The international climate regime represented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been widely critiqued. However, 'new' dynamic forms of climate governing are appearing in alternative domains, producing a more polycentric pattern. Some analysts believe that the new forms will fill gaps in the existing regime, but this optimism is based on untested assumptions about their diffusion and performance. The advent of polycentric governance offers new opportunities for climate action, but it is too early to judge whether hopes about the effectiveness of emerging forms of climate governance are well founded.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Jordan, A. et al. Going beyond two degrees? The risks and opportunities of alternative options. Clim. Policy 13, 751–769 (2013).
Davis, S. J., Cao, L., Caldeira, K. & Hoffert, M. I. Rethinking wedges. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 011001 (2013).
Levi-Faur, D. Oxford Handbook of Governance (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).
Hoffmann, M. J. Climate Governance at the Crossroads: Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011).
Keohane, R. O. & Victor, D. G. The regime complex for climate change. Perspect. Polit. 9, 7–23 (2011).
Falkner, R., Stephan, H. & Vogler, J. International climate policy after Copenhagen: towards a 'building blocks' approach. Glob. Policy 1, 252–262 (2010).
Biermann, F. et al. Earth system governance: a research framework. Int. Environ. Agreem. Polit. Law Econ. 10, 277–298 (2010).
Biermann, F. Earth System Governance: World Politics in the Anthropocene (MIT Press, 2014).
Aldy, J. E. & Stavins, R. N. (eds) Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Implementing Architectures for Agreement (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).
World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change (World Bank, 2010).
Voß, J. & Simons, A. Instrument constituencies and the supply side of policy innovation: the social life of emissions trading. Environ. Polit. 23, 735–754 (2014).
Bulkeley, H. et al. Governing climate change transnationally: assessing the evidence from a database of sixty initiatives. Environ. Plann. C 30, 591–612 (2012).
Rayner, S. How to eat an elephant: a bottom-up approach to climate policy. Clim. Policy 10, 615–621 (2010).
Stewart, R. B., Oppenheimer, M. & Rudyk, B. A new strategy for global climate protection. Clim. Change 120, 1–12 (2013).
Rayner, S. & Caine, M. The Hartwell Approach to Climate Policy (Routledge, 2014).
Green, J. F., Sterner, T. & Wagner, G. A balance of bottom-up and top-down in linking climate policies. Nature Clim. Change 4, 1064–1067 (2014).
Dobson, A. Green Political Thought (Routledge, 2007).
Ostrom, E. Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change. Glob. Environ. Change 20, 550–557 (2010).
Townshend, T. et al. How national legislation can help to solve climate change. Nature Clim. Change 3, 430–432 (2013).
Roberts, N. C. Public entrepreneurship and innovation. Rev. Policy Res. 11, 55–74 (1992).
Stavins, R. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) 1001–1082 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Abbott, K. W. Strengthening the transnational regime complex for climate change. Transnat. Environ. Law 3, 57–88 (2014).
Bulkeley, H. et al. Transnational Climate Change Governance (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Abbott, K. W. The transnational regime complex for climate change. Environ. Plann. C 30, 571–590 (2011).
Hale, T. & Roger, C. Orchestration and transnational climate governance. Rev. Int. Org. 9, 59–82 (2013).
Bulkeley, H. A., Broto, V. C. & Edwards, G. A. An Urban Politics of Climate Change: Experimentation and the Governing of Socio-Technical Transitions (Routledge, 2014).
Coalition of 96 partners steps up ambition for climate action. Climate and Clean Air Coalition (2014); http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=2796&ArticleID=10990&l=en
Climate and Clean Air Coalition Annual Report September 2013–August 2014 (CCAC Secretariat, 2014); http://ccacoalition.org/docs/pdf/CCAC_Annual_Report_2013-2014.pdf
Nachmany, M. et al. The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study: A Review of Climate Change Legislation in 66 Countries (GLOBE International and the Grantham Research Institute, London School of Economics, 2014).
Dubash, N. K., Hagemann, M., Höhne, N. & Upadhyaya, P. Developments in national climate change mitigation legislation and strategy. Clim. Policy 13, 649–664 (2013).
Massey, E., Biesbroek, R., Huitema, D. & Jordan, A. Climate policy innovation: the adoption and diffusion of adaptation policies across Europe. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 434–443 (2014).
Harris, P. G. What's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It (Polity Press, 2013).
Green, J. F. Rethinking Private Authority: Agents and Entrepreneurs in Global Environmental Governance (Princeton Univ. Press, 2013).
Paterson, M. Global Warming and Global Politics (Routledge, 1996).
Jordan, A., Huitema, D., van Asselt, H., Rayner, T. & Berkhout, F. (eds) Climate Change Policy in the European Union: Confronting the Dilemmas of Mitigation and Adaptation? (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).
