Multi-level governance of climate change: CSaP Policy Workshop

20 October 2016


Reported by Richard Smith, NERC-funded Policy Intern at CSaP

The Paris Agreement was a landmark step in global efforts to stem climate change, but to be effective it will need to translate into local actions. How do we go about making these ground-up changes, and how can we foster governance spanning local, national and international scales?

This was the theme of a CSaP Policy Workshop jointly organised with the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

The workshop, which brought together 22 participants spanning academia, multi-national organisations, industry, the not-for-profit sector and local and national government, saw a vibrant flow of ideas cutting across sectors. Chaired by Peter Unwin (Chief Executive, The Whitehall and Industry Group), who led the UK’s delegation to the 1997 Kyoto Conference, the workshop began with a reminder of the dangers of thinking of climate change as a ‘ticking time bomb’ to be dealt with at a later date.

The bottom-up, flexible framework of the Paris Agreement takes a fresh approach from previous environmental agreements, as Professor Jorge Vinuales (C-EENRG, University of Cambridge) explained. Do decentralized, bottom-up local initiatives provide the key to future climate action, or is centralized, top-down regulation still required? Participants also discussed the potential effects of Brexit on climate change governance in the UK, with both dangers and opportunities identified for the coming years.

How can different levels of governance incentivise action on climate change?

On a national level, participants discussed how, driven in part by regulations to protect investors, businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the financial dangers of climate change to their bottom line.

Zooming in to the local level, the importance of aligning climate action with everyday concerns like healthy living was suggested to be an effective way to get a wider audience on board with climate action. Janet Fogg (Climate Change Officer, Cambridge City Council) and Glenn Woodcock (Founder, Exeter City Futures) shared their experiences of climate change actions on a local scale in Cambridge and Exeter, and spoke of the magnitude of the change ahead. “We need to restructure society. It’s a transformation, not just an incremental change”, explained Glenn.

All adaptation is local, but how do you make it go global?

Professor Charles Kennel (Director and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego) summarised the challenges of translating city-scale successes to different international contexts: “All adaptation is local, but how do you make it go global?” Participants emphasized the need for transferrable examples of local climate change mitigation, but also discussed the difficulties associated with this. Abhik Sen (Head of Policy and Research, Youth Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat) highlighted the data gap hindering a solid evidence base for policy guidance in much of the Global South, with upcoming projects like the Commonwealth Global Youth Development Index one step on the way to redressing this imbalance.

Finally, participants explored the role of public participation in climate change governance. The role of social media in driving both local and national policy changes was weighed against the importance of “offline” actions. This followed a call to arms for scientists to provide a “dashboard of vital signs” to enable the public to better keep track of the impacts of their governments’ actions on meaningful climate parameters.

Participants were given a sober reminder of the urgency of implementing these lessons learned when Angelique Pouponneau (Vice-Chairperson, Inclusion and Engagement, Commonwealth Youth Council) described the rising sea levels and increasing cyclone frequency the Seychelles has seen in recent years. It’s not just the governance of climate change that is both global and local – so are climate change’s effects.

Following the thoroughly thought-provoking workshop and continuing conversation over dinner, participants left with a fresh and broadened perspective on the challenges and possibilities for multi-level governance of climate change following the Paris Agreement. C-EENRG is now exploring the possibility to undertake research on how participatory mechanisms can be best designed to facilitate public engagement in the context of climate action, with an additional workshop now being planned for Spring 2017.

A full report of the workshop is available here.

(Banner image: Four Tropical Cyclones Across the Entire Pacific Ocean, flickr; thumbnail image: Hurricane Irene Captured August 26, 2011, flickr)