UNFCCC side-event and a sneak peek of Connect-It

May 16, 2017 in Conferences, News by Oscar Widerberg

During the first week of the UNFCCC’s preparatory meeting (SB46) in Bonn, CONNECT’s home institution, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam,  held a side-event on “New Approaches for Analyzing and Visualizing the Integrity of the Global Climate Governance Regime”. IVM organized the event together with the University of Melbourne which included speakers from Transparency International, Griffith’s University, and the Austrian Federal Environment Agency.

IVM’s Oscar Widerberg gave a sneak peek of a new website called Connect-It that the Environmental Policy Analysis department at IVM is working on. It visualizes data on climate actions by companies, cities, regions, investors and civil society organizations, in a new and exciting way.

Stay tuned for more exciting news about Connect-It!

IVM’s Oscar Widerberg giving a presentation on visualizing non-state actors in global climate governance.

Photo credits for this blog post: IISD reporting service, ENB on the side.

Earth Negotiation Bulletin (ENB) coverage of the event can be found here: http://enb.iisd.org/climate/sb46/enbots/9may.html#event-4.

Trumping Mr. Trump with bottom-up climate action

January 31, 2017 in News by Oscar Widerberg

The widely hailed Paris Climate Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. Just 4 days later, Donald Trump won the presidential elections in the United States of America. Mr. Trump once said: “The concept of climate change was created by and for the Chinese, to make US-manufacturing less competitive”. For those hoping that 45th president of the US Donald Trump wouldn’t live up to this standard, think again. Shortly after the inauguration, the White House’s homepage on climate change went blank. Instead, the Trump Administration launched an ‘America First Energy Plan’ focusing on dismantling Obama’s climate legislation and exploiting the “vast untapped domestic energy reserves” (read oil, shale gas and natural gas not wind and solar power). Within a few days, Mr Trump also revived two controversial pipeline projects – the Dakota Access Pipelines and Keystone XL – deepening the fossil fuel lock-in of the US economy. His views on international climate action under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement have ranged from full rejection to “having an open mind”. However, the appointment of Rex Tillerson – a former ExxonMobil CEO – to become Secretary of State, does not necessarily reflect an open mind. Depending on the scenario, the US could leave the UNFCCC within a year.

To be clear, the US was never keen on ambitious international climate action but the new directions are clearly a step in the wrong direction. Its sheer size in terms of greenhouse gas emissions makes the US a key player if we are to limit global warming to 2 degree Celsius. It is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and ranking second only to China in terms of total annual GHG emissions. Hence, if the US fails to reduce its emissions, it becomes virtually impossible for the rest of the world to pick up the slack. Other policy choices by the Trump administration could also have serious repercussions for other countries’ ability to curb climate change. For instance, advisers to the administration have vowed to cancel funding for renewable energy research and even dismantling NASA’s climate change program, which could inhibit important research progress on climate change. In addition, the plans for rebuilding US infrastructure will most likely also have an impact on future emission scenarios, as we talk rather about new highways than about new railways.

A less gloomy picture, however, emerges if one looks beyond the surface of US climate policy and digs into the sub-national level. Replying to rumors that the Trump Administration would discontinue the use of existing satellites for climate research, Californian Governor Jerry Brown said that “California will launch its own damn satellites.” His state has become a shining example of what local governments and regions can do to take action beyond the federal level. California has launched its own cap-and-trade scheme starting in 2012 and before that took part in the regional Western Climate Initiative, a cooperative initiative aiming to start carbon trading in seven American states and Canadian provinces. It also has among the most stringent car emission legislations in the US, forcing car manufacturers and owners to follow the ‘California Standard’. Considering that California’s economy comes in at 6th place in the global ranking of largest economy, outperforming countries such as France and Brazil, their actions on climate change are not to be taken lightly. On the east coast of the US, another sub-national cap-and-trade program has been set-up called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) between 9 states, targeting emissions from electric power plants generating more than 25 megawatts. The RGGI states have reduced their dependence on carbon-intense energy sources such as coal and petroleum from 33 % in 2005 to 8 % in 2015. The scheme has also generated over US$ 2.4 billion in revenues.

