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.

ACTS publications: decarbonization governance and the politics of non-state climate action

N. Nasiritousi and J. Grimm

Environmental Policy and Governance, Forthcoming

Today, the world faces grand challenges that are both daunting and urgent to address. The decarbonization challenge in particular requires states to mobilize a range of actors to achieve structural changes. In this context, there has been a proliferation of orchestration attempts by states, whereby they use soft or indirect forms of steering to coordinate and engage intermediaries to achieve policy objectives. This type of steering raises a number of questions: How can such forms of steering gain legitimacy among the targeted actors and how can this legitimacy be maintained in the face of competing interests? This paper uses the case of the Fossil Free Sweden Initiative to highlight key factors and considerations in establishing and maintaining legitimacy in the orchestration of a varied set of non-state actors with differing interests. Specifically, the paper makes two core contributions to existing literature. Theoretically, it highlights how institutional legitimacy is obtained through a balancing act of stakeholder demands at different levels. Empirically, it examines how Sweden, considered a climate leader, governs toward decarbonization through national orchestration as an important tool. The paper thereby offers new insights into the legitimacy of orchestration with significant implications for how to understand rule-making and governance with the use of intermediaries. It particularly highlights how power and agency can create a governance dilemma for the orchestrator that may undermine legitimacy in the long term.

J. Marquardt and K. Bäckstrand (2022)

In Bornemann, H. Kappe and P. Nanz (eds.) The Routledge Handbook on Democracy and Sustainability. London: Routledge

In this chapter, 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 intergovernmental climate politics. The Paris Agreement revolves around states’ voluntary climate plans expressed in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Analyzing the NDC’s various entry points for non-state engagement, 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 through the five values of participation, representation, accountability, transparency, and deliberation. We examine how non-state actors succeed or fail to secure these democratic norms. In conclusion, climate governance in the post-Paris era holds the potential to enhance but also undermine the democratic legitimacy of political decisions through involvement of non-state actors which can be cooperative, confrontational, or co-opted by state-driven agendas.

A. Mert and J. Marquardt (2022)

In Bornemann, H. Kappe and P. Nanz (eds.) The Routledge Handbook on Democracy and Sustainability. London: Routledge

This chapter outlines how different narratives and framings of the Anthropocene shape the democratic underpinning of sustainability discourses and thus transformative action towards sustainability. We synthesize the debates around democracy-related challenges of the Anthropocene, which allows us to develop implications for the field of sustainability. As the Anthropocene blurs the lines between human activity and environmental degradation on a global scale, the concept has become an indispensable source of legitimacy for action towards green transformations and decarbonization, while hiding the term’s inherently contested nature. Taking a social constructivist perspective, we argue that the democratic implications of the Anthropocene largely depend on how we frame the concept and which meanings we attach to it. While a science-driven, eco-modernist and techno-deterministic perception is likely to narrow down the room for democratic interventions, a more open, inclusive and reflexive use of the concept holds the chance to enhance democratic debates around the means and ends of sustainability. While we sketch out how opposing Anthropocene narratives frame these critical elements of democratic decision-making fundamentally differently, we also offer a deconstructivist frame of the Anthropocene which holds the potential to reclaim sustainability discourses, re-politicize sustainability action, and rethink the democratic underpinning of sustainability governance.

M. Jernäs and E. Lövbrand (2022)

Global Environmental Politics, forthcoming


J. Pickering, T. Hickmann, K. Bäckstrand, A. Kalfagianni, M. Bloomfield, A. Mert, H. Ransan-Cooper and A.Y. Lo (2022)

Earth System Governance, 11

Many democracies find it difficult to act swiftly on problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. This is reflected in long-standing debates in research and policy about whether democratic practices are capable of fostering timely, large-scale transformations towards sustainability. Drawing on an integrative review of scholarly literature from 2011 to early 2021 on sustainability transformations and the democracy-environment nexus, this article synthesises existing research on prospects and pitfalls for democratising sustainability transformations. We advance a new typology for understanding various combinations of democratic/authoritarian practices and of transformations towards/away from sustainability. We then explore the role of democratic practices in accelerating or obstructing five key dimensions of sustainability transformations: institutional, social, economic, technological, and epistemic. Across all dimensions we find substantial evidence that democratic practices can foster transformations towards sustainability, and we conclude by outlining a set of associated policy recommendations.


J. Marquardt, L. Delina, M. Smits (2022)

Routledge, London

This volume showcases the diversity of climate change politics and practices across Southeast Asia. Through a series of country-level case studies and regional perspectives, the authors in this volume explore the complexities and contested nature of climate governance in what can be considered as one of the most dynamic and multi-faceted regions of the world. They reflect upon the tensions between authoritarian and democratic climate change governance, the multiple roles of civil society and non-state interventions, and the conflicts between state planning and market-driven climate change governance. Shedding light on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts in Southeast Asia, this book presents the various formal and informal institutions of climate change governance, their relevant actors, procedures, and policies. Empirical findings from a diverse set of environments are merged into a cross-country comparison that allows for elaborating on similar patterns whilst at the same time highlighting the distinct features of climate change governance in Southeast Asia. Drawing on case studies from all Southeast Asian countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Viet Nam, this book will be of great interest to students, scholars, and practitioners dealing with climate change and environmental governance.



