Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 8, No. 8, August 2012
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Global Governance of Climate Change:
A Comprehensive Assessment Through a Functional Approach

Tapio Kanninen and Georgios Kostakos

The paper first establishes a conceptual framework to enable the systematic mapping and evaluation of the performance of actors and processes addressing multifaceted and interconnected global challenges on the basis of their performance of certain key functions. The following functions are considered: problem identification, awareness-raising, leadership, decision-making and implementation. Subsequently, the paper applies this framework to the global governance of climate change. The performance of each actor and process – including, among others, the UNFCCC negotiation process, IPCC, G-20, UN system entities – is assessed with regard to its effectiveness, coherence and legitimacy. The paper concludes with a number of key findings and suggestions for improvement of the current climate change governance arrangements.

NOTE: An earlier version of this paper was presented by the authors at the Yale-UNITAR 2nd Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy, which was held at Yale University on 17-19 September 2010. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors, in their personal capacity, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies or of the United Nations respectively.

1. Introduction

In recent years global challenges such as climate change have emerged that are multifaceted by nature, interconnected in character and the efficient management of which requires an extraordinary degree of coordination among various actors.

In this light, the paper attempts to: (a) put forward and assess the usefulness of a conceptual framework based on the performance of certain key functions for the evaluation of governance arrangements in response to global challenges; (b) use this framework to describe main actors and processes in global climate change governance: and (c) apply the framework to assess the extent to which the current institutional geography and interactions between the various elements of global climate change governance successfully address the actual challenge at hand. Along with its conclusions, the paper puts forward a number of research questions for the future.

Global governance is usually understood as a combination of formal institutions, regimes and various informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest, a concept of governance defined by the Commission on Global Governance (Commission on Global Governance, 1995, ii). Frank Biermann, Philipp Pattberg, Fariborz Zelli and Harro van Asselt also favoured a similar conceptual framework in a major book on the issue, Global Climate Governance Beyond 2012 (Biermann et al., 2010, 16, 320). [1]

Important as such frameworks are, this paper does not attempt to review them comprehensively. Building on the authors’ combined academic and practitioner experience the paper instead attempts to create a holistic and dynamic way to study key climate change governance issues through a functional approach. The focus is on clarifying and understanding the main functions, structures/actors and processes at play, and their interrelationships.

It should be noted that we are not talking but in passing in this paper about national and local actors. It is recognized that their role is crucial and growing, especially in implementation. But national actors also need internationally acceptable, legitimate frameworks and agreements to guide their activities, guarantee reciprocity and ensure results at the necessary scale. It is therefore important, also from the national point of view, to clarify the international part of the climate change governance architecture and strive for its better performance. This is in tandem with the overall principle of subsidiarity [2], implied if not explicitly stated in the UN context, that would provide for the performance of tasks at the global level only when they cannot be adequately handled by competent authorities at regional, national or local level.

2. Conceptual framework

We propose a comprehensive framework for mapping and evaluating the performance of global governance structures in response to global challenges according to the fulfillment of five key functions [3]. These functions are considered to constitute a sine-qua-non continuum in the response to any global challenge:

1) Problem identification, including early warning about the problem/challenge, its causes and effects, and scientific advice on how to deal with them. While this function starts the continuum, it also closes it, in a way, as the scientific advice on what needs to be done provides the measure for evaluating the success or lack thereof of efforts to address the challenge.

2) Awareness-raising, including advocacy, to publicize the existence and severity of the challenge, among decision-makers and the broader public, and stress the need for timely and decisive action.

3) Leadership, to mobilize political will and resources, and to determine the direction in which response efforts should be moving.

4) Decision-making, to actually devise and get agreement on concrete plans including norms, mechanisms and actions to address the challenge;

5) Implementation, to deliver a set of norms, mechanisms and actions that address the challenge and fulfill the scientific requirements (with a feedback loop informing science if scientific requirements are met but the problem is not subsiding).

For the assessment of the performance of these functions three clusters of measures of success/benchmarks will be used, namely:

1) Efficiency & effectiveness, that is performance of each function with optimal utilization of available resources and production of concrete outcomes in line with expectations;

2) Coherence & breadth, in terms of adequate connections among the actions and outputs of various actors, as well as to the previous and subsequent functions of the continuum, and coverage of all relevant aspects of the challenge over a significant period of time;

3) Legitimacy, including openness/transparency, equity and accountability that lead to broad acceptance of the way this function is performed and thus make viable the long-term performance of the function.