Another source of ambitious climate action has come from cities. New York, for instance, has set a target of reducing its CO2 emissions by 80 % in 2050, and Austin in Texas even wants to reduce their emissions with 90 % by 2050. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has also become a front-figure for what cities can do to mitigate and adapt to climate change. His efforts have led him to become the United Nation’s first Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change.

Climate action in the US does not end with the inauguration of Mr. Trump. Thousands of local and regional initiatives set up by regions, cities, companies and other civil society groups are likely to continue their work, seeking positive side-effects and understanding the necessity of curbing climate change. A global climate governance architecture that is based on the actions of ten-thousands of organizations and millions of individuals is more resilient than an intergovernmental process that can easily be derailed by the election of just one political leader. It is up to researchers such as us to understand, inform and engage in this transition of climate governance moving from the ‘top-down’ to the ‘bottom-up’.

Philipp Pattberg & Oscar Widerberg

This piece is a reprint of an editorial featured in the newsletter of the Dutch Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE) in February 2017 




New publication on “Accountability Challenges in the Transnational Regime Complex for Climate Change”

December 1, 2016 in News, Publications by Martina Rigoni

This article discusses challenges to accountability in the context of transnational climate governance. It argues that the emergence of a distinct transnational regime complex and the increasingly integrated structure of international and transnational climate governance create new challenges for using established analytical frameworks that rely on accountability regimes for individual actor types. Instead, studying accountability requires a system-level conceptualization and a revisiting of accountability regimes, taking diversity and networked governance structures into account.

Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ropr.12217/full
Available in the Publication section

Philipp writes blog on The Anthropocene and Global Environmental Governance for the Oxford Research Group

November 24, 2016 in News by Martina Rigoni

The Anthropocene denotes a new geological epoch characterized by the unprecedented impact of human activities on the Earth’s ecosystems. While the natural sciences have advanced our understanding of the drivers and processes of global change, the social sciences address the fundamental challenge of governance and politics in the Anthropocene.

Link: https://sustainablesecurity.org/2016/11/23/the-anthropocene-and-global-environmental-governance/

New article on cooperative initatives for decarbonization

May 23, 2016 in News, Publications by Oscar Widerberg

We’re happy to share the news that a new paper by CONNECT core member Oscar Widerberg and Johannes Stripple at Lund University called ‘The expanding field of cooperative initiatives for decarbonization: a review of five databases’ has been published in WIRE’s Climate Change.

The article provides an overview of the data-availability for evaluating the performance of cooperative initiatives for decarbonization. The authors argue that “currently lack information to assess how existing initiatives perform in relation to the socio‐technical systems they are intended to intervene in, or how initiatives align, scale‐up, and form low‐carbon pathways. Given the increasingly important role and legitimacy attributed to cooperative initiatives in addressing climate change, we argue that focusing more on gathering ex post data, improving exchange between academic and policy‐oriented work, and developing assessment methods accommodating diversity in terms of function, goal, and output, are needed to understand the performance of climate governance beyond the UNFCCC.

You can access the article here.

Lively discussions on the Anthropocene (Book launch, 19 February 2016)

