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Strengthening the Transnational Regime Complex for Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2013

Kenneth W. Abbott*
Arizona State University, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Tempe, Arizona (US). Email:


The inadequacies of the inter-state institutions and negotiating processes central to international climate policy create a pressing need for governance innovation. This article proposes one promising and feasible approach: strengthening the existing transnational regime complex for climate change. Leading organizations could strengthen the regime complex by forging stronger links among institutions, increasing coordination and collaboration, supporting weaker institutions and encouraging the entry of new ones where governance gaps exist. An enhanced regime complex would have a multilevel structure, enabling transnational institutions to bypass recalcitrant national governments by directly engaging sub-state and societal actors at multiple levels of authority and scale. It would also help to manage recalcitrant states by mobilizing advocacy, demonstration effects and other pressures on governments. Regime entrepreneurs, using the strategy of orchestration, could deploy a range of incentives and other tools of influence to enrol, support and steer transnational organizations.

Symposium: Global Climate Governance Without The Us
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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This contribution is part of a collection of articles from the conference ‘Global Climate Change without the United States: Thinking the Unthinkable’, held at Yale University Law School, New Haven, CT (United States (US)), 9–10 November 2012.


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19 ‘Format and Organizational Aspects of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development’, UNGA Res. A/67/L.72, 27 June 2013.

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45 Abbott, n. 21 above.

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47 Geneva (Switzerland), 12 Aug. 1949, in force 21 Oct. 1950, available at: .

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49 Traditional regime complex scholarship focuses heavily on such institutions.

50 Keohane & Victor, n. 37 above.

51 Abbott, n. 21 above; Ostrom, n. 35 above.

52 Cf. van Asselt, Pattberg, Biermann & Zelli, n. 22 above; Zelli, F., ‘The Fragmentation of the Global Climate Governance Architecture’ (2011) 2(2) WIREs Climate Change, pp. 255–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Zelli, F. & van Asselt, H., ‘The Institutional Fragmentation of Global Environmental Governance: Causes, Consequences and Responses’ (2013) 13(3) Global Environmental Politics, pp. 113.Google Scholar

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64 Another valuable ally would be a transgovernmental network on climate. A transgovernmental network is an association of government agencies, e.g., environment ministries; it is not formed by or made up of states as such: see Slaughter, A.-M., A New World Order (Princeton University Press, 2005)Google Scholar. Transgovernmental networks share information, coordinate rule-making and other domestic activities, and support weaker member agencies. They are important centres of governance in many areas. Unfortunately, national and supranational environment agencies have not created strong transgovernmental relationships on climate policy.

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74 UNFCCC, n. 15 above, Art. 8.

75 See It has also joined the Global Compact as co-convenor of Caring for Climate, discussed below at Section 5.1.

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78 Mattli & Woods, n. 76 above, at pp. 22–6.

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83 Hale & Roger, n. 28 above.

84 Green, n. 33 above.

87 K.W. Abbott & D. Snidal, ‘The Governance Triangle: Regulatory Standards Institutions and the Shadow of the State’, in Mattli & Woods, n. 76 above, pp. 44–88. Some sub-state government associations, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), promulgate binding rules, but most do not.

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107 Ibid.

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112 Abbott, n. 21 above.

113 K.W. Abbott, J.F. Green & R.O. Keohane, ‘Organizational Ecology and Organizational Strategies in World Politics’, 9 July 2013, available at:

114 Green, n. 33 above.

115 GRI, ‘How do GRI and the Carbon Disclosure Project Align in 2011?’, 5 July 2011, available at:

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119 Hooghe & Marks, ibid., at pp. 236–9.

120 Ibid.

121 ‘REDD’ refers to projects for ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’. ‘REDD+’ projects also address sustainable forest management. See: Transnational organizations such as the CCBA have developed specific standards for national programmes and projects: see, e.g.,

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127 Green, n. 92 above, at p. 14.

128 VCS, ‘Groundbreaking Jurisdictional REDD+ Requirements Released’, 4 Oct. 2012, available at:

129 J.F. Green & G. Auld, ‘Unbundling the Regime Complex: The Effects of Private Authority’, Working Paper, 24 July 2012, available at:

136 M. Peters-Stanley & D. Yin, ‘Maneuvering the Mosaic: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2013’, Forest Trends, June 2013, available at:

138 Peters-Stanley & Yin, n. 136 above, at p. 35.

143 World Bank, ‘State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2012’, 30 May 2012, available at: New carbon trading programmes in, e.g., California and Australia, should increase demand for compliance credits.

