Alternative Climate Governance - English

Down The Road

By Harriet Bulkeley27.11.2013Economics, Science

By searching for climate governance only in the international arena, we risk missing the signs that can lead us in new, and potentially much more productive, directions.


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_“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”_

_Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland_

Many seem to have given up on climate governance. As the excitement mounted and tensions rose around the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, a flicker of belief that a global settlement could be reached seemed to ignite the passions of communities and organisations across the world. While the widespread disappointment palpable in the aftermath of that meeting was in part a product of global media hype, there was a very real sense that the time and energy invested in pressing for global change had gone to waste.

The best direction?

Yet the global caravan continues to wend its way from one venue to another, seeking apparently elusive global agreement as the scientific evidence of potential climate crisis continues to mount. The current destination is the Paris 2015 summit when the long-sought replacement for the Kyoto protocol is meant to be signed, committing both the industrialised and rapidly industrialising countries to substantial GHG emissions reductions. With considerably less fanfare, and muted expectations, the Warsaw 2014 summit sought to take at least one step in this direction – merely to prepare the ground for the Paris 2015 summit. That the Warsaw meetings made so little progress toward even this modest goal is yet another in a long string of disappointments.

Like Alice’s desire in Wonderland, “getting somewhere” is at the heart of every global climate gathering. With the eyes of the world trained on the outcomes and next steps to be taken, the multilateral process carries on with confidence that, despite the very hard road along which it has travelled and upon which many more steps need to be taken, persistence and tenacity will result in a global commitment to address climate change once and for all. Yet despite the good will and diligence of all involved, the signposts indicating that continuing along the path of evermore international negotiations is the best direction of travel have faded in the past two decades and many may well be left wondering whether we are indeed “getting somewhere” at all.

Yet by searching for climate governance only in the international arena, we risk missing the signs that can lead us in new, and potentially much more productive, directions. One clear sign is the sheer number of different initiatives designed to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Such initiatives are often regarded as curiosities – a corporate strategy here, a municipal development there – nice to look at, but of limited substantial value in relation to the urgency and scale of tackling climate change. Yet on closer examination we find that climate governance initiatives are much more co-ordinated and organised.

A wealth of transnational networks and arrangements have been established, from certification schemes for emissions reductions, to efforts to promote municipal leadership, to corporate commitments to address climate change. This is a vibrant if highly uneven field, where action to address climate change has been translated into schemes that focus on energy, biodiversity, carbon finance, and urban infrastructures, and where an array of private actors – from corporations to NGOs – work in partnership with national and sub-national governments to provide alternative forms of responses to climate change.

These forms of transnational climate governance work through the achievements they can muster in reducing GHG emissions amongst their constituents, but also because of their wider contributions – building trust, information sharing, funding demonstration projects, coordinating, certifying and providing a range of regulatory and stabilization functions not provided elsewhere. They also have a different destination in mind. Rather than regarding the solution to climate change as the agreement of targets and timetables, levels of compensation, and the rules for market operation, these forms of transnational climate governance are focused on organizing, in many different ways, transformations in prevailing patterns of social and economic practice, generating novel forms of investment, city planning, business practice or personal behaviour.

Codependent paths

The means and the ends of transnational climate governance point us in some very different directions than those found in the Warsaw meetings. Yet this is not a matter of either/or – of a choice between a UN-led process and letting a thousand climate flowers bloom. There are no doubt good reasons to keep the international climate negotiations caravan on the road – to ensure that national governments deliver on the commitments they have made, to keep the issue on the international agenda, and to address governance challenges that can only be resolved at the level of the international community, such as the design of international emissions trading and compensation schemes. Yet, increasingly, the potential for agreement and the success or failure of agreements reached amongst the international community are dependent on the efforts of transnational governance initiatives and vice versa.

Which way ought we go from here? The answer, as the Cheshire Cat points out, depends on where we want to get to. If our destination is a future (relatively) safe from the scourge of climate change, the real challenge lies not in how to reach a global agreement, but in how we can continue to encourage and support innovation in the global response to climate change.

_* This article was co-authored by Michele Betsill, Matthew Hoffmann and Mathew Paterson_



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