from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Stewart Patrick: Combating Climate Change Beyond Paris

December 4, 2015

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The UN climate talks in Paris are just one part of the international climate policy regime, write Stewart Patrick, director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, and Research Associate Naomi Egel. In this post, part of our ongoing guest series on the Paris summit, they note other institutions contributing to the climate policy process and highlight several climate policy options from CFR’s Global Governance Monitor.

As important as the ongoing Paris climate talks—officially, the twenty-first Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—are, the UNFCCC process is just one part of the global climate change regime. The recently updated Global Governance Monitor: Climate Change, published by CFR’s Center for International Institutions and Global Governance, assesses the scope of global warming and its stakes for the planet, weighs the major multilateral initiatives that have been launched to combat it, summarizes pressing policy debates, and offers concrete recommendations for policymakers on how best to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Combating climate change is the most complicated collective action challenge humanity has ever faced. But the pace and scale of the global response are both increasing, as the world recognizes that we cannot wait—and that we have tools at our disposal to respond.

Who’s Doing What?

Notwithstanding the importance of the UNFCCC process—which involves all UN member states—much of the action in mitigating and adapting to climate change takes place outside the UNFCCC framework.

Flexible is one thing; Effective is another

In contrast to the UNFCCC, many of these initiatives are flexible, voluntary, or informal, and involve a limited number of players. This, however, does not necessarily make them more effective. Case in point is the Major Economies Forum, which was established in 2009 as a venue for the world’s seventeen largest emitters—responsible for about 80 percent of global emissions—to overcome institutional blockages in the UNFCCC system and lead the way on promoting clean energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The MEF’s design is reminiscent of the G20’s but unlike the G20, the MEF has not produced concrete outcomes and remains a talk shop rather than a global leadership body.

More effective alternatives to the intergovernmental system include the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a private-public partnership designed to curb short-lived pollutants and their associated health risks, and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Since 2005, the C40 has been a venue for cities to share best practices and take action to reduce their emissions, recognizing both cities’ contributions to climate change and their capacity to make meaningful reductions in their emissions.

New and Evolving International Institutions

Intergovernmental bodies are also taking action on climate change. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was founded in January 2009 as the first international body specifically mandated to advance renewable energy, and has been highly praised for its innovative approach in identifying best practices and developing new tools.

Climate change is also increasingly addressed by a host of other international organizations whose mandates have evolved to include this challenge. Within the UN system alone, some twenty agencies work on this issue through their own specific lens, including the United Nations Environment Program, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations Development Program. Additionally, the World Bank has incorporated financing for mitigation and adaptation projects into its activities: at present, 21 percent of the Bank’s funding is climate related, totaling $10.3 billion a year. And in October 2015, the Bank pledged to increase its climate financing to up to $29 billion annually by 2020.

Although the multitude of actors seeking to combat climate change is, on whole, a positive development (given the immense scope of the challenge), a lack of coordination among myriad initiatives can lead to redundancy. Nevertheless, this reality exemplifies the inherent complexity of climate change, which affects nearly all sectors, including development, finance, public health, energy, and security.


Of course, these are just a sampling of the many important initiatives outside the UNFCCC framework working to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Global Governance Monitor also recommends several ways to further strengthen the global regime to combat climate change.

Create a global mechanism for monitoring emissions reductions

Nongovernmental groups are already tracking how states’ INDCs stack up against the scale of the challenge. But reliable monitoring is also needed to determine whether countries are actually fulfilling their emissions reduction commitments. At present, the UNFCCC relies entirely on self-reporting from countries as to whether they are meeting their INDCs. A neutral, independent monitoring mechanism under the UNFCCC framework would build the institutional credibility needed for countries to commit to more ambitious INDCs in the future. The UNFCCC could draw lessons on the best approaches for monitoring and verification from other international organizations that engage in analogous tasks, such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Develop a voluntary system to encourage compliance post-Paris

Left unclear is whether the Paris agreement will include a binding compliance mechanism. One worry is that unaddressed cases of noncompliance could undermine the credibility of the UNFCCC process. Voluntary mechanisms to encourage states to meet their INDC pledges could help fill this gap. Accordingly governments should explore alternative arrangements, outside but supportive of the UNFCCC framework, to further encourage compliance. Such a system could take the form of clubs that confer on their members some additional benefit for their participation. An alternative would be to make country’s progress toward meeting its INDCs a precondition for certain forms of financing.

Make combatting climate change a G20 priority

Although the Group of 20 (G20) has made tentative forays into the climate field, such as pledges to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, the group could do much more to support the UNFCCC process and catalyze more aggressive emissions reductions and climate financing efforts. In this regard, the recent leaders’ communique from its summit in Antalya, Turkey, was disappointing. China should use its chairmanship of the G20, which begins in December, as a leadership platform to encourage the world’s most prosperous economies to make even more ambitious commitments to reducing emissions, as well as funding clean energy investment. The G20 should also implement the recommendations of the G20 Climate Finance Study Group report, and use the G20 as a body to coordinate collaboration among climate funds, as well as stimulate private investment in financing climate strategies.

These are simply a few of the issues we examine in the Global Governance Monitor, which also provides historical context for many of the issues currently under discussion in Paris. For more information, visit the monitor itself.

More on:

Climate Change

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Treaties and Agreements