144 Offsets covering 101 million CO2 equivalent tons were contracted in 2012, increasing 4% year-over-year; total market value declined by 11% to $523 million: Peters-Stanley & Yin, n. 136 above.

146 Carbon Fix was acquired by the Gold Standard in 2012.

147 Ibid.

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149 NGOs and other norm entrepreneurs frequently perform these tasks.

150 Büthe, n. 148 above; Büthe, n. 122 above. Some observers see labelling programmes as inappropriately extending market structures: e.g., Fuchs, D. & Kalfaggiani, A., ‘The Causes and Consequences of Private Food Governance’ (2010) 12 Business and Politics, Article 5.Google Scholar

151 Abbott, n. 21 above.

152 Abbott & Snidal, n. 87 above.

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154 For recent examples from China, see S. Chan, ‘Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Global Diffusion and Local Adaptation’, Institute for Environmental Studies, Newsletter No. 2, June 2013, available at:

155 Galaz, Crona, Österblom, Olsson & Folke, n. 106 above.

156 Abbott & Snidal, n. 87 above.

157 Most of the transnational organizations identified in Bulkeley et al. (n. 54 above) and in Hoffman (n. 82 above) were created since 2001–02. Most voluntary carbon market organizations were established even more recently: Green, n. 92 above.

158 Hoffman, n. 82 above.

159 Abbott & Snidal, n. 87 above.

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162 Ibid., at pp. 12–3, 14–6.

163 Abbott, n. 24 above; Abbott & Snidal, n. 116 above.

164 Most private climate standards recognize or hew closely to public rules, to enhance legitimacy and minimize switching costs for adherents.

165 Ostrom, n. 35 above; Ostrom, E., ‘Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems’ (2010) 100(3) American Economic Review, pp. 641–72.Google Scholar

166 Galaz, Crona, Österblom, Olsson & Folke, n. 106 above.

167 This helps to explain why international and transnational climate institutions are so numerous and diverse: Keohane & Victor, n. 37 above.

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170 Galaz, Crona, Österblom, Olsson & Folke, n. 106 above.

172 For example, the Gold Standard acquired the standards organization CarbonFix in 2012.

174 A. Loconto & E. Fouilleux, ‘Politics of Private Regulation: ISEAL and the Shaping of Transnational Sustainability Governance’ (2013 forthcoming) Regulation & Governance.

175 Abbott & Snidal, n. 116 above.

176 Ibid.; Abbott, n. 21 above; Abbott & Snidal, n. 26 above; cf. Abbott, Genschel, Snidal & Zangl, n. 23 above.

177 Orchestration theory hypothesizes that successful orchestrators are ‘focal’, with an accepted leadership position in an issue area (Abbott, Genschel, Snidal & Zangl, n. 23 above) and strong connections with other institutions (Hale & Roger, n. 28 above).

178 In orchestration theory, orchestrators engage intermediaries to influence the behaviour of target actors: Abbott, Genschel, Snidal & Zangl, n. 23 above. Here I de-emphasize targets and focus on the role of orchestrators in supporting and coordinating other organizations, many of which will operate as intermediaries.

179 On ‘enrolling’, see Latour, B., ‘The Powers of Association’, in Law, J. (ed), Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 264–80Google Scholar; Braithwaite, J. & Drahos, P., Global Business Regulation (Cambridge University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Black, J., ‘Enrolling Actors in Regulatory Systems: Examples from UK Financial Services Regulation’ (2003 Spring) Public Law, pp. 6391.Google Scholar

180 Stewart, Oppenheimer & Rudyk, ‘Reaching International Cooperation’, n. 42 above.

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183 Biermann & Siebenhüner, n. 66 above.

184 Haas, P., ‘Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination’ (1992) 46(1) International Organization, pp. 135.Google Scholar

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186 Securities and Exchange Commission, ‘Commission Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change’ (2010) 75(25) Federal Register, at p. 6290.

187 GEO-5 for Business: Impacts of a Changing Environment on the Corporate Sector (UNEP, 2013), available at:

196 Advocates can create negative incentives through mechanisms such as consumer boycotts.

197 Mattli & Woods, n. 76 above, at pp. 35–6.

198 A few have become more active in this area. The UN Global Compact, which has long avoided any suggestion of ‘enforcement’, now publicly identifies firms that fail to submit timely communications and those expelled for failure to disclose. In addition, its ‘differentiation programme’ encourages NGOs to assess participants’ performance, so that it can single out superior performers: see: