The Transnational Regime Complex for Climate Change

The Transnational Regime Complex for Climate Change / Kenneth W. Abbot, Arizona State University, April 2011, 23 p. (Working paper)

In climate change as in other issue areas, recent years have produced a “Cambrian explosion” of international and transnational institutions, rules, implementation mechanisms, financing arrangements and operational programs. This renders governance highly complex: climate governance is not only fragmented but decentralized, operating with little central coordination. It is more appropriate to view it as a regime “complex” than as a unified regime.
Most discussions of the climate change regime complex focus on inter-state institutions, especially those that promulgate legally binding rules. A recent example is Robert Keohane & David Victor’s important 2011 paper in Perspectives on Politics, “The Regime Complex for Climate Change.” The present paper, in contrast, maps the true regime complex for climate change: the inter-state arrangements Keohane & Victor identify, plus the diverse and expanding array of transnational organizations engaged in climate change governance.
The paper then characterizes transnational climate governance in terms of two theoretical frameworks developed specifically to describe, explain and evaluate complex governance arrangements; this reveals potentially fruitful lines of positive and normative analysis. Regime complex theory provides some useful insights, but its core arguments are of limited utility for transnational governance. A looser version of the theory, though, directs attention to the causes and effects of institutional fragmentation and to ways of managing fragmentation. Polycentric governance theory, associated with the work of Elinor Ostrom, also considers the benefits and costs of fragmentation. But it directs particular attention to the scale of individual organizations and to the operations of governance systems at multiple scales, arguing that polycentric, multi-scalar systems can produce collective action more effectively than unified institutions such as the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol process. This has important implications for climate governance. (© Abbot)


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