Supranational Leadership from Local Government

The climate policy process is complicated by overwhelming complexity on many levels:

  1. The climate system touches all of Earth’s energy-management and life-support systems.
  2. The energy economy touches all areas of human activity.
  3. Any one nation’s contribution to solving climate change is just a fraction of the global action required.
  4. 195 nations negotiate for consensus in a diplomatic process operating both through national policy and highly technical analytical work.
  5. Without a transition of the entire financial sector to low-carbon investment priorities, policy will not be enough.

Add to this the fact that local and provincial governments carry most of the burden for implementing on-the-ground operational climate policy, and you have a bewildering universe of complex challenges, all of which add up to our prospects for survival. At all times, there is a hunger for a simpler, more direct way to achieve meaningful action and innovation.

The sovereign interest of nation states generally bars non-national authorities from negotiating international treaties. The climate problem—along with our globalized economy, the Sustainable Development Goals framework, and the action component of resilience-building Disaster Risk Reduction agreements—changes that calculus in important ways.

No longer is the most efficient, high-level negotiation best served by operating without the advice and consent of subnational jurisdictions and non-state actors. Civil society groups, leading universities and related institutions, and city and state or provincial leaders, all have actionable intelligence which can make the global negotiations smarter, faster, simpler, and more conducive to high-value affordable change.

The global nature of the climate system is part of this. Nature recognizes no sovereign borders. But nation-states also face a particular complication in their claims of sovereignty: they don’t actually control all of the levers of action that can achieve the highest value climate action at the fastest pace, within their borders.

Local leaders can vastly scale up the practical and political action capability of national governments, strengthening their negotiating position and putting them into a stronger position of future geopolitical leadership.

Because there is built into this multilevel geopolitical reality each of the following details, the value added from robust subnational leadership is irrefutable:

  • Science outlines clear short-term action priorities that national governments cannot easily effectuate on their own.
  • The climate is a planet-round complex evolving system, and severe impacts from its disruption are compounded by escalating disruption.
  • Our nation-state economies are not designed to deal with rapidly escalating compounded unforeseen costs.
  • The total exchange value of all factors influencing climate-related economic choices extends far beyond national budgets.

In our everyday lived reality, we interact with levers of influence that national governments cannot efficiently alter through political intention and force of policy action. They need to leverage the entire activity of the wider marketplace to drive change, and to do this in a politically expedient, timely and cost-effective way, they need the help of non-national governments—cities, counties, provinces, and supranational political unions.

Sovereignty is not real or viable without effective participatory coordination between the parts that make put he sovereign entity. Global interconnection now enables all capable contributors of good will and good faith to make real contributions to the improvement of our shared world—our institutions, our relationship to natural systems, our hope for good outcomes.

This week in New York City, the Under2 Coalition brings together hundreds of subnational jurisdictions to move forward on an international collaborative policy agenda that greatly enhances the total capability of the nation-states whose cities and territories are participating. In Agadir, at the 2017 Climate Chance Summit, thousands of non-party stakeholders came together to envision, design, and mobilize a global response to climate disruption that flows from a much wider array of capable contributors than the conventional nation-state negotiations.

We bring to the UNFCCC High-Level event on Education and Participation, at UNICEF headquarters, during the 72nd Convening of the UN General Assembly, a strategy to empower non-party stakeholders at all levels to contribute innovative pathways to climate solvency to the global sustainability agenda. That strategy is made up of:

And, we join with partners to explore the vast climate-action potential inherent in moving toward operational Ocean Neutrality and the Blue Economy.

Supranational democracy means having a say in how governments clash, negotiate, and make deals that affect your chances at personal freedom and sustainable wellbeing. Where nation states limit such potential for having a say, they degrade the capability of their constituents and by extension, their own sovereign influence over events.

There are too many big choices to be made, very quickly, at an unprecedented pace of innovation, to leave out any worthy contributor. We are entering the age when multilevel multilateral cooperation is how we negotiate and secure peace, freedom, and sustainable prosperity.

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About Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.