The growing potential of nonstate actors to drive positive changes should not be overlooked.
With most countries falling behind Paris targets in climate action, cities, companies, and investors are increasingly needed to step up their game. A new paper in WIRE’s Climate Change expounds on the growing optimism about the potential of these actors to drive positive changes.
Until recently, the role of non-state actors was fairly neglected in global climate governance. However, a change in attitudes skyrocketed after social movements began providing critical inputs for making the Paris deal a reality. More and more cities, for instance, continue to push for climate action in the US, despite President Donald Trump’s clear opposition.
Mright these actors be capable of even more? And if so, how do we properly acknowledge their efforts?
A common concern is that nonstate actors’ impacts are much harder to quantify. How do we measure emission reductions from climate marches? What if double accounting within cities and states occurs, distorting the real picture? And do we need to quantify every climate effort to consider it effective?
Knowledge sharing, capacity building, and public dialogue can all have noticeable effects that are hard to measure and there is no final answer to these questions, the authors concede. The paper further looks into four statements about nonstate actor engagements and the ways they may influence the long-term success of climate action. The statements are: “the more the better”; “everybody wins”; “everyone does their part”; and “more brings more.”
Each of them reveals how actors understand their positive contributions. Meanwhile, each may also turn out to be occasionally inaccurate or misused. Claims that everybody benefits from lowering emissions may be contradicted by the actual needs of developing countries. But as more companies move away from fossil fuels, this might not mean actual improvements globally, but rather a dislocation of dirty industries to places with lower standards.
Moreover, when it comes to climate investors, their goals may differ from those of local communities, creating new problems outside the climate agenda. And while climate action has often helped to mitigate conflicts, in the case of mass firing from coal plants and low availability of new jobs it can actually generate them.
In addition, nonstate actors such as cities or companies can be much also more dynamic in terms of their decisions. And while more input might mean a faster pace of change, their priorities can also change faster, making such commitments a less reliable source for predictions.
Despite all the challenges, the authors conclude that nonstate action is expected to be among the major catalysts for change in the near future.