Jordan, A., van Asselt, H., Berkhout, F., Huitema, D. & Rayner, T. Climate change policy in the European Union: understanding the paradoxes of multi-level governing. Glob. Environ. Polit. 12, 43–66 (2012).
Harrison, K. & Sundstrom, L. M. (eds) Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change (MIT Press, 2010).
Schaffrin, A., Sewerin, S. & Seubert, S. The innovativeness of national policy portfolios — climate policy change in Austria, Germany, and the UK. Environ. Polit. 23, 860–883 (2014).
Jordan, A. & Huitema, D. Policy innovation in a changing climate: sources, patterns and effects. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 387–394 (2014).
Jordan, A. & Huitema, D. Innovations in climate policy: conclusions and new directions. Environ. Polit. 23, 906–925 (2014).
Lachapelle, E. & Paterson, M. Drivers of national climate policy. Clim. Policy 13, 547–571 (2013).
Jordan, A., Wurzel, R. K. & Zito, A. The rise of 'new' policy instruments in comparative perspective: Has governance eclipsed government? Polit. Stud. 53, 477–496 (2005).
Ostrom, E. Coping with tragedies of the commons. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2, 493–535 (1999).
Ostrom, E. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).
Ostrom, V. in Polycentricity and Local Public Economies: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (ed. McGinnis, M. D.) 52–74 (Univ. Michigan Press, 1999).
Widerberg, O. & Pattberg, P. International cooperative initiatives in global climate governance: raising the ambition level or delegitimizing the UNFCCC? Glob. Policy 6, 45–56 (2014).
Cole, D. H. Advantages of a polycentric approach to climate change policy. Nature Clim. Change 5, 114–118 (2015).
Ostrom, E. A polycentric approach for coping with climate change. Ann. Econ. Financ. 15, 71–108 (2014).
Rayner, T. & Jordan, A. The European Union: The polycentric climate policy leader? WIREs Clim. Change 4, 75–90 (2013).
Newell, P., Pattberg, P. & Schroeder, H. Multiactor governance and the environment. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 37, 365–387 (2012).
Moncel, R. & van Asselt, H. All hands on deck! Mobilizing climate change action beyond the UNFCCC. Rev. Eur. Community Int. Environ. Law 21, 163–176 (2012).
Matisoff, D. C. & Edwards, J. Kindred spirits or intergovernmental competition? The innovation and diffusion of energy policies in the American states (1990–2008). Environ. Polit. 23, 795–817 (2014).
Stadelmann, M. & Castro, P. Climate policy innovation in the south–domestic and international determinants of renewable energy policies in developing and emerging countries. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 413–423 (2014).
Jacobs, D. Policy invention as evolutionary tinkering and codification: the emergence of feed-in tariffs for renewable electricity. Environ. Polit. 23, 755–773 (2014).
Huitema, D. & Meijerink, S. V. (eds) Water Policy Entrepreneurs: A Research Companion to Water Transitions Around the Globe (Edward Elgar, 2009).
Boasson, E. L. & Wettestad, J. Policy invention and entrepreneurship: bankrolling the burying of carbon in the EU. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 404–412 (2014).
Weaver, R. K. Automatic Government: The Politics of Indexation (Brookings Institution, 1988).
Howlett, M. Why are policy innovations rare and so often negative? Blame avoidance and problem denial in climate change policy-making. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 395–403 (2014).
Benson, D. & Jordan, A. What have we learned from policy transfer research? Dolowitz and Marsh revisited. Polit. Stud. Rev. 9, 366–378 (2011).
Mansbridge, J. The role of the state in governing the commons. Environ. Sci. Policy 36, 8–10 (2014).
Aligică, P. D. Institutional Diversity and Political Economy: The Ostroms and Beyond 48–52 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014).
Aldy, J. E. The crucial role of policy surveillance in international climate policy. Climatic Change 126, 279–292 (2014).
Ford, J. D., Berrang-Ford, L., Lesnikowski, A., Barrera, M. & Heymann, S. J. How to track adaptation to climate change: a typology of approaches for national-level application. Ecol. Soc. 18, 40 (2013).
Öko-Institut, Cambridge Economics, AMEC, Harmelink Consulting & TNO Ex-post Quantification of the Effects and Costs of Policies and Measures CLIMA. A.3/SER/2010/0005 (European Commission, 2012).
Mickwitz, P. in Environmental Policy in the EU: Actors, Institutions and Processes (eds Jordan, A. & Adelle, C.) 267–286 (Routledge, 2013).
Hildén, M., Jordan, A. & Rayner, T. Climate policy innovation: developing an evaluation perspective. Environ. Polit. 23, 884–905 (2014).
Martens, M. Voice or loyalty? The evolution of the European Environment Agency (EEA). JCMS: J. Common Mark. Stud. 48, 881–901 (2010).