In the part of the paper that follows we will examine the performance of each of the aforementioned five functions vis-à-vis the challenge of climate change by the various actors concerned. Each function's performance will be evaluated according to the three benchmarks mentioned above. The results of this evaluation are, for the purposes of this short paper, qualitative rather than quantitative, assessing the overall compliance with each benchmark as a result of a narrative presentation of observed performance. In the final section of the paper there will be an equally qualitative evaluation of the overall performance of global climate change governance actors and processes vis-à-vis all functions. This will help us determine whether this global challenge is being adequately addressed overall, and if not what are the gaps, how they could be filled and what recommendations could be made for further research and/or action.

3. Climate change governance: key functions and evaluation of their performance

3.1 Identification of the problem

Main actors and their role

Regarding this function, the central role is indisputably played by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by UNEP and WMO already in 1988. It is the key expert body – although it is not purely scientific in terms of membership, which is along State lines with also governmental representation – that defines the challenge and proposes parameters for action. IPCC does not undertake original research but relies on peer-reviewed scientific papers (for procedures and structures, see How does the IPCC work?).

Although IPCC’s role is predominant, there are other institutions that also publish data on climate change:

  • UN bodies such as UNEP, WMO, DESA and UN Regional Commissions (see, e.g., UNEP 2009, 2011);
  • Regional and other international organizations such as EU, IEA, OECD (see, e.g., publications of the International Energy Agency IEA);
  • Reports commissioned by individual governments such as the Stern Review by the UK (Stern, 2007);
  • Reports of scientific bodies, associations, universities and research institutions;
  • Data and reports issued by the private sector and NGOs;
  • Reports by think tanks and lobbying organizations;
  • Media reporting of incidents around the world.
  • Assessment of the performance of this function

    Generally perceived as an efficient and effective body, IPCC reached a recognition peak in 2007, when it was awarded the Novel Peace Prize, jointly with Al Gore. Its reputation was subsequently tainted by reported mistakes and “insider dealing” scandals. A review of IPCC’s methodology commissioned by the UN Secretary-General and the Chair of IPCC from the InterAcademy Council (IAC) was made public on 30 August 2010 [4]. The review recommended fundamental reforms in the IPCC’s management structure and procedures to minimize the possibility of mistakes and regain the body’s credibility. Most of the IAC proposals were accepted by IPCC and their implementation was completed by June 2012 [5]. It will be seen in practice whether IPCC has fully recovered its legitimacy, particularly from the response that its 5th Assessment Report will elicit when it is issued at the end of 2014. In the meantime, special IPCC reports continue to shed light on specific aspects of the climate challenge, as for example the 2011 report on extreme weather events and disasters (IPCC, 2012).

    While IPCC covers a broad range of climate change-related issues the timeliness and relevance of its conclusions seem to be compromised by the relatively long periods between successive assessment reports, typically 5-7 years. At the time of the release of the Fourth Assessment report in early 2007 Joseph Fromm already noted that that report was out of date and omitted recent observations and factors contributing to global warming, such as the release of greenhouse gases from thawing tundra (a number of media interviews, e.g. Ecotalkfiles, 2007; Fromm, 2007) [6]. On a similar note, Paul Krugman reported in the spring of 2010 that climate modelers had grown increasingly pessimistic and what were previously worst-case scenarios had become base-line projections with a number of organizations doubling their predictions for temperature rise over the course of the 21st century (Krugman, 2010, 12).

    As IPCC provides scientific basis for policy-making and target-setting in intergovernmental negotiations, the timeliness of its reports is of particular importance, otherwise attempts at collective action are constantly behind a rapidly moving reality. More real-time scientific data compiled by WMO and UNEP, among others, probably reflect the current state of affairs more accurately, making the case for urgent action, but they do not have the recognition and connection to decision-making that the IPCC reports have.

    To give an example of the above problem, at the moment climate change negotiations are based on a target of 450 parts per million (ppm) concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which was estimated by IPCC in 2007 to lead to global warming of about 2°C above the pre-industrial average. But in 2009, in the journals of Nature and Ecology and Society, a group of 28 internationally renowned climate and natural scientists contested the old target (Rockström et al, 2009). In their view the 2°C limit includes a political consideration of what has been perceived as a realistic target. With that target the world would face significant risks of deleterious impact of climate change. To avoid that, the target for international negotiations should rather be 350 ppm. This target has later been supported by other scientists, including the current chair of IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, in his personal capacity. IPCC will pronounce itself officially on this only in 2014, in its next assessment report.

    Another relevant question concerns the cost benefit calculations of IPCC and other scientific studies and reports that evaluate policy options to deal with the impact of climate change. Martin Weitzman has argued that traditional economic cost benefit calculations are totally inadequate for “high impact low probability events”, such as a runaway climate change catastrophe (Weitzman, 2008, 2). Paul Krugman expresses this concern in this way: “…if there is a significant chance of utter catastrophe, that chance – rather than what is most likely to happen – should dominate cost-benefit calculations. And utter catastrophe does look like a realistic possibility, even if it is not the most likely outcome” (Krugman, 2010, 14). So far, however, what characterizes IPCC reports is an attempt to balance scientific probabilities and political nuances, thus not conveying the same sense of urgency, nor focusing on preventing a low(er) probability but utterly cataclysmic scenarios.

