Project overview

"Global climate change governance is diversifying rapidly: in recent years, political attention has been acknowledging the increasingly important role of non-state and subnational actors such as cities, states, regions, companies, investors, foundations, civil society organizations, and cooperative initiatives."
United Nations Environment Programme
UN Environment Emissions Gap Report 2018


The Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of non-state (e.g. business and civil society) and sub-national (e.g. regions and cities) climate initiatives in the transition towards a low carbon society. 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. This project seeks to advance the research frontier and provide policy-relevant knowledge in the post-Paris policy landscape by examining the interplay between the Swedish state and domestic and transnational climate initiatives in the political quest for decarbonization. 

Within sectors such as renewable energy, transport Sweden has an ambitious political target to become one of the world’s first fossil fuel-free welfare states by involving non-state actors. We will map how non-state climate initiatives involving Swedish public and private actors; assess their performance in terms of effectiveness and legitimacy; appraise their political effects; and devise policy recommendations for harnessing their transformative potential. 

The project employs a mixed methods approach combining quantitative and qualitative methods. Novel empirical findings will be generated through semi-structured interviews, discourse analysis, a survey, participatory observation and network analyses. The project will enhance our understanding of how states and non-state actors can mobilize climate action toward low-carbon societal transition.

The project is divided into three main modules (click on module titles for more information):

The project will start by mapping domestic and transnational climate initiatives involving Swedish non-state and sub-national actors guided by RQ1 to examine type, goal, theme, political strategies and participants for each initiative, and whether and how they interact with Swedish government agencies. The mapping will include (i) active initiatives carried out in Sweden by civil society organizations, businesses, regions and municipalities and (ii) active transnational initiatives where Swedish non-state actors have registered their commitments in a database connected to NAZCA and the CIP. This mapping will provide an overview of the universe of initiatives currently being carried out by a multitude of Swedish non-state actors. We are particularly interested in understanding what types of non-state actors are actively mobilizing climate action, their relation with the state, and the type of climate actions that are being mobilized. Additionally, by displaying the initiatives using network analysis, the project will gain insights into which actors mobilize action through which initiatives.

We will evaluate the effectiveness and legitimacy of non-state involvement in Sweden’s fossil free transition. The evaluation will be based on the perceived legitimacy and effectiveness by the actors themselves (sociological legitimacy) and predefined criteria for legitimacy and effectiveness such as accountability and environmental performance (normative legitimacy) (Bernstein 2011). By effectiveness or output legitimacy we mean both policy output and environmental outcome, i.e. regulatory output, capacity building, institutional performance, and greenhouse gas reduction, which are all preconditions for the transition toward a low carbon society. We caution against a strict interpretation of environmental effectiveness in terms of tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions but support a broader approach to valuing the contributions of non-state initiatives (van der Ven and Hoffman 2017). We also evaluate climate initiatives with regard to normative legitimacy, employing criteria such as participation, transparency and accountability (Bäckstrand et al 2017).

The mapping exercise in Module 1 will be used to select a number of non-state initiatives to study their political effects. Three initiatives within different themes (such as renewables/energy efficiency, transport, agriculture) and varying constellations of public-private interaction will be compared to better understand the societal effects, the political dynamics and power relations that condition and shape non-state actors’ involvement in Sweden’s fossil free transition. We will first study how the actors involved in these initiatives interpret the political goal of turning Sweden into the first fossil fuel-free welfare state, and which political strategies they mobilize towards this end. Following previous studies of state-civil society interactions in green politics (Dryzek et al 2003), we ask to what extent these goals and strategies align with or divert from official government policies. By comparing the degree of consensus and collaboration, vs conflict and contestation, we will as a second step map the political roles of non-state actors in the transformative process of decarbonization. We will draw upon and develop Betsill’s (2015) categorization of non-state actors as activists who contest dominant climate policy practices from the outside; non-state actors as diplomats who seek to influence and shape government policies from the inside; and non-state actors as governors in their own right devising private governance arrangements. In light of Sweden’s comparatively high degree of corporativism in many policy areas, we contrast the risks and implications of co-optation and depoliticization (Dryzek 2017) with the opportunities for repoliticization and bottom-up transformation (Bradley and Hedrén 2014).