March 3, 2016 in News, Publications by Lisa Sanderink

On Friday the 19th of February a group of scholars gathered at IVM to attend the book launch of “Environmental Politics and Governance in the Anthropocene”, edited by Philipp Pattberg (IVM/VU) and Fariborz Zelli (Lund University). The book consists of twelve contributions trying to make sense of the Anthropocene, explore its implications for institutional design, and core questions on accountability and legitimacy. During the introduction, Philipp Pattberg and Fariborz Zelli underlined that the purpose of this event was not only to present the book to the audience, but also to create a forum for further discussing the relevance of the Anthropocene concept for environmental governance research. Aysem Mert (IVM/VU) discussed the controversy surrounding the Anthropocene and the hesitancy whether the conceptualization is needed, concluding that this book provides a scope for the reconsideration of legitimacy and accountability in environmental politics and governance. Thereafter, Sandra van der Hel (UU) explained the diversity of ideas on the Anthropocene, also beyond science in the art scene, and proposed to perceive the Anthropocene as an inspiration and opportunity for science, while not forgetting what the concept is obscuring. Oscar Widerberg (IVM/VU) took the opportunity to reflect on his own contribution to the book, explaining institutional complexity in the Anthropocene and proposing some options on how to address this complexity. Lastly, Frank Biermann (UU) reflected on the previous talks and posed a set of questions to the attendees. What are the political consequences of the conceptualization and what are the politics of the use of the term? Furthermore, what is the difference between this concept and the concept of sustainable development? More fundamentally, is the Anthropocene an epoch to celebrate or an exceptionally dangerous period for mankind? After a critical wrap up by Fariborz Zelli, an open discussion took place concluding that there are lots of questions worthy of future research.

More information on the book: https://www.routledge.com/products/9781138902398

Harnessing company climate action beyond Paris

February 17, 2016 in News, Publications by Oscar Widerberg

We’re very happy to finally publish our new report: Harnessing company climate action beyond Paris, written for the Swedish think-tank Fores. It looks at companies’ engagement in climate change and in particular in the context of the UNFCCC. We use data from the CONNECT project and the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) to explore networks and committments of companies to address climate change.

“The inability of governments to steer the global community towards a safe de-carbonization pathway has left an ‘ambition gap’ between projected emissions levels and the goal of limiting global warming to 2° Celsius. In the run-up to COP21 in Paris, the private sector and its potential to help bridge this gap have drawn considerable attention. For instance, the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) and the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) have boosted attention, legitimacy, and research into non-state climate action by recording thousands of commitments made by cooperative initiatives comprised of hundreds of companies and investors. This report explores companies’ climate actions by surveying past studies and new data on 2,111 companies spread across 101 cooperative initiatives in the NAZCA database and the CONNECT project. Starting from the premise that non-state action should be additional to government action in order to close the ambition gap, we focus on the discrepancies between potential and actual cooperative initiative participant performance. This study illustrates how companies collaborate with one another – in addition to working with the government and civil society – which results in an intricate web of global climate governance.

We find that companies researched here is heavily skewed towards the Global North and from sectors with relatively small emissions. Key companies have a patchy track-record in achieving net GHG reductions, and information on the actual performance of companies in cooperative initiatives is scarce. In fact, available ex-post data on emissions reductions paints a somber picture in which actual mitigation levels remain far below estimated potential mitigation levels. Moreover, the impact of overlaps in participation between cooperative initiatives and the national accounts remains largely unknown. Available estimations diverge considerably. To harness the massive potential of companies taking climate action, both in terms of direct GHG emissions reductions and through indirect actions like information exchange and influencing future country pledges, our study recommends five actions:

  1. Develop common performance criteria for cooperative initiatives that accommodate the diversity of initiatives and actions, while simultaneously safeguarding the ability to tangibly assess the success/failure of reaching stated goals. Direct cuts in GHG emissions should be a criteria, however, since many cooperative initiatives do not aim to cut emissions, using a number of other output-based variables could prove interesting. To the utmost extent possible, performance criteria should be streamlined with available data registries in order to simplify and improve potential reporting procedures.
  2. Make progress reporting using common criteria compulsory for cooperative initiatives featured on homepages and publications of international organizations (e.g., NAZCA). Compulsory reporting with common criteria should be put in place in return for the substantial good-will and positive exposure provided for those companies that engage in climate change action.
  3. Carry out regular reviews of cooperative initiatives based on progress reporting and other previously developed performance criteria. This could be carried out by civil society actors, technical experts, and international organizations to assess progress towards commitments, as well as identifying leaders and laggards. Identifying success factors and challenges also enables learning and adaptation within the initiatives, possibly improving their performance.
  4. Support key players by raising awareness about front-runners and champions. A ranking of key players in cooperative initiatives – according to a number of criteria like actual progress against concrete targets and scope of engagement – could induce a race-to-the-top situation where companies would compete to be climate action champions.
  5. Provide encouragement and support for companies in developing countries to join cooperative initiatives so as to increase the involvement and ownership of companies in developing countries and their supporting governments. For this to succeed, information about cooperative initiatives and company involvement needs to become more accessible for UNFCCC member states. The LPAA could play a major role in this respect.

