As a research project, ACTS is not only committed to stakeholder engagement but will also produce various publications on the role of non-state actors in climate governance. This page will be updated regularly as soon as new publications are available, but do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Work in progress

At this stage of the project, you can read through the various abstracts below.

Jens Marquardt & Karin Bäckstrand

Since the climate change agenda under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is increasingly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we take the post-Paris climate governance landscape as an opportunity to speak about the relationship between democracy and sustainability. More precisely, we explore how non-state and sub-state actors, such as civil society organizations, cities, indigenous groups or the business sector, shape the democratic legitimacy of climate politics in a complex multi-level governance context. While scholars have long discussed the role of non-state actors, in particular in global and transnational climate governance arrangements, the Paris Agreement with its focus on states’ voluntary climate plans – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – further blurs the lines between global commitments and national contexts. Non-state actors accompany climate policy formulation and implementation not only at the global level but also within national contexts, making the NDCs a primary target for democratic debate and contestation. At the same time, the Paris Agreement’s call to strengthen non-state actor engagement across multiple governance levels also triggers questions about democratic legitimacy. Discussing the NDC’s entry points for non-state intervention, this chapter asks if and how non-state actors can enhance the democratic legitimacy of climate politics in a multi-level governance setting. To do so, we first revisit the post-Paris climate governance landscape and the different roles associated with non-state actors. Based on earlier work dealing with the legitimacy of non-state actors in climate governance, we conceptualize democratic legitimacy along the five values of participation, representation, accountability, transparency, and deliberation. We discuss how non-state actors succeed or fail to deliver these democratic norms. In conclusion, the post-Paris climate governance landscape holds the potential to enhance, but also undermine the democratic legitimacy of political decisions through the integration of non-state actors which can be cooperative, confrontational or co-opted by state-driven agendas.

Jens Marquardt, Julia Grimm, Karin Bäckstrand

At latest since the Paris Agreement on climate change, sub- and non-state actors are expected to play a crucial role in implementing climate politics. While scholars, particularly in International Relation, have done substantial work to conceptualize non-state intervention in climate governance, they pay little tribute to the competing narratives and underlying assumptions related to non-state action. Bringing together insights from a variety of research communities with fundamentally different ontologies, we propose a more critical perspective towards non-state action in climate governance that takes into account multiple interpretations of their potential role in a post-Paris context. To do so, we recapitulate how non-state actor involvement is conceptualized in relation to three fundamental themes of contestation: the relation between non-state actors and the state, their ambition in society, and the authority of knowledge claims. These contesting themes are then linked to grand ontological disputes between objectivist and constructivist approaches. Three idealized role-models for non-state action in climate governance (namely cooperative, confrontational, and co-opted) are developed to guide critical social science research in the future. We conclude that various research communities offer multiple answers to the question of what role non-state actors play, due to competing ontologies and epistemological assumptions. To avoid a depoliticized and overly technical understanding of non-state action detached from deeper societal meanings and conflicts we argue that climate governance research should not limit itself to the mechanisms of effective non-state action in (global) climate governance. Instead, there is a need to ask how an inclusive climate regime can respond to competing perspectives on the state, societal change and knowledge making. While we juxtapose, but also integrate different streams of literature we foster a critical and reflexive debate across these communities.

Naghmeh Nasiritousi, Julia Grimm

Today the world faces a number of grand challenges that are both daunting and urgent to address. States have historically employed legislative and executive powers to direct societal actors toward common goals. Yet, the scale of the grand challenges that are to be addressed e.g. by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include climate change and require significant changes to business as usual. The decarbonisation challenge in particular requires states to mobilise a range of actors in order to achieve structural changes in a legitimate manner. Consequently, we have seen the emergence of orchestration attempts by states, whereby they use soft or indirect forms of steering to coordinate and engage non-state actors in order to achieve policy objectives. This type of steering raises a number of pertinent questions: How can such an initiative gain legitimacy amongst the actors that it seeks to orchestrate and how can it maintain this legitimacy in the face of competing interests? Building on recent literature on legitimacy and the role of non-state actors in the fields of international relations and organisational studies, this paper uses the case of the Fossil Free Sweden initiative that the Swedish government launched ahead of the UN climate change conference in Paris in 2015 to highlight key factors and considerations in establishing and maintaining legitimacy in the orchestration of a varied set of non-state actors. Drawing on interviews with the organisers of the initiative, as well as with members and non-members of the initiative, this paper offers new insights into the legitimacy of orchestration with significant implications for how to understand rule-making and governance with the use of intermediaries.

