The role of non-state actors will grow after the Paris climate conference

The role of non-state actors will grow after the Paris climate conference

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Date: 10th July 2015
Author: CDKN Global
Type: Feature

Monica Araya gives her insights into the growing role of non-state actors in the Latin American and Caribbean region, a topic which she presented at the last ECLAC dialogue for Latin American countries, held in Santiago de Chile in May 2015. CDKN supports these dialogues through its Advocacy Fund.

A stadium in Costa Rica became 100% solar powered in May. Powerful headlines energised readers in a region whose love for football and the sun is legendary. A source of pride, this became the first stadium in Central America of this kind.

Tangible benefits, including $185,000 in savings a year, tell a credible story to citizens of why embracing clean energy is smart. The stadium’s conversion also shows that actions by all stakeholders, not only the state, are necessary if we are to collectively shift toward growing economies while emissions go down. Non-state actors, such as companies and city-led initiatives, can make an affirmative difference this year. This will be especially the case once governments sign a new climate agreement in Paris this December.

The scale of non-state actions is likely to grow after Paris

We don't yet know the scale of non-state actions to lower emissions and build resilience to the impacts of climate change. The efforts to measure them focus on initiatives to reduce emissions (a bias that needs to be overcome to avoid giving the impression that adaptation is less important than mitigation).

In the UN climate negotiations, “non-state actions” denote climate activities that happened outside the scope of UNFCCC. Conceptually, non-state actions are a hybrid, as they include some local governments (e.g. the mayors of 20 Latin American cities who signed a C40 Declaration on clean buses to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions) and some states (e.g the Global Platform for Low Emissions Development and the New York Declaration on Forests).

It is also helpful to avoid the either/-or trap: the thinking that either state or non-state action is necessary. Non-state actions complement the work of governments, they are needed and can make a powerful difference – and yet it would be naïve or irresponsible to treat them as an alternative to mandatory commitments by states.

A variety of motivations will grow stronger over time

Why are these initiatives growing? One defining driver is the rising concern about the impacts of climate change. This is particularly the case in developing countries and some industries such as agriculture and insurance. Water scarcity and intense weather-related events are raising the collective awareness that climate actions are needed in order to protect people, infrastructure and natural capital.

Second, more companies are feeling a new wave of social demands, coming from communities and activists, to clean up their businesses and that they have to improve their environmental and social performance. The negative role of the fossil fuel lobby on public policy is also being exposed in the media. The pressure for climate action is now coming from unusual suspects. The most emblematic examples are Pope Francis´ environmental encyclical and the call for climate action by 26 Nobel Prize winners.

The growth in renewable energy, which is driven by economic fundamentals rather than climate concerns as such, also plays a transformative role in changing the business conversation. Today it is no longer acceptable to treat renewables as an expensive green utopia as was the case a few years ago. A new cluster of stakeholders (from companies, cities and bankers to local politicians, universities and newspapers) are making their own climate commitments and often this translates into embracing renewable energy. Consequently, the renewable story is no longer a European Union story like it was in 2009 on the road to the 15th conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP15). Then, 7.7 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy was installed, mostly in Europe, today it is a more global story from Chinese manufactures and Californian technicians, to African rural projects and the solar stadium in Costa Rica. 55.7 GW of renewable capacity is forecast across all continents in 2015, according to Bloomberg, rising to 63.3 GW in 2016.

The synergies with the UN will deepen after Paris

Born in December 2014 during the COP20 in Peru, the UNFCCC now tracks these actions in the “Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action”, known as the NAZCA Portal. An encounter with city leaders and experts was also encouraged last year for the first time. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, has publicly supported the Canadian provinces that are already taking climate action (and are asking the federal governments to do more for the climate). For example, the province of Ontario successfully phased out coal power in 2014.

The UNEP´s Emissions Gap Report, a landmark synthesis report tracking the aggregate effect governmental climate commitments and pledges now tracks these initiatives as well.

The UN Director General enabled positive synergies between state and non-state actors by bringing leaders to New York in September last year where commitments were tabled by 300+ leaders of civil society, companies, research and finance, and 250+ representatives of cities and municipalities. More than 2,000 cities pledged to report emissions in a transparent and harmonized manner and more than 200 cities took on new climate commitments. Institutional investors will decarbonise $100,000 million in December 2015. The insurance industry committed to doubling green investments to $84 billion at the end of 2015. The hashtag #climate2014 reached 127 million people, the largest reach of any UN hashtag. The UN Climate Summit reached over 147 million users and 30,000+ articles were published worldwide on the Summit according the UN Director General’s office.

Most recently on 6 June 2015, the UNFCCC along with World Wide Views (a hub led by Danish and French institutions, including the Ministry of Ecology), co-sponsored the largest ever citizen consultation on climate change and the UN climate negotiations, reaching about 10,000 citizens worldwide in about 80 countries. The results were presented at the Bonn Intersessional in June 2015.

These trends will get stronger as the middle classes in developing countries demand cleaner choices (e.g. clean air) and can help create political space for governmental effort to implement public policy and create new low carbon mandates.

Non-state actions might be part of the Paris package, mostly likely through an informal approach.

The French Government, as President of the COP21 in Paris, has suggested the following structure for the Paris package: 1) The Paris agreement for the Parties to the UNFCCC, 2) The national contributions by the states (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDCs), 3) Financing package, 4) the "Solutions Agenda". Under this vision, non-state actions would be integrated in the fourth category thus being part of the Paris package, outside the Agreement.

Some proposals are available, for example the Yale Climate Dialogue (an international group of think tanks and academic bodies) has proposed the following three options:

  • Inside the Paris Agreement: Non-state actors would sign the goals of the Paris Agreement and these actors would develop their own contributions
  • A parallel agreement: This would include principles for joining a network of agreements containing spefications for each actor.
  • If 1 and 2 are not accepted, then the actions would be part of a registry that collects the contributions of non-state actors (e.g. an upgraded version of the NAZCA portal)

The consortium ACT2015 has tested ideas in several countries and has proposed to deal with this topic in after Paris. For example, guidelines could be developed in the next few years with the goal of 'recognising' non-state actions - their emissions would be captured in national inventories and reporting. Other options are being discussed.

The power of inspiration in winning the hearts and minds after Paris

The Paris outcome will trigger a “confrontation of interpretations”. It will be inevitable and therefore vital to translate the outcome into credible benefits and language that works for the public. The UNFCCC Secretary is doing very good work already and more will be needed inside each country.

The INDCs, critical as they are, tend to be uncomfortably abstract for citizens (and most implementation is likely to start next decade). That is why Paris actions by non-state actors will play a critical role in 2016: they will show what climate actions looks like in practice, what benefits it delivers and why the bigger the alliance of stakeholders, the faster we can leave dirty choices behind.

The solar stadium story in Costa Rica confirms the power of inspiration. The fans from other clubs found the story appealing and wanted their clubs to switch to solar too. This “me-too” psychology will be critical to create political demand for cleaner choices and for building a much universal ownership over the Paris outcome not only by states around the world, but especially by companies and citizens.


Occasionally, CDKN invites guest bloggers from around the world to share their views. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of CDKN or its Alliance partner organisations.

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