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The complex world of climate change governance: new actors; new arrangements

Climate change governance dramatically challenges traditional International Relations (IR) notions of decision-making. The greatest challenge involves understanding the many ‘actors and the arrangements’ that describe this critical global governance issue. The field is made up of much more than the traditional intergovernmental and international organizations and their actions in a critical global issue. For some time, IR experts have been cataloguing the many non-state actors (NSAs) that have become a part the most challenging of global order matters – global climate change. Today there are individuals, private and public corporations, non-governmental organizations, transgovernmental organizations and networks, to name a few. My colleagues have described the hybrid nature of governance and have sought to capture the mixed character by terms such as regime complex (Keohane and Victor, 2011).

But the story of climate change efforts to substantially reduce carbon emissions goes beyond the identification of this new hybrid world. Even more dramatically, perhaps, is the consequences of chance and personal networks in the evolution of global policy-making. The story begins with a governmental position held by a notable academic in the UK. He represents a central element in this narrative. Sir David King served as the Chief Scientific Advisor from 2000 to 2007 and then in 2013, was made the new permanent Special Representative for Climate Change. There, Sir David witnessed the feed-in tariff success (feed-in tariffs are governmental subsidies for renewable energy – wind and solar, for example) in the UK, Germany, and also in California. The price of renewable energy tumbled. The program was so successful, according to Sir David, that the UK found it possible to eliminate the subsidy for all but offshore installations. But there were problems nonetheless, most particularly, but not only, the inability to store successfully renewable energy.

Undaunted, Sir David along with a number of well-known economic colleagues including Sir Nicholas Stern and Lord Layard and other notables including Baron O’Donnell, Lord Turner, Lord Browne, and Professor Lord Rees launched an initiative – the Global Apollo Project. This initiative, initially launched (June 2015) without a government imprimatur, was intended to be a global science and economic research program on clean energy technologies with the goal of making carbon-free electricity less costly than electricity from coal by the year 2025.

As stated this initiative was launched without firm governmental support. But chance appeared. In India, Narendra Modi was elected prime minister. The new Indian prime minister was keen to bring solar power to India and Sir David was invited to India to discuss issues with the Minister of Energy and, as it turned out, to discuss the Global Apollo Program with the new Prime Minister. The new Indian Prime Minister, according to Sir David, was enthusiastic about initiative but was not so keen on the name. And in fact the name was ultimately altered to Mission Innovation, where it was first discussed by Energy Ministers in the run up to the German G7 meeting at Schloss Elmau and it was identified in the Leaders’ declaration.

beach wind farm bangui by sonnydelrosario. Public domain via Pixabay.
beach wind farm bangui by sonnydelrosario. Public domain via Pixabay.

Chance intervened again. At the launch of the Project, Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist, expressed support for the effort. As it turned out Sir David Attenborough attended at the White House some 2 weeks later, not to interview the President of the United States, Barack Obama but in fact to be interviewed by him. And this allowed Sir David to ask him about US support for the Project, which the President indeed expressed.

And so by the time of the Paris COP21 meeting on Climate Change, specifically 30 November 2015 , a “Joint Launch Statement” was issued by 20 governments that identified Mission Innovation (MI). This Statement indicated that these governments were committed “to double governmental and or state-directed clean energy research and development investment over five years. New investments would be focused on transformational clean energy technology innovations that can be scalable to varying economic and energy market conditions that exist in participating countries and in the broader world.” And then, in turn, Ministers from these countries met in San Francisco in June 1, 2016 where Ministers once again expressed support and issued an “Enabling Framework” for MI.

Real commitment. But these actions, as valuable as they might prove to be, would not have represented a unique set of actors or arrangements. MI was an intergovernmental entity. But here yet once again chance intervened, for in the summer of 2015, Sir David received a call from Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. Gates indicated that he was prepared to provide up to $1 billion dollars of his own money – not as a donation – but as part of a venture capital commitment, because Gates believed the innovation here could make a significant innovative advance and could generate profit as well. Gates then went about soliciting other technology` innovators and venture capitalists, including Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla of Facebook, Tom Steyer of NexGen, Jack Ma of Alibaba, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Tala, Richard Branson from Virgin Group, Meg Whitman from HP and others, all joining together to create Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC). These venture capitalists came together to create, as they suggested in their Investment Principles, and to underscore that: “Technology will help solve our energy issues. The urgency of climate change and the energy needs in the poorest parts of the world require an aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation.” It seems that BEC will have $2 billion initially to invest and it would seem, that the first initiatives will be announced at the next COP meeting, COP22 at Marrakech in November.

So there, then, a new model of energy action bringing together a public and private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors. In the Investment Principles of the BEC, the members expressed the design and goal for the Coalition:“… a partnership of increased government research, with a transparent and workable structure to objectively evaluate those projects, and committed private-sector investors willing to support the innovative ideas that come out of the public research pipeline.”

New actors; new arrangements built in part on chance and personal networks. Will they succeed? For that we will need to turn our attention to their efforts to curb global carbon emissions.

Featured image credit: alternative cell clean by PublicDomainPictures. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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