Galvanizing a groundswell of solutions to support COP21

March 2015 

How can governments engage with non-state and cooperative actions to support the Agenda of Solutions and a strong outcome at COP21? This memo summarizes findings and recommendations from a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues on supporting the “groundswell” of climate actions. It makes three key points:

  1. Non-state and cooperative actions have enormous potential to reduce emissions and build resilient development

  2. This groundswell of actions contributes to a successful COP21 by reducing emissions, building resilience, and ratcheting up political will from countries at Paris, during 2015-2020, and beyond

  3. Countries possess significant power through the UNFCCC to recognize and orchestrate the groundswell of actions, and to build structures to support climate action at every level in Paris and in the future 

How can the groundswell reduce emissions and build resilience?

MITIGATION Non-state and cooperative actions possess enormous potential to reduce GHG emissions. Cities alone account for 70 percent of global emissions (World Bank 2014). Large cooperative initiatives can have similar potential. For example, the New York Declaration on Forests, an agreement among 30 multinational companies and dozens of tropical countries and developed countries, could eliminate up to 8 billion tons of CO2 if fully implemented, equivalent to the annual emissions of the USA.

But are these impressive numbers realistic and credible? Researchers are rapidly developing the methodologies, data sources, and analyses to assess these promises. For example, a forthcoming peer- reviewed article in Nature Climate Change by researchers at Yale University looks at just five of the initiatives launched at the September 2014 UN Climate Summit.1 After subtracting commitments that had been made previously, the researchers still find 2.5 billion tons of additional emissions reductions by 2020 (a sizeable portion of the emissions gap of 8-12 billion tones). Supporting and coordinating such research to inform policymaking is a key priority for Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions. Researchers are currently developing the tools needed to address key questions of additionally and double-counting - though these will also depend in part on how national contributions themselves are counted.

ADAPTATION, RESILIENCE, AND OTHER SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT CO-BENEFITS One of the great virtues of cooperative initiatives and sub- and non-state actions is that they often naturally combine mitigation objectives with resilience, development, and other co-benefits. Indeed, this natural linkage between mitigation and other objectivesa link often lost in the UNFCCC processis one of the chief reasons sub- and non-state actors, as well as countries, act through partnerships and initiatives. The groundswell of action therefore has significant scope to attract new constituencies and interest groups to the cause of climate action, and also link those actions to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. Emphasizing this dimension of initiatives allows a wide range of stakeholders to see how their priorities and interests are embedded in the Paris COP and the climate regime more broadly. Initiatives like Sustainable Energy for All, for example, combine the goal of decarbonization with expanding energy access.

FINANCE, TECHNOLOGY, KNOWLEDGE, AND OTHER RESOURCES TO SUPPORT ACTION Finance and technology transfer are difficult issues in the negotiations. But cooperative initiatives and networks of sub- and non- state actors are delivering money, technology, know-how, and most importantly results to actors at all levels. For example, at the 2014 UN Climate Summit the insurance industry pledged to double its climate investment from $42 billion to $84 billion by 2015, and to increase it tenfold by 2020. Regarding knowledge and technology transfer, transnational city networks allow for policy experimentation, innovation, and diffusion that help mayors implement best practices from around the world.

How can the groundswell support COP21 and the UNFCCC process?

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS While countries have yet to finalize their Paris contributions, early announcements by the United States, China, and the EU give a strong indication of what is achievable, and suggest that more ambition will be needed to limit warming to below 2°C.2 As noted above, cooperative and sub- and non-state actions have significant potential to wedge whatever gap might remain between the Paris contributions and the 2°C target. The smaller the gap after Paris, the more confidence governments, the public, and markets will have that the 2°C goal remains attainable. Actions and initiatives with large emissions reductions can therefore make a decisive impact in whether Paris is seen as a success.

1 Hsu, A., A.S. Moffat, A.J. Weinfurter, and J.D. Schwartz. “Summing Up the Summit.” Nature Climate Change. In Review.
2 Climate Action Tracker 2014:

As noted above, analysts are developing techniques to disaggregate cooperative and sub- and non-state actions from national government policies. But whether researchers will be able to accurately assess the additionally of the groundswell actions or not depends to a significant degree on what kind of information countries provide regarding their own contributions, as well as the monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) provisions for national actions.

A POSITIVE NARRATIVE OF SOLUTIONS Beyond questions of quantification or aggregation, the groundswell of actions encourages governments, markets, media, and the public to think about climate policy in a new way. Instead of international gridlock, climate policy becomes associated with pragmatic, concrete, positive action here and now. Changing the ‘tone’ around climate in this way opens new political possibilities at every level by framing this issue as a success and an opportunity. It can also help to create a social expectation that it is incumbent on all actors to take climate action, creating a virtuous upward cycle.

