in: Global Policy, published online 11.12.2020
Harro van Asselt, Sander Chan, Idil Boran, Thomas Hale, Lukas Hermwille and Charles Roger examine opportunities to strengthen climate action by non-state and subnational actors.
Five years ago, governments from across the world came together in Paris to chart a new course for global climate policy. The Paris Agreement put in place a ‘ratchet mechanism’ through which countries submit national climate plans in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which should be reviewed and strengthened periodically.
In the past year, new and updated NDCs have been trickling in, but the level of ambition still falls short of averting the most dangerous climate impacts. On the brink of a new decade for climate action, however, we see some cause for optimism. Several of the largest emitting economies, including China, the EU, Japan, South Korea and the UK have pledged to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 or 2060. The incoming Biden-Harris administration is also expected to commit to becoming net-zero by 2050. However, real climate benefits crucially depend on whether governments actually live up to their promises. While mid-century pledges are relatively easily made, governments need to align short-term plans and policies, including their NDCs, with longer-term commitments.
The Paris Agreement creates a set of mechanisms for updating these government commitments at periodic intervals. However, the agreement’s architects did not limit themselves to government action alone. Accompanying the agreement was a decision that underscored the role of subnational and non-state actors, including cities, regions, businesses, investors, civil society organizations and the transnational initiatives and networks in which they are engaged. These ‘non-Party stakeholders’, the drafters recognized, can help drive domestic ambition, engage in efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and boost climate resilience, and bolster action by states and international organizations at the global level.