Do Intergovernmental Organizations Drive the Growth of Voluntary Cooperation on Climate Change?

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Voluntary cooperation on climate change has grown rapidly since 2000, and presents a potential pathway to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. Many intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) seek to cultivate such multi-stakeholder partnerships or international cooperative initiatives in greenhouse gas-emitting sectors. But are IGOs an effective class of actors to do so? Evidence has lagged behind practice. This study fills three gaps in empirical knowledge: (1) Have large-scale efforts by IGOs (such as summits) to promote voluntary cooperation caused the growth of cooperation? If so, how? (2) By participating in partnerships within specific sectors, to what degree have IGOs influenced the growth of voluntary cooperation in those sectors? (3) How do large-scale IGO efforts interact with IGOs working within initiatives, and what is their combined effect on the quality of initiatives? This study analyses large-scale efforts during 2000-2015, and conducts three case studies, in forests, short-lived climate pollutants, and land transport. Two methods are employed: qualitative process tracing (including 71 interviews) and dynamic social network analysis of a dataset comprising 252 initiatives and their participants. Community detection and node centrality measures probe for influence over time.
This study finds that: (1) Cooperative initiatives form sectoral ecosystems among inter-connected entities. New initiatives represent evolutionary changes to the strength—or quality—of cooperation within sectors. Thus, the quality of cooperation must be assessed at the sectoral level in addition to the initiative level; (2) Many IGOs participate in partnerships, but a select few have become central community-builders and these few wield strong influence over the evolution of the sectoral ecosystems; (3) IGOs (and governments) that have convening power and autonomy can choreograph a surge in the growth of voluntary cooperation. Of all IGOs, having established a ‘good offices’ role on climate change, the office of the UN Secretary-General is uniquely able to do so; (4) The surge requires six organizational attributes, which together characterize “collective choreography of cooperation”: strategic timing, high visibility, sectoral orientation, emphasis on ambitious cooperative commitments; subsidiarity, and leadership with centralized decision-making; and (5) Sustained and adequate institutional support is necessary for the gains of collective choreography to be impactful.