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PAC 9 – Towards an Infra-State Governance of Global Public Goods Regions in International Negotiations on Climate Change

By Simon Uzenat

Passage au crible n°9

Between 7th and 19th December 2009, Copenhagen was the scene of the 15th CP (Conference of the Parties) under the aegis of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The aim was to adopt an internationally binding judicial instrument in order to 1) reduce global production of greenhouse gases (GHG) and 2) adapt the models of development to the foreseeable consequences of climate change. The failure of this summit should not, however, occult the emergence of original structures of governance of Global Public Goods.

Historical background
Theoretical framework

Historical background

The international response to climate change took the shape of the adoption of the UNFCCC in 1992. This convention established the institutional framework for stabilizing the concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere. In December 1997, at the 3rd CP In Kyoto, the delegates agreed upon a protocol which committed the industrialized countries – mentioned in Annex 1 – to reducing, by 2012, their global emissions of GHG by an average of 5.2%, below their 1990 levels. The Kyoto Protocol came into force on 16th February 2005 and arrives at its term on 31st December 2012, without, as yet, being ratified by the greatest per capita GHG emitting power, the United States.
In December 2008, at Poznan, during the 14th CP, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC declared that 50% to 80% of concrete action aiming to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and nearly 100% of the measures of adaptation to the consequences of climate change are conducted at an infra-state level. During the September 2009 Climate Week, Ben Kimoon, Secretary General of the UNO, underlined the role of sub-national entities. For their part, the leaders of the IPCC (Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change) insist on the territorial disparities which climate change brings about. According to their work, coastal regions, small islands and, more generally, the LDC (Less Developed Countries) will suffer 80% of the GHG-caused damage for which the rich countries are nevertheless 80% responsible.

Like other peripheral actors of the negotiations, the regions have come together in more or less specialized transnational networks. The foremost of these, nrg4SD (Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development), saw the light of day at the millennium summit at Johannesburg in 2002 and models the organization of its events on the UNFCCC calendar. It adopted a first declaration on climate change in 2005 in Montreal and was then strongly involved in the 14th CP at Poznan. Following the same principles, the FOGAR (FOrum of Global Associations of Regions) was created in Marseille in 2007.

Unlike other non-state actors, the regions have a specific status. In international conferences, Belgian provinces, German Länder, or, to a lesser extent, Spanish provinces have their place within their national delegations. They can therefore directly submit amendments to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC and thus contribute to the different stages of the negotiations. In this respect, the networks of regions – considered as NGOs by the UNO and, as such, having the status of observers – benefit indirectly and partially from the relational power of certain of their members.

Theoretical framework

The implication of regions in international negotiations on climate change brings two problematics to the heart of the globalization process.

1. Non-state diplomacy. A great number of policies defined and implemented on a regional level – notwithstanding the nature of the relationship between the central State and the local authorities – remain closely linked to the issue of climate change (transport, habitat, energy…). They thus contribute to the transformation of the nature of the relationship between the two levels of governance, notably regarding the participation at a local level in international negotiations. In this instance, the central role played by the European Union in the recognition of the right of local authorities to act on the international scene, especially through the funds it deploys, should be underlined. Moreover, this non-state diplomacy takes a syncretic form which combines the range of actions specific to NGOs, transnational firms and the state.
2. Global Public Goods. As an instance of pure Global Public Goods, the climate represents one of the major issues of a global governance currently under construction. Global problems, such as they are perceived today, can no longer be settled by the sole route of inter-state cooperation. On the contrary, they call for the coordination of decentralized and mostly non-state actions. Paradoxically, this approach enables the re-legitimization of public intervention on an international scale, while demonstrating the necessity of going beyond the inter-governmental framework.


The elaboration, definition and implementation of public environmental policies now involve all infra-state levels, with the regions at the forefront. As early as 1995, in her article dealing with the diffusion of the authority of the state, Susan Strange called for research into the issue of the diffusion of the power of the central state towards sub-state entities. At the same time, the retreat of state power, of its means of regulation and intervention accelerated. Indeed, they often precede the re-composition of the governmental scene by lowering the costs of entry for previously marginalized actors. From a Weber-inspired point of view, the state is then lead to decentralize and externalize certain of its operational policies, while organizing a re-distribution of decision-making. However, as a consequence, these dynamics contribute to autonomizing and weakening international organizations. The intrusion of new players constitutes for these organizations the opportunity to diversify their means of intermediation. However, this also threatens their claim to incarnate global governance.

Nevertheless, the working of international networks of local authorities remains undermined by the inequalities and development differentials which characterize globalization. This observation is reinforced further each time the networks are joined by regions from the South, which are weakly developed and often marginalized within countries which are themselves dominated.

The main resource of these infra-state entities consists in adapting themselves to the properties and restraints of globalization which are similar to those of transnational firms. This may take, for instance, the form of a search for economies of scale, a multiplication of public-private partnerships or global plans for communication. On 15th December, at the Copenhagen conference, 60 regional leaders thus participated in the Climate Leaders Summit 2009, directed by The Climate Group. In fact, this is an international club – founded under the aegis of Tony Blair – which brings together some fifty representatives of the largest global firms which are joined by some thirty regional governments, including California, Quebec, and Bavaria. In this respect, it must be observed that collective action is more probably inscribed in the logics of responsibility than in the classic logics of sovereignty. Such an emancipation from state heteronomy should not, however, be interpreted as the abandon or repression of the nation-state framework, the resonance of which was, on the contrary, demonstrated by the conclusions of Copenhagen. It should rather be apprehended within the framework of a vaster process of the dissemination of political authority.


Hocking Brian, “Patrolling the “Frontier” Globalization, Localization, and the “Actorness” of Non-Central Governments”, in: Francisco Aldecoa, Michael Keating (Eds), Paradiplomacy in Action. The Foreign Relations of Subnational Governments, Regional and Federal Studies, 9 (1), Spring 1999, pp. 17-39.
Ollitrault Sylvie, Militer pour la planète, Rennes, PUR/Res Publica, 2008.
PNUD (Ed.), La Lutte contre le changement climatique : un impératif de solidarité humaine dans un monde divisé, Rapport mondial sur le développement humain 2007/2008. Available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2007-2008/chapters/french/
Strange Susan, “The Defective State”, Daedalus, 124 (2), Spring 1995, pp. 55-74.