Aims and questions

"Climate action from sub-state and non-state actors such as subnational governments, cities, corporations and NGOs has very significant potential to enhance national efforts to curb CO2 emissions, close the so-called ‘emissions gap’ – between current commitments and the action necessary to meet climate targets – and help move the world on to a ‘1.5°C pathway’ that would limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100."
Prof. Dr. Thomas Hale
University of Oxford

Project aims

The Paris Agreement has opened up a new chapter in political efforts to tackle climate change. It provides a new flexible framework for moving the world towards decarbonization, leaving goal-setting and implementation up to states. The Paris Agreement also officially recognizes the importance of non-state (e.g. business and civil society) and sub-national (e.g. regions and cities) climate initiatives (Bulkeley et al 2014; Hale 2016). 
The climate regime thus combines top-down elements of international cooperation with bottom-up elements of voluntary societal climate action (Bäckstrand et al 2017). This rapprochement of the realms of state and non-state climate action has potentially significant effects on the role of the state in climate policy-making. It challenges the state’s traditional role as rule-maker and regulator, and instead invites governments to become networkers, coordinators and facilitators in what has been framed as polycentric climate governance (Jordan et al 2015). Climate actions by non-state and sub-national actors are gaining importance, particularly in the context of ‘Parxit’ (Haas 2017) – the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017.
In this project we seek to understand how the interplay between state and non-state climate action unfolds in the post-Paris climate policy landscape. To that end, we use Sweden’s official government policy to become the first fossil fuel-free welfare state (Regeringen 2015) as a case study. We examine the interactions between the Swedish state and non-state actors in emergent cooperative climate governance initiatives, assess the effectiveness and legitimacy of these interactions, and trace their political effects.

Guiding research questions

The project will provide new insights into the possibilities for the Swedish government to mobilize and catalyze non-state climate action in the process of decarbonization. Specifically, we answer the following research questions:
  1. Which Swedish non-state and sub-national actors are mobilizing climate action through cooperative initiatives in Sweden and transnationally?
  2. How do these actors interpret the goal of turning Sweden into the world’s first fossil fuel-free welfare state, and which political strategies do they mobilize towards that end?
  3. To what extent can non-state initiatives effectively contribute to the process of decarbonization?
  4. To what extent can non-state initiatives increase the legitimacy of climate governance?
  5. What are the political effects of closer state/non-state interactions in terms of consensus-building, ideological conflict and political contestation?
This project will produce policy-relevant knowledge regarding state and non-state interplay in Swedish climate governance, as well as, contribute to academic literatures on (i) the role of the state and non-state actors in climate governance; and (ii) the interaction between national, multilateral and transnational climate governance (e.g. Bäckstrand et al 2017; Roger et al 2017) in the post-Paris policy landscape. Whereas existing literatures primarily focus on the UN climate regime and the changing global policy landscape, this project will provide novel empirical insights into how state and non-state interactions unfold in a domestic setting such as Sweden. The project will thus make a timely contribution to the understanding of how states and non-state actors can mobilize climate action and low-carbon societal transitions in the post-Paris era.