The Evolving Climate Regime

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After 20 years of gridlock, the climate regime is evolving in at least four important, and in some cases theoretically unexpected, ways. First, at the intergovernmental level, it is becoming less multilateral and more fragmented, with dozens of smaller groupings of countries forming “coalitions of the willing” around particular aspects of the problem, like hydro-fluorocarbons or renewable energy. Second, it has become more nationally driven. Instead of seeking to negotiate a “global deal,” countries have agreed to each pledge their own “contribution” to the global challenge. Third, and perhaps most surprisingly, a massive groundswell of climate action has emerged from cities, companies, states, provinces, regions, and other sub- and non-state actors. This diverse group of actors have taken a wide range of actions, both individually and in partnership with others, whose emission reductions can add up to rival those of nation states. Fourth, and perhaps most interestingly, these separate spheres of action—the intergovernmental, the national, and the transnational—are increasingly connected to each other. 

These changes in the climate regime do not obviously follow from canonical explanations of world politics and—perhaps—offer a ray of hope for citizens and policymakers seeking to address climate change. But much remains to be determined regarding how this increasingly “bottom up” and pluralistic climate regime will operate. Can we expect it to offer more effective outcomes than a Kyoto Protocol–style regime? Or are the political constraints so great that such institutional shifting will remain marginal at best? If there is scope for improvement, how can the regime be designed to maximize effectiveness? What social scientific insights must we consider in the design of the new regime (a process that will surely continue after the Paris conference), and what new questions do social scientists need to approach? What do these shifts tell us about theories of global politics more broadly?

Driven by these questions, GEG in conjunction with the Blavatnik School of Government and Princeton University convened a panel of leading researchers from across the social sciences. They discussed ways in which the emerging climate regime can benefit from both established and groundbreaking social science, and identified four concrete research projects on which to collaborate going forward:

  1. What are the effects of the pledge and review process on national policies?
  2. What is the role of transnational initiatives in the new regime?
  3. What is the role of clubs/mini-lateralism?
  4. What is the legitimacy of the emerging climate regime and how does legitimacy relate to power and effectiveness?