To summarize, we are cautiously optimistic about the increased integration of companies into the global climate change regime. Increased engagement by companies may, in the long run, help countries to over achieve or surpass their pledges, thus stimulating more ambitious pledges. Companies are key in reducing emissions. Still, one should exercise caution when expecting companies’ voluntary initiatives to close the ambition gap.”

The report has been published within the context of Fores’ Climate and Environmental Policies program and the Fores Reference Group for International Climate Policy. The reference group gathers policy makers, companies, NGOs, negotiators, and academics together to discuss the international COP climate summits, their outcomes and their relevance for the industry, policy makers and society as a whole.

Access the full report here.

Book launch: Environmental Politics and Governance in the Anthropocene

February 4, 2016 in News, Publications by Oscar Widerberg

If it is true that we have entered a new geological epoch called ‘the Anthropocene’ where humans are the dominating force of nature, what does that mean for global environmental governance? This is the central question for a new book edited by Philipp Pattberg and Fariborz Zelli. It consists of 12 contributions trying to make sense of the Anthropocene, explore its implications for institutional design, and core questions on accountability and legitimacy. During the book launch we will present and reflect on each questions together with chapter authors and distinguished scholars in the field. A sandwich lunch and tea/coffee will be provided, and there will be much room for questions and discussion from the audience.

The book launch takes place in Amsterdam and be hosted by Philipp Pattberg and Fariborz Zelli. Other invited speakers are Prof. Dr. Frank Biermann at Utrecht University, Aysem Mert and James Patterson, both at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Date:     Friday, February 19, 2016

Time:    09:45 – 13:00

Place:    C541/C543 Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at the Faculty for Earth and Life Sciences (FALW), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. De Boelelaan 1085. 1081HV, Amsterdam

For more info on the launch, check out the flyer here.


Inaugural lecture Philipp Pattberg on February 19th

January 20, 2016 in News by Oscar Widerberg

To officially start his appointment as chair of Transnational Environmental Governance and Policy at the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Philipp Pattberg will give his inaugural lecture, titled ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE: COMPLEXITY, FRAGMENTATION AND THE ROLE OF TRANSNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS, on 19 February at 15:45 hrs, VU Aula.

Download the flyer here.

More information (in Dutch) is available here.

CONNECT’s Oscar Widerberg on Swedish national radio discussing climate action by companies

November 19, 2015 in News by Oscar Widerberg

On November 19th, Oscar Widerberg from IVM’s department for Environmental Policy Analysis (EPA) participated in a discussion on Swedish national radio (P1 Morgon) and news (Ekot) on the role of companies in tackling climate change. He highlighted some of the result from a report which he co-wrote together with Professor Philipp Pattberg on companies and climate action. The report will be launched at COP21 in Paris and is the result of a collaboration between IVM and the Swedish think tank Fores and their Reference Group for International Climate Policy. In the report, the authors note the great opportunity and potential positive contribution from climate action by companies but emphasize how little knowledge we have on their actual performance. They call for more stringent and streamlined monitoring frameworks, highlight the importance of identifying leaders and laggards, and inclusion of more companies from the global South.

You can listen to the full story here (in Swedish)