THE GROUNDSWELL AS A POST-PARIS “RATCHET Perhaps the greatest contribution cooperative and sub- and non-state actions make to the UNFCCC process is their potential help “ratchet up” national contributions from 2015-2020 and beyond. While the UNFCCC will likely agree some form of review mechanism with cycles of contributions, the ability of such intergovernmental levers to affect national policies, particularly in the large emitters, is likely limited. In contrast, cooperative initiatives and transnational networks of sub- and non-state actors can directly affect domestic political processes to help countries formulate progressively stronger contributions.

The groundswell of climate actions catalyzes more ambitious national actions in two ways. First, it builds political support for ambitious national policies by increasing the number of domestic interest groups with a stake in climate action. The more cities, companies, and other actors in a country undertake ambitious climate policies, the more incentive they will have to ensure that their rest of the country does as well, in order to not become uncompetitive. “Bottom up” climate actions thus increase the likelihood of strong national policies.

Second, as noted above, when sub- and non-state actors join transnational networks, or when actors at any level participate in cooperative initiatives, they bring additional finance, technology, and/or know-how to a country. These new capacities make it easier for national governments to formulate and implement more ambitious climate policies. The UNFCCC could make this “capacity and resources” ratchet a central feature of the TEMs that take place under ADP workstream 2. By showing how cooperative actions and transnational networks of sub- and non-state actors connect to, and support, the menu of policy options that countries face, a strengthened TEM system could become a powerful lever for increasing ambition.

How can countries in the UNFCCC engage with the groundswell?

RECOGNITION The French Presidency has already shown important vision by recognizing the “Agenda of Solutions” a core pillar of COP21, and by ensuring that several events at and around the COP will showcase elements of the groundswell of climate actions and solutions. The NAZCA platform can offer a powerful way to recognize the full scope of the groundswell of climate actions, and so should be developed into a central communication tool. By emphasizing the sheer scale and number of actors that make the groundswell of action, COP21 can reinforce the positive narrative and communicate an imperative to act.

ORCHESTRATE NEW INITIATIVES AND ACTIONS The convening power of the UNFCCC process allows countries to broker new initiatives and partnerships from key stakeholders, and to urge more actions from sub- and non- state actors. Several issues and geographic regions remain underrepresented in the groundswell of climate actions, leaving significant scope to expand the scale and ambition of bottom-up action. For example, few initiatives or actions deal with agriculture, water security, research and development of clean technologies,

ocean resilience, voluntary offsets, or other aspects of climate action. Geography is another significant imbalance to address. For example, one study estimates that just 4 percent of the cities, companies, and other sub- and non-state actors that participate in transnational climate initiatives are from Africa (see Figure 1). Convincing orchestrators from the developing world to bring their own cooperative initiatives to Paris could powerfully expand the groundswell.

Fig. 1. Total sub- and non-state participants in transnational climate initiatives by country, 1990-2012 (source: Roger, Hale, Andonova 2014).

SUPPORT IMPLEMENTATION AND STRENGTHENING OF EXISTING ACTIONS AND COMMITMENTS Just as COP21 represents a unique moment to orchestrate new initiatives, it also allows for follow up on existing initiatives. This is important for several reasons. First, even though “bottom up” action is largely voluntary, and an overly strict accountability mechanism would likely be counterproductive and unwieldy, it is important to create an expectation that actions and commitments will be delivered. By asking actors that make a commitment at one high-level summit to report on progress at a subsequent one creates a powerful incentive for follow-through. Second, following up creates an opportunity to address difficulties an initiative has encountered, consider remedies, and, where possible, request a strengthening of the action or commitment. Many of the September 2014 Climate Summit initiatives, for example, would benefit from greater specificity regarding how their goals are being achieved.

INCREASE THE COHERENCE OF THE GROUNDSWELL THROUGH AN IMPROVED NAZCA While the heterogeneity and decentralized nature of the groundswell of actions is part of its strength, light-touch coordination amongst initiatives can improve overall efficiency and impact. For example, NAZCA makes visible the full extent of climate action, allowing initiatives, orchestrators, funders, and the public at large to see who is doing whatand what remains to be done.

SIGNAL LONG-TERM AMBITION AND SUPPORT FOR THE GROUNDSWELL If the Paris Agreement includes an ambitious long-term goal, it will be important to show that goal is an objective for all actors, not just nation states. Phrasing the targets of the goal in this waya call to action at all levelscould powerfully expand the groundswell of action. At the same time, it is important to show cooperative initiatives and networks of sub- and non-state actors that, like nations, they will be expected to make continuing progress toward this goal and will be supported to do so. NAZCA begins to provide this function by serving as a permanent repository of who has committed to what, and by facilitating efforts to track sub- and non-state actors’ progress. An expanded version the TEMs could play a similar role by providing a forum in which countries and cooperative initiatives and sub- and non-state actors could interact on specific issues on an ongoing basis. In addition to these tools, the UNFCCC could seek to establish a more robust “institutional home” for cooperative and sub- and non-state action that could serve as a focal point to support the groundswell well into the future.