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Climate action outside the UNFCCC

In this policy brief, published by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, researchers identify a 70% overlap between international climate initiatives (often led by non-state actors, businesses, cities and civil society) and national pledges– as many sectors are already included in the plans that governments put forward in the climate negotiations. The new study finds that international climate initiatives operating outside the global climate negotiations could deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions of 2.5 Gt CO2-equivalents by 2020 and 5.5 Gt CO2eq by 2030, compared to a scenario without climate policy.

Until recently, climate policy focused mostly on tackling climate change by setting global environmental targets accompanied by legally binding commitments from national governments. Since 1992, countries have negotiated within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) resulting in binding targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and voluntary pledges following the Copenhagen negotiations in 2008. Before the next Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Paris, countries are expected to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), in which national governments specify their post-2020 contribution to the global effort to limit global warming to 2 °C.

Apart from the UNFCCC process, there are various international initiatives on climate change mitigation that approach this from a different angle. International cooperative initiatives are defined here as international activities outside the UNFCCC driven by non-state actors or national governments that have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or take action by which emission reductions will occur as a co-benefit in concert with other policies. Bilateral initiatives have been excluded. These international initiatives widen the focus to include new agents of change beyond national governments, such as businesses, cities and civil society. The international initiatives cover a wide range of public, private and hybrid initiatives at various levels of governance. They operate in specific sectors and focus on the implementation of mitigation measures.

Non-state actors include local government, the commercial sector and civil society. International initiatives can therefore also include national governments acting outside the UNFCCC or cooperating with non-state actors who often are the main drivers of these initiatives. Such international initiatives could accelerate implementation and increase the effectiveness of national policies as they broaden the coalition of willing parties and strengthen the knowledge necessary for implementation. They could potentially also increase effectiveness through co-benefits for other areas such as health, air pollution and biodiversity. In addition, they may help to close the emission gap if their activities are additional to the commitments made in the international climate negotiations (referred to as pledges). Many observers envisage a greater role for non-state actors in the UNFCCC process because of this.

In this context, this policy brief from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency aims to assess the impact of major international initiatives on greenhouse gas emissions and the extent to which they could lead to additional emission reductions on top of the pledges already made in the context of the UNFCCC. More precisely, the aim of this policy brief is to provide insight into the likely contribution that the largest international initiatives will make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the period to 2030. Read the policy brief here.