Transnational Climate Action: Seizing the Opportunity in the Global South

Climate change is no longer a matter of governments alone, as local authorities, investors, businesses and other social groups increasingly act on, and to adapt to climate change. Transnational actions could further narrow the emissions gap, demonstrate to governments what is possible, and – in so doing – they create pressure for higher ambitions. However, to become effective complements to the international climate regime, climate actions also need to be taken on a global scale. This raises the question about the geographic distribution of transnational action – climate-action1and more broadly whether the transnational dimension of the post-Paris climate governance architecture will deliver in an equitable manner. In contrast to ‘traditional’ international climate politics, the gap between developing and developed countries is much less questioned when it comes to the transnational dimension of global climate change. This is remarkable, given the great potential of transnational climate actions questions such as ‘where will the benefits of these actions accrue’ and ‘who are the beneficiaries’ should loom large. Imbalances in the transnational governance realm may soon undermine the legitimacy of transnational engagement in the UNFCCC process. This would not only be a political problem; it would possibly lead to a less effective global climate regime.

Geographic imbalances

So what are these possible imbalances? A recent paper looks at political support for transnational linkages; where transnational climate actions are initiated; who participates in transnational climate actions; where transnational actions are implemented; and performance across developing and developed countries.

  • We see a steadily growing political support for greater engagement of transnational actors. Initially advocated by the EU and the US, other countries increasingly speak appreciatively about transnational actors. Several countries – among them China – have expressed concerns over sovereignty; transnational actions should be part of national All things considered, political support for transnational linkages has been growing across the global North and South.
  • Regarding leadership, current studies all show a highly imbalanced pattern. Developing country based actors lead a very small proportion of transnational initiatives; most studies put the proportion of initiatives led by developing countries at close to 0 to just over 20%.
  • In terms of participatory patterns, we see a more mixed picture. On the one hand a lot of transnational climate actions include developing country based actors, however, the proportion of developing country based actors is generally low, although there is significant variance across different studies and samples.
  • Regarding the geography of implementation, we generally see more balanced patterns; and even a slight emphasis towards developing countries. However, the implementation gap between planned and actual implementation is much greater in lower middle income and least developed developing countries.
  • Finally, current scholarship does not provide a conclusive answer to whether transnational initiatives in the global South perform better or worse. Many intervening factors influence the performance of transnational initiatives and their location. More studies are necessary to better understand how developing country contexts relate to effectiveness of transnational initiatives.

How can we explain these uneven patterns?

We need to consider the possibility of selection biases; however, findings of imbalances across different samples and studies are so pervasive that geographically imbalanced transnational climate governance cannot be easily explained away as merely a selection bias. Geographic imbalances can be due to agency-based outcomes. For instance, transnational initiatives aiming at impacts at scale may choose to focus on emerging countries, such as China or India, instead of least-developed or smaller developing countries. Moreover, actors in developing countries may lack the transnational capacity to act and connect in intercultural, international and intersectoral environments, negatively impacting on the ability to initiative and partake in transnational networks. The imbalanced geography of transnational climate governance may also relate with a global political economy which consolidates powerful – often North-based – actors, while marginalizing the developing world. Decision-making paper resides with North-based actors, perpetuating North-South disparities.

What can we do about it?

Geographically imbalanced zztransnational climate governance is not easily remedied, but there are opportunities to encourage developing country based actors to participate in climate actions.

  • International organizations have a key role to play in addressing North/South imbalances through strategic measures to engage stakeholders from developing countries.
  • The post-Paris climate governance architecture may also provide opportunities. Most NDCs put forward by developing countries set conditional targets, which may only be fulfilled through transnational action and international cooperation. Developed countries but also emerging countries, in particular China, could promote NDC implementation and the transnational capacity to do so.
  • Specific programs could be designed to build capacity for national and transnational climate actions in developing countries. Such programs could contribute to broad dialogue, beyond the narrow circle of policy makers.
  • Finally, the emerging Global Climate Action Agenda, and the High-Level Climate Action Champions should also prioritize new and strengthened transnational climate action in the global South. Most efforts to mobilize transnational action are currently taken at the international level, however, regionally and nationally specific conditions require regional and national mobilization efforts.

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