Jens Marquardt

In December 2015, political leaders celebrated the Paris Agreement as a milestone in the global fight against climate change. Three years later, Greta Thunberg’s school strike outside the Swedish parliament inspired thousands of students around the world to protest against their political leaders’ inability to respond to climate change adequately. Envisioning livable climate futures for generations to come, the emerging ‘Fridays for Future’ (FFF) movement urges governments to take more radical action on climate change. We argue that these protests contest climate skeptics as well as delays in climate politics, but largely fail to challenge a techno-centric, apolitical and market-driven understanding of climate change. Aiming to understand the divides between a perceived sciento-political consensus on the urgency of climate change and alternative visions provided by the school protests as well as ideological tensions within the FFF movement, we analyze the self-understanding of the movement as well as the public discourse around these protests in Germany. While Germany portrays itself as a pioneer in moving an industry-based economy towards decarbonization, school protests have quickly emerged and stabilized here. We explore the strategies and narratives employed by the FFF protestors who express not only the need for climate action but also call for broader societal change. We study the tensions between government-driven climate politics and student-led visions through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries. Our study draws upon a discourse analysis based on news articles, official documents, and speeches, as well as qualitative interviews with FFF youth activists to identify competing imaginaries and themes of contestation. We conclude that current school protests are not only about climate action but reflect more fundamental political struggles about competing visions of a future society in times of climate change.

Jens Marquardt & Eva Lövbrand

In September 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg initiated a school strike outside the Swedish parliament in defiance of an adult world that has failed to take the mounting climate crisis seriously. In less than a year, Greta’s school strike has inspired a global movement of youth climate activism. Under the label ‘Fridays for Future’ children and youth across several continents now mobilize to put pressure on political leaders to take more radical action on climate change and at this moment secure livable and safe climate futures for generations to come. In this paper, we trace how these youth voices are represented in the realm of global climate governance and the international negotiation process organized around the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement. We ask how youth representatives navigate through the international climate talks to achieve their goals, what roles they play and identify with, and what issues of contestation arise from frictions and (ideological) tensions within the youth group. Our study draws upon interviews with youth activists, youth delegates, and UNFCCC representatives, document analysis, as well as participant observation at the UN climate meeting in Bonn. Based on a governmentality perspective, we investigate how fields of visibility, practices, and techniques, forms of knowledge, and formations of identify shape the conduct of youth in climate politics. As a result, we present a typology with three competing rationales behind youth engagement in global climate politics: A rational approach complies with established rules and institutions, (2) a radical approach is more disruptive and confrontational, and (3) a collective approach aims to develop synergies between cooperative and confrontational measures. By contrasting these strategies, we seek to advance the understanding of children and youth as political subjects in global climate governance and hereby push the study of youth representation in global affairs in new and productive directions.

Relevant previous publications

Find a brief selection of earlier publications that are related to ACTS.

Naghmeh Nasiritousi // Mattias Hjerpe // Björn-Ola Linnér

January 2014 // International Environmental Agreements 16(1) // DOI: 10.1007/s10784-014-9243-8

Globalization processes have rendered non-state actors an integral part of global governance. The body of literature that has examined non-state actor involvement in global governance has focused mainly on whether and how non-state actors can influence states. Less attention has been paid to the comparative advantages of non-state actors to answer questions about agency across categories of non-state actors, and more precisely what governance activities non-state actors are perceived to fulfil. Using unique survey material from two climate change conferences, we propose that different categories of non-state actors have distinct governance profiles. We further suggest that the different governance profiles are derived from particular power sources and that agency is a function of these profiles. The study thereby contributes to a strand in the literature focusing on the authority of non-state actors in climate governance and broadens the methodological toolkit for studying the “governors” of global governance.

Naghmeh Nasiritousi

May 2017 // Environmental Politics // DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2017.1320832

Global climate change governance is under increasing pressure to deliver meaningful action. It is now widely agreed that a low-carbon growth path requires major transformations of energy systems. The ways in which the 10 largest oil and gas companies in the world present their rationales for addressing climate change and their activities related to climate action, including the oil and gas companies’ involvement in international climate diplomacy, are examined. How these major companies in different world regions seek to influence states and other actors are illustrated through their actions on climate change. The analysis highlights the relations between state and non-state actors and our understanding of the allocation of responsibility in climate change politics. Novel empirical findings contribute to new insights into the climate change activities currently underway in the oil and gas sector, with implications for both the theory and practice of climate change governance.

