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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:
E-mail address:


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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53 See, e.g., Jessup, P., Transnational Law (Yale University Press, 1956); Koh, H.H., ‘Transnational Legal Process’ (1996) 75 Nebraska Law Review, pp. 181207; Shaffer, G., ‘Transnational Legal Process and State Change’ (2012) 37 Law & Social Inquiry, pp. 229–64; Shaffer, G. & Bodansky, D., ‘Transnationalism, Unilateralism and International Law’ (2012) 1(1) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 3141; Hale, T. & Held, D. (eds), Handbook of Transnational Governance: Institutions and Innovations (Polity Press, 2011); Dannenmaier, E., ‘Constructing Transnational Climate Regimes’, in Handl, G., Zekoll, J. & Zumbansen, P. (eds), Beyond Territoriality: Transnational Legal Authority in an Age of Globalization (Martinus Nijhoff, 2012), pp. 519–50; Zumbansen, P., ‘Transnational Legal Pluralism’ (2010) 10(2) Transnational Legal Theory, pp. 141–89. See also Heyvaert, V. & Etty, T.F.M., ‘Introducing Transnational Environmental Law’ (2012) 1(1) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 111.

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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). 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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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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112 Abbott, n. 21 above.

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122 Börzel, T. & Risse, T., ‘Governance Without a State: Can It Work?’ (2010) 4(2) Regulation & Governance, pp. 113–34; Büthe, T., ‘Private Regulation in the Global Economy: A (P)review’ (2010) 12(3) Business and Politics, Article 2.

123 Abbott, n. 24 above.

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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.

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153 See, e.g., Gulbrandsen, L.H., Transnational Environmental Governance: The Emergence and Effects of the Certification of Forests and Fisheries (Edward Elgar, 2010), pp. 127–8 (Norwegian resistance to the Marine Stewardship Council).

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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.

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

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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. 264–80; Braithwaite, J. & Drahos, P., Global Business Regulation (Cambridge University Press, 2000); Black, J., ‘Enrolling Actors in Regulatory Systems: Examples from UK Financial Services Regulation’ (2003 Spring) Public Law, pp. 6391.

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

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183 Biermann & Siebenhüner, n. 66 above.

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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:

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