UNFCCC (see later).

Second, ‘hybrid multilateralism’ also denotes an intensified and increasingly dynamic interplay between multilateral and transnational climate action where the UNFCCC Secretariat has taken a role as facilitator . The 2015 Paris Agreement refers to NAZCA, a platform established and hosted by the UNFCCC that to date has registered more than 12,000 individual or cooperative climate commitments by companies, investors, civil society and cities. The purpose of NAZCA is to mobilize the mitigation potential of transnational climate action and thereby help close the global emissions gap. While the Paris Agreement primarily rests upon national climate plans submitted by states, its accompanying COP decision formally recognizes that ‘non-Party stakeholders’ can contribute to the goal of limiting global warming well below 2°C, or even 1.5°C. As such the agreement spells out a new role for the UNFCCC as ‘orchestrator’ of transnational climate experiments and calls for analyses of the democratic legitimacy and reflexivity of this new role (Bäckstrand and Kuyper 2017, Dryzek 2017)

In the following, we trace the emergence and institutionalization of hybrid multilateralism from the infamous 2009 Copenhagen summit to the celebrated 2015 Paris conference. We explore the rapprochement of multilateral and transnational climate action in terms of authority, legitimacy and effectiveness.

The article is available here.

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