Climate change: the ultimate ‘tragedy of the commons’?

Produced as part of the Climate change governance for a new global deal CCCEP research programme theme

Abstract of Working Paper 53

The dominant view among scholars and policy makers has been that climate change governance should be based on international agreements which involve most nations. Yet progress in international negotiations has been slow and the effectiveness of governance based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol (KP) has been modest.

Recent debates have focused on regional, sectoral, building blocks, and other less comprehensive climate change governance strategies. But the wider rationale of moving away from a comprehensive solution to a mosaic of specific ones has received little attention.

This paper examines the rationale and potential of institutional diversity and polycentric governance in the area of climate change. The paper argues that polycentric governance of climate change is already a reality, and that voluntary, bottom-up solutions can be comparable in terms of significance and performance with major emitting states.

However, voluntary initiatives are likely to be at their best in realising cost-saving mitigation opportunities and thus polycentric climate change governance will also need to involve hybrid and state-based solutions. A key research need is to understand the dynamics of these different kinds of governance solutions.