    3.2 Awareness-raising

    Main actors and their role

    IPCC itself is a key actor in the area of raising awareness of climate change and its impacts. 2007 was a pivotal year as a lot of attention focused on climate change thanks to the issuance and promotion of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Other contributing factors were Al Gore and his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth', as well as a series of lectures he gave, a concert and a book. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee capped these successes by awarding the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to the IPCC and Al Gore “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” (Norwegian Nobel Committee, 2007). Subsequent discussion of “planetary boundaries”, of which climate change is one of three already transgressed by human activity as well as the introduction of “the Anthropocene”, a new geological era for Earth shaped primarily by humans, have further strengthened the scientific argument for awareness and urgent action (Rockström et al., 2009; Stockholm Memorandum, 2011; State of the Planet Declaration, 2012).

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been doing his share of awareness-raising as well. Already in the early months of his tenure, in 2007, he started to make frequent public pronouncements on the subject, appointed high-level envoys (former Presidents, Prime Ministers and equivalent) to assist him, made trips to Antarctica and the Arctic to promote the cause, and during his numerous meetings with world leaders systematically put the subject on the agenda. On 24 September 2007 he convened a first-ever High-level Event on Climate Change, which brought together in New York some 80 Heads of State or Government and many more Ministers. Two years later, the Secretary-General hosted a Summit on Climate Change, on 22 September 2009, attracting an even higher number of world leaders, some 100 Heads of State or Government (UN Summit on Climate Change, 2009).

    At a more grassroots level, a vital role in awareness raising and advocacy has been played by academia, civil society organizations, private sector and media. Among such actors one could mention:

  • Environmental NGOs like, Climate Action Network, “Tck Tck Tck” campaign, Greenpeace, WWF, through their advocacy campaigns, publications, protests, pressure on leaders, and numerous side events at UNFCCC meetings;
  • Think tanks and academic institutions, like the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Worldwatch Institute, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and MIT. See for instance the publication in May 2009 of a study on climate change by MIT researchers (Chandler, 2009). On the skeptical side, see for instance postings on energy and environment by the Heritage Foundation (e.g. Loris, 2010);
  • Religious leaders, like the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (known as the “Green Patriarch”), Desmond Tutu and others;
  • Advertisement campaigns of multinational corporations such as Exxon Mobil and corporate leaders such as T. Boone Pickens, as well as interventions by the International Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying organizations;
  • The media, including BBC, CNN and others carrying supportive news and documentaries, while Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among others, have been focusing more on the views of skeptics;
  • Books, in addition to Al Gore’s best-seller, have also played their role on both sides of the isle. Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist was published in 2001 and Limits to Growth already in 1972 with 30-year update by its authors in 2004, (Lomborg, 2001; Meadows et al. 2004). A more recent book "Storms of My Grandchildren", published in 2008 by James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was even featured on David Letterman's show.
  • Public-private partnerships and the UN system, including United Nations media campaigns often spearheaded by UNEP, as well as UN Global Compact events, also have a role in promoting awareness about climate change. A very strong such campaign was mounted in the lead-up to UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen under the overall theme “Seal the Deal!”.
  • Assessment of the performance of this function

    The various campaigns seemed to converge and reinforce each other in the period 2007 to 2009. Climate change was increasingly mentioned in public polls among major citizen concerns in the US, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. A setback came as a result of UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen in December 2009, when the expected climax of world leaders’ signing a major agreement did not materialize. A much more modest “Copenhagen Accord” was only taken note of by the Conference of the Parties (although subsequently more than 130 countries associated themselves with it).

    Elements of the Copenhagen Accord were included in the decisions of the subsequent UNFCCC COPs in Cancún and Durban respectively (see relevant decisions at the UNFCCC website). At COP 17 in Durban governments resolved to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change no later than 2015, to take effect from 2020. But there seems to be some fatigue in public perceptions and interest, including among civil society activists and awareness-raisers, who are apparently trying to regroup and redefine their respective messages. A shift of focus onto the broader sustainable development agenda, in view of the holding of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, does not seem to have altered the sense of disillusionment among civil society organizations with the capacity of the intergovernmental machinery to take bold decisions and actions, with the fiercest criticism coming from North-based and environment-focused organizations [7].

