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The World just Moved: four transformative governance shifts emerging from COP21

By Asuncion Lera St.Clair and Kjersti Aalbu, DNV GL Strategic Research & Innovation – Climate Change

Credit: unfccc.int

Credit: unfccc.int

The climate agreement at COP21 in Paris has generated quite a bit of heat. Scientists and researchers are squabbling over the feasibility of achieving the sub-2 °C target, while others are dismissive of the commitments made by countries via their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and of their political will to act.

We choose, however, to see a half glass full. The Paris Agreement represents a transformative shift in climate governance. This is not just because the agreement commits the parties to a lower threshold of climate risk (below 2 degrees), but because COP21 is transforming how governance actors think about climate change and act on it. “Governance actors” might sound jargonistic, but we use the term advisedly, because governance means a whole lot more than merely how governments act.

There are four transformative governance structures emerging from the Paris conference.

1. Shifting responsibilities and action

First, the agreement shifts responsibilities and actions to the national level. It breaks the paralysis of all waiting for the global scale to act. The internationally agreed “top-down” global target of keeping warming between 2° and 1.5° C, is complemented by clear “bottom-up” responsibilities at the national level. This includes responsibilities of sub-state actors such as cities, non-state actors like companies, and also individuals. Thus, COP21 plants the seeds for polycentric governance, calling for concerted action from all societal stakeholders. It fosters personal political agency – “Our problem is my problem”. Gone are the days of reliance on a mirage-like single global regime.

2. Adaptation is just as important now as mitigation

The agreement acknowledges that climate change impacts are already visible and other impacts are on the horizon. This means governing climate is no longer a problem for the future but is an urgent and immediate task.

In emphasizing climate change in the “here and now”, COP21 shifts climate governance to the present and puts adaptation to climate change on a par with efforts to mitigate it. It recognises both the potential for adaptation and opportunities for co-benefits (for example, driving less reduces air pollution and both combat climate change, save lives, and help achieve sustainable development). The agreement has a clearly stated global goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability, and establishes a mechanism to provide insurance and emergency preparedness where climate impacts are already an issue and adaptation may not be possible.

3. Standards and best practices

Third, the agreement explicitly mentions the need to develop measures for transparency and accountability which in the absence of strong global legally binding frameworks will lead to the emergence of standards and best practices. Standards are a private or hybrid form of governance involving multiple institutions and stakeholders, often at multiple scales; they can be local, national, regional or international. Attention to these hybrid forms of governance, although voluntary in nature, can enhance democratic processes and bring both accountability as well as innovation for equitable and sustainable outcomes.

4. It’s not just the environment

The Paris Agreement clearly sets the scene for focusing special attention on those most vulnerable today as much as tomorrow, revealing the deep interconnectedness of climate change with multiple other forms of vulnerability. This acknowledgement highlights the need for a thorough understanding of the social and human dimensions of climate change, challenging silos created by current disciplinary research, and policy and practice wrongly treating climate change as merely an environmental problem. Climate governance can no longer be a form of environmental governance.

A CARE International display at COP21 of 196 papier-maché ducks, painted by 300 French children. Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/unfccc

A CARE International display at COP21 of 196 papier-maché ducks, painted by 300 French children. Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/unfccc

Climate change is also about opportunities

The four shifts emerging from the Paris agreement tells us that climate governance is:

• No longer the territory of a single global, state-led regime;
• Now the domain of a multiplicity of actors;
• Not just about conventional climate research or climate policy; and
• Not only a form of environmental governance but the governance of multiple forms of vulnerabilities.

With these shifts come multiple opportunities in addressing climate change. In particular COP21 opens the door for the private sector and business as key actors in the transformation to a safe and sustainable future and in adaptation to climate change. In this regard, clear standards and best practices emerge as central to enable such a transition and to enhance resilience as well as spark innovation.

DNV GL’s work on climate governance

Asun St Clair and Kjersti Aalbu.

Asun St Clair and Kjersti Aalbu.

With all this in mind, DNV GL Research & Innovation Climate Change Programme has started a three-year project on climate governance. Considering the nature and experience of DNV GL, the main objective of this project is to explore standards and best practices as a form of climate governance, contributing to the knowledge base for DNV GL’s work in supporting the development and uptake of climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions. For more information about this project, please contact the authors.
Note: A longer version of this text will soon be published in the first working paper series of the University of Oslo Academy of Global Governance.

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