Karin Bäckstrand // Eva Lövbrand

March 2016 // Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning // DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2016.1150777

In this paper, we advance discourse analysis to interpret how the state and direction of climate governance is imagined or interpreted by the multitude of actors present at UN climate conferences. We approach the annual Conferences of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as active political sites that project ideas, assumptions and standards for the conduct of global politics. This paper examines to what extent the discourses of green governmentality, ecological modernization and civic environmentalism identified by Bäckstrand and Lövbrand [(2006). Planting trees to mitigate climate change. Contested discourses of ecological modernization, green governmentality and civic environmentalism. Climate governance beyond 2012. Competing discourses of green governmentality, ecological modernization and civic environmentalism. In M. Pettenger (Ed.), The social construction of climate change. Ashgate] a decade ago still inform how climate governance is imagined and enacted in the post-Copenhagen era. After reviewing scholarship on climate governance and International Relations, we introduce our discursive framework and systematically compare three contending discourses of climate governance articulated at COP 17 in Durban (2011), COP 19 in Warsaw (2013) and COP 20 in Lima (2014). We end by discussing whether the discursive struggles played out at UN climate conferences represent a shift in the ways in which climate governance was imagined and enacted on the road to Paris, and to what extent our findings may help to extend scholarship in this field.

Jens Marquardt

June 2017 // Journal of Cleaner Production 154:167-175 // DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.176

This article demonstrates how power can be conceptualized in multi-level climate governance and develops a power-based analytical framework for climate policymaking. Effective climate governance requires action at multiple levels. Whereas multi-level governance enables us to cover the complex relations between actors across these levels, multi-level governance scholars have done little to explicitly conceptualize power. This study translates insights from traditional pluralist power theorists to multi-level governance research in order to explore how power can be investigated in complex climate governance arrangements. A three dimensional power-based approach is developed and applied to the field of climate policy making with the help of a mapping exercise. In conclusion, investigating the distribution of hard and soft power resources, capacities and power relations within and across different jurisdictional levels allows us to systematically explore the role of power in climate governance.

Karin Bäckstrand // Jonathan Kuyper // Björn-Ola Linnér // Eva Lövbrand

July 2017 // Environmental Politics 26(4):561-579 // DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2017.1327485

‘Together now!’ was the slogan used in the invitation to the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (GCA), an initiative launched on the second day of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh in November 2016. During this event, the two high-level champions nominated by COP as an outcome of the Paris Agreement – the French Ambassador in charge of climate negotiations Laurence Tubiana and the Moroccan Minister of Environment Hakima El Haité – called upon businesses, regions, cities, industries and NGOs to showcase their climate activities and partner with states in the transition to the low carbon society. The champions’ effort to mobilize non-state climate action pre-2020 coincides with the launch during the last week of COP 22 of the 2050 Pathway Platform. Informed by the same cooperative spirit, this multi-stakeholder initiative rests upon a broad coalition among 15 cities, 22 states and 200 companies seeking to devise long-term, net zero, climate-resilient and sustainable development pathways.

Sander Chan // Paula Ellinger // Oscar Widerberg

January 2018 // International Environmental Agreements 18(4) // DOI: 10.1007/s10784-018-9384-2

The importance of actions by non-state and sub-national actors (e.g., companies and cities) is increasingly recognized, because current governmental commitments are insufficient to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5 °C. Orchestration, the alignment between ‘orchestrator’ (e.g., international organizations and governments) and ‘intermediaries’ (e.g., city networks and partnerships), could harness additional contributions by building catalytic linkages and by enabling a growing number of actions. Although most orchestration efforts have been made in the context of international climate negotiations, regional and national orchestration could be useful by contributing to the implementation of national commitments, and by inspiring greater ambition. We investigate whether and how regional and national orchestrators respond to shortfalls in international orchestration. Using insights from a comparative study, we provide an early indication of the catalytic potential of orchestration in Latin America, Europe, India, Argentina, and Sweden. We find considerable impacts of global level orchestration on the emergence of these initiatives, however orchestrators do not simply copy other efforts; they emphasize different catalytic linkages, including the engagement of underrepresented actors; implementation; and, the provision of ideational and material support. Catalytic linkages in a complex landscape with multiple orchestrators could sometimes be improved through coordination. Given the enormous scale of transformation needed, a focus on scale may seem natural. However, for socially just outcomes, orchestrators need to resist a sole focus on scale, and also aim at experimental and small-scale actions, which may not lead to immediate large-scale impacts but which may prove crucial in longer-term transformations.

Background readings

We have compiled a selection of relevant background readings related to the project activities.