    The awareness raising and advocacy function is by nature very incoherent, as many quite different actors are involved, sometimes working in cross-purposes. And there is evidently very strong politicization and polarization, something to be expected in any open debate, particularly when the stakes are as high as in the case of all-encompassing climate change, for politicians, business people and the population at large. Such politicization and polarization may be drowning out the more authoritative but often extremely cautious analyses of the scientific community, and may also not help focus on some positive outcomes from the intergovernmental process that need to be built upon.

    Furthermore, the media, by producing interpretations and opinions, provide a “filter” between IPCC, other scientific studies and raw climate change data, on the one hand, and policy makers and the broader public on the other. Very few decision-makers – whether local, national or international – read themselves the scientific studies and reports. Instead, they seem to rely on their favoured media outlets to give them the sound bites and analysis, which often replace real leadership, decisions and action.

    3.3 Leadership

    Main actors and their role

    There are different types and levels of leadership involved in the governance of climate change. Among those who exert it are leaders of key institutions, leaders of key processes, and leaders of key countries that also have a major impact internationally. These include:

  • The UN Secretary-General before the Copenhagen COP, when urging world leaders to deal directly with this global challenge and come together to “Seal the Deal”; talking to all parties and taking initiatives to unblock the negotiations at difficult moments like when the US had to be persuaded to allow for consensus at the end of the Bali Conference (UNFCCC COP 13) or when the Copenhagen Accord at least had to be “take[n] note of” by the Parties at COP 15 in Copenhagen; placing sustainable development and climate change at the top of his list of priorities for the second term of his tenure (2012-2016) and establishing a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability to advise him on related issues;
  • The UNFCCC Executive Secretary, working with the negotiators and supporting them with the UNFCCC Secretariat, but also prodding them publicly and framing and reframing the issues at hand, in order to help create win-win situations;
  • Successive COP Presidencies, namely those of Indonesia (COP 13), Poland (COP 14), Denmark (COP 15), Mexico (COP 16) and South Africa (COP 17), with different styles and methods and overall high-level ambitions but varied results;
  • National leaders, like President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, as well as the leaders of the US and China supporting primarily – although not exclusively – their diverging domestic interests;
  • Those who lead or speak for groups of countries with strong views on the matter, for example the G-77, Africa, the Small Island Developing States, or the ALBA countries with their condemnation of capitalism and focus on the rights of Mother Earth/Pachamama.

    Assessment of the performance of this function

    Judged by the modest results up to now, the various sources of leadership have not been effectively exercised or coordinated, not least because of respective limitations and different underlying interests involved. The leaders collectively seem to be failing the world as a whole.

    The authors of this paper have separately reviewed the performance of the UN Secretary-General and the UN system in the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of December 2009 (Kanninen and Kostakos, 2011). We concluded that it could be debated whether the Secretary-General and the UN system as a whole, including the UNFCCC Secretariat, could have done more to achieve a comprehensive deal, an important research topic for the future to which we return in our conclusions. At the same time, the assistance and services provided by UN actors to the negotiation process have been extensive. The moral authority of the Secretary-General and the support from the UN system may have helped at times save the situation in the process leading to COP 15 in Copenhagen but could not by themselves deliver a definitive outcome there.

    The rather aggressive leadership attempted by the Danish Presidency at COP 15 in Copenhagen may have been justified as the main negotiation tracks were slow and seemed destined to inconclusive results or to a stalemate. But many have observed that this leadership strategy might also have led to the dismantling of the established process and the loss of momentum and trust. The leadership of the US, Brazil, South Africa, India and China in coming up with the Copenhagen Accord as a saving grace for COP 15 might have achieved the only politically viable outcome at that time but inevitably put in question the legitimacy of the negotiation process. Due to the lack of broader consultations and transparency, the leaders of G-77, notably Sudan in 2009, and of sub-groups like the ALBA countries, notably Venezuela, as well as others, voiced objections to the Copenhagen Accord and its follow-up, even while welcoming some of the Accord’s provisions.

    Subsequent COPs seem to have been more deftly managed by the respective Presidencies (COP 16 in Cancun and COP 17 in Durban), resulting in the eventual inclusion of the Copenhagen Accord content into COP decisions. It is interesting to note that the two most recent COP Presidencies were both held by middle-income or emerging economies, de facto lying in-between the developed and the developing world. Similarly, the smooth way that the Rio+20 outcome was finally reached thanks to the Brazilian Presidency – whether one agrees with the ambition level of the result or not – highlights this point and underlines the special leadership role increasingly undertaken by and expected from countries like the BRICS.

    Beyond the importance of reaching agreement, of course, the content of any such agreement is crucial. The Copenhagen Accord and its subsequent incarnations may have lowered considerably the world ambition level – without binding targets – as “it is founded on a dramatically reduced urgency” (Clark, 2010, 4-5). The level of ambition may have somewhat been restored by the COP 17 decision to eventually reach a legally binding agreement on climate change and the Rio+20 decision to establish sustainable development goals that will complement the MDGs (although in the latter case climate change did not feature in any operational way in the Rio+20 outcome document, “The Future We Want”).

