Climate Change | Analysis and New Insights

An Evolutionary Approach to Governing Global Problems: Climate Policy After Paris

Charles F. Sabel and David G. Victor | August 2016


Instead of failed integrated, top-down bargaining strategies, analysts and diplomats are turning to bottom-up methods to coordinate national climate change policies. This new approach is reflected in the agreements reached at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015 in Paris and the unfolding Paris Process.

Charles F. Sabel and David G. Victor posit that decomposition of the climate change problem into smaller units is a crucial first step toward effective cooperation. However, to ensure further success, engaged outsiders to the United Nations system must build up institutions to work with public and private actors on exploring possibilities, scaling up successes, and creating effective review mechanisms. These outsiders, working in parallel with the UN diplomatic process, can learn in the face of uncertainty, and are not bound to the consensus-oriented decision rules of the UN system.

This brief follows up on the authors’ previous report, “Making the Paris Process More Effective: A New Approach to Policy Coordination on Global Climate Change,” in which they conclude that the bottom-up approach allows flexibility for individual countries to tailor their own best strategies. It also allows small groups of countries to work together on focused problems, rather than requiring all nations to sign on to the same global undertaking. And it allows, in time, diplomats to stitch together more effective global bargains.