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Advantages of a polycentric approach to climate change policy


Lack of progress in global climate negotiations has led scholars to reconsider polycentric approaches to climate policy. Several examples of subglobal mechanisms to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions have been touted, but it remains unclear why they might achieve better climate outcomes than global negotiations alone. Decades of work conducted by researchers associated with the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University have emphasized two chief advantages of polycentric approaches over monocentric ones: they provide more opportunities for experimentation and learning to improve policies over time, and they increase communications and interactions — formal and informal, bilateral and multilateral — among parties to help build the mutual trust needed for increased cooperation. A wealth of theoretical, empirical and experimental evidence supports the polycentric approach.

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Figure 1: Core relations in repeated social dilemmas.


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Financial support for this project is provided by the Swedish Research Council (FORMAS) grant, COMMONS. My Ostrom Workshop colleagues E. Brondizio and M. McGinnis provided invaluable support and advice. I am grateful to P. Grossman, M. Oppenheimer, B. Rudyk, R. Stewart, M. Vandenbergh, J. Walker and participants in the Workshop on Building Block Strategies for Global Climate Action at NYU Law School (December 2013) for comments and suggestions. Last but certainly not least, P. Lezotte provided exceptional editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to Daniel H. Cole.

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Cole, D. Advantages of a polycentric approach to climate change policy. Nature Clim Change 5, 114–118 (2015).

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