    3.4 Decision-making

    Main actors and their role

    In terms of climate change negotiations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is broadly accepted as the central decision-making forum into which all other processes should feed. In this light, Biermann et al., after a major research programme, concluded in Global Climate Governance Beyond 2012 that “…in spite of some benefits of institutional fragmentation, it is pivotal to strengthen the UN regime as the chief institution to address climate change” (Biermann et al., 321).

    While the Rio+20 negotiations touched upon climate change only marginally, there was a clear recognition by the civil society representatives, scholars and even some politicians attending the conference that there is a growing gap between science and the results of negotiations – also affecting climate change talks. In this regard, the International Institute for Sustainable Development noted a strange disconnect between civil society and many government delegates. While the governments have a deep interest in preserving the integrity of multilateralism, there is growing awareness that international institutions and negotiation processes have been damaged by the failure to produce solutions that "rise to the moment”, integrate the latest scientific evidence in their work, and “address the world as it is and not as it once was” (see Doran et all, 2012). During side events at Rio+20 there was talk of the need to establish a new contract between science and society and a better science-policy interface for sustainable development, so that agreed solutions reflect scientific evidence and not only what is politically feasible to achieve at a given moment in time. [8]

    One of the apparent complications/problems of the UNFCCC negotiations has been their separation into two distinct streams, to take into account that not all countries (especially the U.S.) are part of the Kyoto Protocol. The existence of the two tracks, with different negotiating texts and thematic overlaps – one under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and the other under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) – has been complicating the decision-making process. The addition of a third Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which will work on a universal agreement on climate change, will hopefully not further complicate the process but rather contribute to the convergence of all tracks into one legally-binding and actionable script for the post-2020 period.

    Although UNFCCC is broadly acknowledged as the main negotiation body, “forum shopping” has not been absent in recent years. A prominent alternative forum for negotiations has been the Asia-Pacific Partnership but its role, after the change of leadership in the U.S. and Australia since 2007, may have somewhat diminished. The Major Economies Forum (MEF) and G-20 may not focus exclusively on climate change but do deal with some important aspects, like economic recovery and green growth, technology development, transfer and clean technologies, as well as sectoral mitigation efforts, and are thus potential supplements and/or competitors to UNFCCC. Undoubtedly, key countries, including the architects of the “Copenhagen Accord”, belong to the G-20. Furthermore, some observes think that global financial governance reform, main task of G-20, and climate finance governance have to be treated in juxtaposition (Clark, 2010, 10), also increasing the potential role of the G-20 in the future.

    While it is politically easy for most governments to just leave the climate change to the now familiar UNFCCC process, there is deepening recognition by all parties that the present intergovernmental decision-making system is not working properly. The recently completed Rio+20 Conference expressed this in an indirect way when it: “reaffirm[ed] that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and … express[ed] profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally”. [9]

    Other decision-makers – whether leaders or processes – of relevance to climate change include:

  • Individual national leaders, governments, national parliaments and regulatory authorities;
  • Carbon and other markets, which “vote” with their trading preferences and CDM projects;
  • The world trade regime by WTO that partly overlaps with UNFCCC, including on trade in emission allowances as well as transfer of climate-friendly goods, services and technologies (Biermann et al., 2010, 310-311).
  • Assessment of the performance of this function

    As disappointing as it is that no major agreement on climate change has yet been reached, the Durban COP outcome could be seen as offering some promise. In parallel to the multilateral negotiations, specific action is being taken by Annex-I countries, the US, major developing economies and others. Enacted legislation in the European Union commits to 20% reduction of emissions by 2020, with a possible increase to 30% if other major economies undertake similar measures. Japan has committed to 25%, while both India and China have decided to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies for each additional unit of GDP growth. All this does not add up to what is needed according to the IPCC, or what the latest climate science seems to be telling us [10], but is definitely better than nothing (see the Climate Action Tracker project).

    As G-20 has been gaining in importance in recent years in financial, economic and development issues the question is being asked whether its potential role in climate change talks will diminish the corresponding role of the UN and the legitimacy of the climate change negotiation process. If the G-8 precedent can tell us anything about the G-20, it is to expect incremental but steady growth of the agenda of such an elite body initially established “with a rather narrow economic and financial focus” (Hajnal, 2010, 1). The Stanley Foundation’s 41st UN Issues Conference, held in March 2010, discussed effective collaboration between the UN and G-20. Many Conference participants noted that G-20 represent 85 per cent of global GDP and two-thirds of the world’s population. Moreover, the G-20 has a strong legitimacy claim based on its response to the global financial crisis and success in averting a global depression. And finally some say that the G-20 also brings established and emerging powers together, with greater equality in status than the UN Security Council (Stanley Foundation, 2010,1-2), although it does not include representation of the smaller powers.

