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29.11.2022 · Simon Otto

Sectoral options for advancing global climate governance


On 20 October 2022, NDC ASPECTS work on sectoral options for global climate governance was presented by Adrián Vidal (BC3), Catherine Hall (UEF), and Simon Otto (VUB) at the 2022 Earth Systems Governance Conference. The presentations were part of the virtual panel ‘Sectoral options for advancing global climate governance’ chaired by Prof. Dr. Robert Falkner from the London School of Economics (LSE), with Dr. Åsa Persson from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) acting as a discussant. 

The panelists presented their recent NDC ASPECTS work on the global governance of the decarbonisation of the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU), transport, and energy-intensive industry sector respectively. The decarbonisation of these hard-to-abate sectors is essential to reach the aims of the Paris Agreement. However, significant challenges and barriers to the decarbonisation of these sectors exist. Global climate governance and sectoral approaches offer great potential to further advance the transition towards climate neutrality in these sectors. 

To better exploit this potential, NDC ASPECTS assessed sectoral governance gaps and potentials to identify means to improve global governance to enhance the realisation of sectoral transformational pathways for these sectors. This analysis builds on a common research framework that identifies six functions that international governance can perform to advance international climate governance. Applying this framework to each sector, the analysis first takes stock of the supply of these functions of international institutions and identifies areas where ‘governance gaps’ remains. Finally, the analyses assess options to advance sectoral governance by applying a common set of assessment criteria for all case studies. The full results of this analysis for all three sectors, as well as for the buildings sector, can be found here. 

On the Panel, Adrián Vidal presented the findings of the analyses of the AFOLU sector. The AFOLU sector is an important source of but also an essential sink for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and often holds great importance for local communities. Vidal highlighted several important mitigation barriers related to technological, ecological, institutional, economic, and socio-cultural aspects and how they are addressed through the current global sectoral governance landscape. However, key governance gaps remain regarding transparency and rules and standards, the complexities that AFOLU presents when considering the role of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, and the proliferation of disconnected initiatives. He concluded by presenting options to advance global governance with a view to addressing these gaps, for example, higher consistency of standards across institutions.

Catherine Hall presented the analyses of the land transport sector. Here, she stressed that the potential of international governance in the area of sustainable mobility remains underexploited. Although the current governance landscape is characterised by a high number of international institutions, significant governance gaps remain regarding concrete decarbonisation visions, net-zero and emission targets for land transport, phase-out dates for fossil-fueled vehicles, and transparency requirements. She went on to highlight the potential of global governance to address these gaps, for example through institutional reform of the UNFCCC and its new mitigation work programme. To address the issue of vehicle emissions regulation, however, she proposed the creation of a climate club on electric mobility and explored how such an institution could look like.

Last but not least, Simon Otto presented the findings of the analysis of the energy-intensive industry (EIIs) sector, which comprises emission-intensive industries such as steel, chemicals, or cement production and accounts for more than 20 percent of global GHG emissions. Presenting the findings of the empirical analysis, he highlighted that the global governance of the decarbonisation of EIIs has significantly increased over the past years, across all six governance functions. However, the potential of global governance is still not fully exploited, as important gaps remain regarding the harmonisation of standards of clean basic materials or international rules addressing carbon leakage. Existing international institutions hold some potential but can only address these gaps to some extent. Therefore, Otto concluded by exploring the creation of a new institution, such as a climate club focused on industrial decarbonisation, to fully exploit the potential of international cooperation.

Dr. Åsa Persson, acting as discussant, highlighted the value of sectoral approaches to advance global climate governance in general, and specifically the usefulness of the analytical framework of the six governance functions applied. She also highlighted the contribution of sorting and categorising the different international sectoral initiatives, and the development of the standard governance categories to assess and compare them. It paves the way for additional research, which could for example drill down into the governance functions to learn about their performance and usefulness, including through quantitative research. Here, in particular, the facilitation of the transparency and accountability function deserves closer attention, as their provision is important to ensure international institutions are effective.

At the same time, Dr. Persson questioned whether more global governance or international cooperation is actually always needed to advance decarbonisation in these sectors. On the one hand, she raised the question of where the boundary between global governance and national-level policy and informal policy diffusion between countries is. On the other, a regulatory leader, such as a big importer of steel setting carbon requirements, may well have a global effect unilaterally, raising the question if a new international institution is really needed to advance decarbonisation here.

Finally, Dr. Persson highlighted the strong political focus on the proliferation of international initiatives to advance decarbonisation observed across all sectors discussed. While this can help to advance global climate action, she raised the question of whether they represent the ‘low-hanging fruit' to show action by parties on issues where political acceptance or policies are difficult to establish. These initiatives, with often overlapping membership, carry transaction costs for countries to join and it is unclear what will happen with them once their objective is achieved, i.e. do they come with a sunset clause? A core question is, therefore, when are these institutions actually hollow and mask inaction in other areas, and should we be using existing institutions or focusing on new ones? In particular, there seems to political thirst by many actors to go back to established institutions and strengthen them.

Additionally, Harro van Asselt and Peter Newell presented their recent NDC ASPECTS paper ‘Pathways to an International Agreement to Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground’ on the panel. They discuss how international cooperation supporting the managed decline of fossil fuel production can look like. To do so, they discuss two possible options, namely a club model or a multilateral environmental agreement. The paper was recently published in Global Environmental Politics.

Next to the work by the NDC ASPECTS project, the panel featured a presentation by Axendra Buylova (Swedish Institute of International Affairs & Stockholm University)  on ‘Anticipating the future: The role of long-term planning in climate governance, as well as a presentation on ‘Mapping the Actors and Power Shifts in Maritime Governance Shipping Emissions in the IMO’ by Jennifer Baumman (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).

Simon Otto is Researcher at the Brussels School of Governance, working on International and EU Climate Policy & Industrial Decarbonisation (profile page)


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