S. Weiland, T. Hickmann, M. Lederer, J. Marquardt, S. Schwindenhammer (2021)

Politics and Governance, Vol. 9, No. 1

The 2030 Agenda of the United Nations comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 sub-targets which serve as a global reference point for the transition to sustainability. The agenda acknowledges that different issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, environmental degradation, among others, are intertwined and can therefore only be addressed together. Implementing the SDGs as an ‘indivisible whole’ represents the actual litmus test for the success of the 2030 Agenda. The main challenge is accomplishing a more integrated approach to sustainable development that encompasses new governance frameworks for enabling and managing systemic transformations. This thematic issue addresses the question whether and how the SDGs set off processes of societal transformation, for which cooperation between state and non-state actors at all political levels (global, regional, national, sub-national), in different societal spheres (politics, society, and economy), and across various sectors (energy, transportation, food, etc.) are indispensable. In this editorial, we first introduce the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs by providing an overview of the architecture of the agenda and the key challenges of the current implementation phase. In a second step, we present the eleven contributions that make up the thematic issue clustering them around three themes: integration, governance challenges, and implementation.

Jens Marquardt & Naghmeh Nasiritousi

Environmental Politics

Various path dependencies and carbon lock-ins prevent ambitious climate action. In this study, we develop and apply the concept of imaginary lock-ins, or the challenge to envision a decarbonized future beyond the status quo of a fossil-dependent society. We propose a typology of competing imaginaries attached to climate action. Specifically, we distinguish between techno-optimism, ecological modernization, disruptive innovations, and system change. We then explore these competing imaginaries for the case of Sweden. The country plans to become the world’s first fossil-free welfare state by 2045. Based on documents, interviews with stakeholders inside and outside the multi-stakeholder initiative Fossil Free Sweden, and an interview series with all major Swedish party leaders, we illuminate the contested imaginaries of a fossil-free future. While techno-optimism and ecological modernization largely suppress more radical or transformative imaginaries, imaginary lock-ins allow us to assess the potentials and limitations of an initiative to orchestrate climate action.

K. Bäckstrand, J. Kuyper and N. Nasiritousi (2021)

Earth System Governance, 9

How do governance arrangements affect perceptions of legitimacy and effectiveness amongst non-state actors? This is a pertinent question as the roles of non-state actors have been strengthened in global climate governance. In this paper, we focus on how actors involved in climate governance processes perceive trade-offs and specific factors that risk undermining legitimacy and potential effectiveness of those arrangements. We argue that different rules of procedural legitimacy generate sociological views about whether an institution or its policies will be effective and, in turn, are ‘worthy of support’. To establish this, we engage in an analysis of how nonstate actors have been engaged in the UNFCCC, pre- and post-Paris. We find that efforts to deepen engagement is generating contestation between actors, not fostering collaboration. Focusing on how actors view procedural rules and their potentialities for effective outcomes sheds light on support for those institutions and the development of effective policies.

K. Bäckstrand (2021)

In A. Bakardjieva Engelbrekt, A. Michalski and L. Oxelheim (eds.) Vägar till ett uthålligt EU. Europaperspektiv 2021, Stockholm: Santérus Förlag.

J. Marquardt (2020)

Frontiers in Comminucation

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 adequately respond to climate change. 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. While FFF has sparked discussions about climate change around the world, the movement’s effects on broader societal change remain unclear. We, therefore, explore how FFF has triggered debates beyond the necessity to tackle climate change and offer a framework to reflect upon the broader socio-political implications of the school strikes. We illustrate the contestation between different ideas of social life and political order encapsulated within and attached to FFF by analyzing the movement’s self-understanding and the media discourse around these protests in Germany. Although the German government portrays the country as a pioneer in moving an industry-based economy toward decarbonization, the school strikes have quickly emerged and stabilized. We explore if and how the FFF protestors express not only the need for climate action but also call for deeper societal transformation. To do so, our study draws upon a discourse analysis based on news articles, official documents, and speeches, complemented by qualitative interviews with youth representatives and experts involved in the movement to identify competing imaginaries and themes of contestation. We study the tensions between competing student-led visions of the future through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries, which allows us to illuminate and juxtapose moderate and radical approaches. In conclusion, 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. Yet, the protestors’ strong focus on science-driven politics risks to overshadow these broader societal debates, potentially stabilizing the techno-centric, apolitical and market-driven rationale behind climate action.

J. Pickering, K. Bäckstrand and D. Schlossberg (2020)

Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 22(1):1-15

Concepts of ecological and environmental democracy seek to reconcile two normative ideals: ensuring environmental sustainability while safeguarding democracy. These ideals are frequently conceived as being in conflict, as democracy is perceived as too slow and cumbersome to deliver the urgent large-scale collective action needed to tackle environmental problems. Theories addressing the democracy-environment nexus can be situated on a spectrum from theories of ecological democracy that are more critical of existing liberal democratic institutions to theories of environmental democracy that call for reforming rather than radically transforming or dismantling those institutions. This article reviews theoretical and empirical scholarship on the democracy-environment nexus. We find continued theoretical and empirical diversity in the field, as well as vibrant debates on democratising global environmental politics, local material practices, and non-human representation. We argue for stronger dialogue between environmental political theory and empirical, policy-oriented research on democracy and sustainability, as well as further exploration of complementarities between ecological and environmental democracy. We identify four main areas of challenge and opportunity for theory and practice: public participation and populism; technocracy and expertise; governance across scales; and ecological rights and limits.


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.