    Bruce Jones, however, notes that the G-20, like the G-8 before it, is expected to have minimal operational or actionable roles and will depend on the formal institutions such as the UN to implement most, if not all, of its major decisions (Jones, 2010, 1). In terms of effectiveness and coherence of the processes Jones notes that because the G-20 meets at the Heads of State level, it has the ability to range across the various policy sectors, galvanize action and does not face the same constraints of bureaucratic inertia as governing bodies of formal institutions do (ibid, 5). On the other hand, due to its annually changing chairmanship and without a permanent secretariat the G-20 has a somewhat unpredictable leadership function, consistency and follow-up. Moreover, the G-20 does not have the same legitimacy, representation, transparency and accountability that the UN has. Recently, it also seems to have lost some of its earlier steam and focus.

    Of course, the most important thing is to get decisions for action and delivery on the ground, but these do not seem to be forthcoming from any existing forum. Without a legitimate universal framework, such as a binding UNFCCC agreement, which commits all players and economic competitors to a set of “common but differentiated” rules, it is difficult to see any major shift to action by national authorities and a decisive move towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns, which may entail some unpopular adjustments [11]. Attempts to better connect and even integrate the UN and G-20 continue and include, inter alia, the “3G” group led by the Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN in New York (Cooper and Helleiner, 2010, 8-9, 65-67). A key role in this regard can be played by the UN Secretary-General through his regular attendance of G-20 Summits and his input in agenda setting, other deliberations and follow-up through his Sherpas. It is interesting to see what impact, if any, the “high-level political forum” to be established according to the Rio+20 Outcome Document will have on decision-making on major sustainable development challenges, including climate change.

    3.5 Implementation

    Main actors and their role

    It is of course national institutions that play the central role in terms of implementation on the ground, including on mitigation and adaptation. At the international level, the UN system, with all of its agencies including the Bretton Woods Institutions, is nevertheless an important actor dedicated to “delivering as one” on the ground on the mandates issued by UNFCCC and other intergovernmental bodies. For coordination at the Headquarters level, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), which includes the UN Secretariat as well as all UN system specialized agencies, funds and programmes and is chaired by the UN Secretary-General, takes the lead, relying on the Working Group on Climate Change of its High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) [12]. At the country level, UN Country Teams, under the UN Development Group (UNDG), carry out implementation in cooperation with national authorities.

    Other international and regional organizations, the private sector and NGOs also participate in implementation:

  • Multilateral and bilateral development agencies and donors, including those of the European Union and its individual members, Japan and others;
  • Multilateral development banks in the various regions;
  • Projects of major NGOs like Oxfam and WWF;
  • Public-private partnerships (see Pattberg, 2010,152).
  • Of course, what is at the core of achieving implementation, beyond the existence of institutional actors and human resources, is the availability of funds and technology. Often the fight between developed and developing countries in the various multilateral negotiation processes comes down to exactly that, how and how many funds and technology can be transferred from the North to the South to ensure the latter’s ability to act under the overarching principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

    Assessment of the performance of this function

    The legitimacy of the UNFCCC process, of the partial agreement reached under it in 2009 in the form of the Copenhagen Accord, and of later agreements in Cancún and Durban, rests to a large extent on the degree to which there will eventually be action on the ground. A prerequisite for that, and for any decision to be reached in an atmosphere of trust at UNFCCC, is the delivery of funding, fast-track and more long-term. The agreements reached in Cancún repeated the Copenhagen Accord promise of US$30 billion in fast-start finance from industrialized countries to support climate action in the developing world in the period 2010-2012 and the intention to raise long-term funds to the amount of US$100 billion annually by 2020 [13]. A Green Climate Fund established through Cancún and Durban is expected to become operational in 2013, but the fighting over representation and procedures leaves unanswered the key question of the actual amounts to be allocated through it.

    Nonetheless, some implementation is taking place, on the basis of existing mandates and resources that have been allocated. In this context and as far as the UN system is concerned, we see noticeable efforts at greater efficiency, effectiveness and coherence, with increasing emphasis on implementation and delivery, even if the mandates that are supposed to be implemented have not fully emerged yet from UNFCCC and other decision-making fora [14]. The “delivering as one” effort is trying to regain the UN’s legitimacy and reconnect the UN system with Member States and the public, especially in developing countries.

    Outside the UN we see green/climate-friendly initiatives by power utilities, energy, construction and other companies, among others, around the world. For instance, a number of construction companies and related organizations in the US have created the U.S. Green Building Council (U.S. Green Building Council). To what extent such initiatives of private enterprises are primarily campaigns of appearances, of “going with the flow”, betting on good economic returns in long term, or acts of conviction with continuity of effort and resource mobilization over time, remains to be seen. Similarly, the impressive amount of commitments to sustainable development delivered at Rio+20 by the private sector may indeed translate into serious efforts in practice, or, in a worst case, may just represent “good-will” marketing of company images in the face of changing customer demands.

    4. Conclusions: overall assessment of the current state of global governance regarding climate change

    Overall, the performance of the various functions discussed in this paper seems to differ, with relative success in science and awareness-raising not matched by corresponding leadership for decisions and action. A lot seems to need to be done to enhance the latter, not least an increase in the coherence among and within the various actors and an increase in the transparency of methods and legitimacy of interests being pursued, which need to be more attuned to the broader good.

    Reviewing briefly the performance of each function:

    Problem identification: The central role played by IPCC contributes to significant coherence in the performance of this function. Climate change science and projections are authoritatively settled through this representative body. The timeliness of the information and the earliness of the warning are still concerns, however (including outdated information and targets for negotiations, and insufficient cost benefit calculations). IPCC will hopefully continue to enjoy significant legitimacy by its inclusive character following corrective action taken to address recent allegations of bias and sloppiness/mistakes.

    Awareness raising: The execution of this function is basically incoherent as numerous actors play their respective roles without much or any coordination. This has nevertheless proven effective for certain periods of time – notably 2007-2009 – but has apparently lost steam after Copenhagen. Questions about the motives and funding of those performing this function, including the media, politicians, lobbyists and others, do not help establish the broader legitimacy of those actors. New scientific evidence may well emerge, whether through IPCC or otherwise, of the real urgency of preventing runaway climate change in a matter of years, not decades, which can be a major game changer.

    Leadership: The relationship between the various potential and actual leaders, notably the UN Secretary-General, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, the rotating COP President, caucus leaders at the UN talks such as G-77 and key national leaders, especially those in the G-20 and the BRICS, is very important. Ideally, a smooth cooperation among them centered around the common good could be effective, coherent, and relatively transparent and accountable. That, however, is far from being the case as yet.

    Decision-making: We have discussed in this paper various factors that support the claim that promoting a UN climate change regime is key in terms of legitimacy, effectiveness, transparency, coherence and accountability. Supplementary agreements in other fora, if mutually reinforcing, can also add to a positive mix. The UNFCCC, however, which is supposed to be in the centre of this regime, still remains to deliver in a significant way. Hopefully the new deadlines of 2015 for reaching a universal legal agreement and 2020 for such an agreement to come into effect will not be missed. Increasing urgency dictated by new scientific evidence may also change the political dynamics in a fundamental way, leading to more ambitious targets and implementation schemes (see below).

    Implementation: Progress in delivery on the ground by the UN system, NGOs and some public-private partnerships cannot make up for the lack of major agreements that are needed according to science and the unavailability of the necessary resources, from public and private sources. Thus the results of the implementation function continue de facto to fall short of what is required.

    The functional framework for global governance of climate change suggested in this paper provides a holistic, “ bird’s eye” view of strong and weak links in the entire chain of actors and processes related to climate change. Although this was not our preconceived conclusion when we started this study, and we recognize fully our bias due to our UN connection, we cannot fail to notice in all sections of the paper a key potential role of the UN and its Secretary-General in terms of overall leadership and in concrete terms of integration and coordination of all key actors, processes and functions. No other institution or leader is involved in so many functions. In the centre of a basically decentralized UN system, the Secretary-General can still mobilize actors and campaigns with vision and determination. This is somewhat surprising as the Secretary-General’s role has so far been seen as most central in the “harder” peace and security area.

    It is interesting to explore whether this change has taken place in response to a corresponding shift in the real world, and whether it is in addition to or at the expense of the Secretary-General’s traditional leadership role in peace and security. It is also worth seeing whether such a leadership role by the UN Secretary-General in the climate change and broader sustainable development area will be lasting or will in a few years be seen as a temporal aberration. In any case, addressing the climate change challenge cannot be the single-handed work of one person or institution. The active involvement of other leaders, governments, private sector, NGOs and opinion-makers at all levels of governance is a sine qua non, according to respective competencies and the overall principle of subsidiarity.

    For further discussion and future research we pose a few questions based on the findings of this study:

    1) Taking into account the role played by the UN Secretary-General in practically all the functions explored in this paper, does the Secretary-General have at his/her disposal sufficient resources, expert capacity and mandates to carry out that role effectively? In this line, should his or her leadership potential in climate change governance be assessed more systematically by the academic community, taking also into account the many challenges that remain in this area?

    2) How can the efficiency of small fora be combined with the legitimacy of large ones, ultimately the UN, to facilitate decision-making and implementation? How can the G-20 and the “G-193” – the whole UN membership – become complementary rather than potentially competitive? And what use could be made of existing precedents of the legitimate use of smaller groups to advance UNFCCC negotiations, known as the “Vienna setting”, which actually brings together all key players mentioned earlier (see section 3.3) or their representatives?

    3) How can the scientific advice provided to decision-makers become more timely, authoritative and interactive addressing the questions raised in section 3.1? What this could entail for the mandate, structure and working methods of IPCC? Could the IPCC’s role be supplemented by other UN entities, such as UNEP and WMO, or academic think tanks, civil society or private sector, possibly working together [15], for instance to produce well-targeted studies in-between the IPCC assessment reviews? How would the relevant findings of such studies be formally channeled to the negotiation/decision-making process(es) without challenging IPCC’s mandate and authority?

    4) And more generally, how could early warning mechanisms that already exist inside or outside the UN system on various interlinked global challenges, or aspects thereof, be better integrated and strengthened so as to reinforce each other? (See Kanninen and Kostakos, 2011).

    The current paper was a very preliminary effort to assess the adequacy of the international community’s response to global challenges, in this case to climate change. It used a functional framework for a comprehensive evaluation of the present system of global climate change governance and offered some initial findings to help guide further research and practical decisions in the future. A similar approach could also be used to analyse other interlinked global challenges and propose strategies to address them more systematically than is the case at present.


    [1] Global Climate Governance Beyond 2012 is a book that resulted from a European Union research programme in 2006-2009 that brought together seven institutions in six countries and three continents.

    [2] The subsidiarity principle has been formally introduced in the European Union context and has been enshrined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.

    [3] The functional approach to world politics in a broader sense has been put forward most prominently by David Mitrany and his disciples (see, for example, Mitrany, 1975 and Groom & Taylor, 1975). More recently Alex Evans and David Steven have also advocated that function should come before form in the international community’s response to global challenges (Evans & Steven, 2008).

    [4] The review can be found at InterAcademy Council.

    [5] See IPCC press release dated 27 June 2012 and entitled IPCC completes review of processes and procedures.

    [6] Recent research has also discussed the dangers if feedback loops contributing to climate change become dominant crossing a no-return threshold (see, e.g., the Apollo-Gaia Project).

    [7] See, for example, Greenpeace press statement Rio+20 Earth Summit – a Failure of Epic Proportions, and the article entitled Rio+20 Earth Summit: Campaigners Decry Final Document, The Guardian, 22 June 2012. A forthcoming book by Tapio Kanninen (Crisis of Global Sustainability, Routledge, 2013) will review systematically various criticisms leveled against official climate change and sustainable development negotiations/conferences and what should be done to make the negotiations more efficient and based on most recent scientific results.

    [8] See Rio+20 side events by ICSU, UNESCO and others, as well as the launch of the Future Earth initiative.

    [9] The Future We Want, para. 190.

    [10] See for instance the forthcoming contribution by James E. Hansen and Makitoki Sato, “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-made Climate Change,” in Climate Change: Inferences from Paleoclimate and Regional Aspects, ed. Andr Berger, Fedor Mesinger, and D. Šijacki (Springer, 2012).

    [11] These issues seem to have played a key role for instance in Australian domestic politics (Foley, 2010).

    [12] See UNSCEB on climate change.

    [13] See UNFCCC press release UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún delivers balanced package of decisions, restores faith in multilateral process.

    [14] Discussed in detail in Kanninen and Kostakos, 2011.

    [15] An interesting example of scientists, private sector and NGOs working together on producing a study of wide impact was the initiation, preparation and publication of Limits to Growth (see Malaska & Vapaavuori, 17-33).


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    Tapio Kanninen is Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Sustainable Global Governance Project, Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is former convener or secretary of many intergovernmental, interdepartmental and inter-organizational negotiation processes at the UN. Served as Chief of the Policy Planning Unit in the UN Department of Political Affairs in 1998-2005, and in the early 1980s was a member of a UNEP-funded project in the UN Statistical Office on establishing a global framework for environment statistics. His Ph.D. thesis on UN reform and leadership (CUNY, 1990) was published by Kluwer Law International.

    Georgios Kostakos is Senior Programme Officer and Acting Deputy Executive Secretary, Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP), United Nations. He earlier served in the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team (CCST), the secretariat of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Secretary-General’s Strategic Planning Unit, the UN Departments of Political Affairs and Safety and Security, and on several UN field missions. His Ph.D. thesis (University of Kent, UK, 1989) dealt with UN reform.

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