AEA, ECOFYS, Fraunhofer & ICCS Quantification of the Effects on Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Policies and Measures: Final Report ENV. C.1/SER/2007/0019 (European Commission, 2009).
Bernauer, T. & Böhmelt, T. National climate policies in international comparison: the climate change cooperation index. Environ. Sci. Policy 25, 196–206 (2013).
Fransen, T. & Cronin, C. A Critical Decade for Climate Policy: Tools and Initiatives to Track Our Progress Working Paper (World Resources Institute, 2013); http://www.wri.org/publication/critical-decade-climate-policy
Dagnet, Y., Fei, T., Elliott, C. & Qiu, Y. Improving Transparency and Accountability in the Post-2020 Climate Regime: A Fair Way Forward Working Paper (World Resources Institute, 2014); http://go.nature.com/Lt8LEH
Aldy, J. E. & Pizer, W. A. Comparability of Effort in International Climate Policy Architecture Working Paper No. RWP14–006 (HKS, 2014).
Auld, G., Mallett, A., Burlica, B., Nolan-Poupart, F. & Slater, R. Evaluating the effects of policy innovations: lessons from a systematic review of policies promoting low-carbon technology. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 444–458 (2014).
Somanathan, E. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) 1141–1205 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Thompson, T. M., Rausch, S., Saari, R. K. & Selin, N. E. A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies. Nature Clim. Change 4, 917–923 (2014).
Huitema, D. et al. The evaluation of climate policy: theory and emerging practice in Europe. Policy Sci. 44, 179–198 (2011).
Hildén, M. Evaluation, assessment, and policy innovation: exploring the links in relation to emissions trading. Environ. Polit. 23, 839–859 (2014).
Harrison, N. et al. Enhancing Ambition through International Cooperation Initiatives (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2014).
Beisheim, M. & Campe, S. Transnational public–private partnerships' performance in water governance: institutional design matters. Environ. Plann. C 30, 627 (2012).
Benson, D., Jordan, A., Cook, H. & Smith, L. Collaborative environmental governance: Aare watershed partnerships swimming or are they sinking? Land Use Policy 30, 748–757 (2013).
Chan, M. Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Emergence, Adaptation and Impacts in Global and Domestic Governance Contexts PhD Thesis, Vrije Univ., Amsterdam (2014).
Jenkins, J. A. & Patashnik, E. M. Living Legislation: Durability, Change, and the Politics of American Lawmaking (Univ. Chicago Press, 2012).
Jordan, A., Bauer, M. W. & Green-Pedersen, C. Policy dismantling. J. Eur. Public Policy 20, 795–805 (2013).
Biesenbender, S. & Tosun, J. Domestic politics and the diffusion of international policy innovations: How does accommodation happen? Glob. Environ. Change 29, 424–433 (2014).
Ostrom, E., Janssen, M. A. & Anderies, J. M. Going beyond panaceas. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 15176–15178 (2007).
Ostrom, E. Understanding Institutional Diversity 283 (Princeton Univ. Press, 2005).
Fischer, F. Evaluating Public Policy (Cengage Learning, 2006).
Bäckstrand, K. Accountability of networked climate governance: the rise of transnational climate partnerships. Glob. Environ. Polit. 8, 74–102 (2008).
Fankhauser, S., Gennaioli, C. & Collins, M. Do international factors influence the passage of climate change legislation? Clim. Policy http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2014.1000814 (2015).
Aligica, P. D. & Sabetti, F. in Choice, Rules and Collective Action: The Ostrom's on the Study of Institutions and Governance (eds Ostrom, E., Ostrom, V., Sabetti, F. & Aligica, P. D.) 1–19 (ECPR Press, 2014).
Hare, W., Stockwell, C., Flachsland, C. & Oberthür, S. The architecture of the global climate regime: a top-down perspective. Clim. Policy 10, 600–614 (2010).
Rhodes, R. A. W. The new governance: governing without government. Polit. Stud. 44, 652–667 (1996).
Roger, C., Hale, T. & Andonova, L. How do domestic politics condition participation in transnational climate governance? BSG Working Paper (Univ. Oxford, Blavatnik School of Government, 2015).
Fuhr, H. & Lederer, M. Varieties of carbon governance in newly industrializing countries. J. Environ. Dev. 18, 327–345 (2009).
Sartori, G. Concept misformation in comparative politics. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 64, 1033–1053 (1970).
Lieberman, E. S. Nested analysis as a mixed-method strategy for comparative research. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 99, 435–452 (2005).
We thank R. Biesbroek for helpful comments, and the COST network INOGOV — Innovations in Climate Governance for funding (IS1309). H.v.A. acknowledges funding from Sida and the Swedish Research Council (Formas).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Jordan, A., Huitema, D., Hildén, M. et al. Emergence of polycentric climate governance and its future prospects. Nature Clim Change 5, 977–982 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2725
Climate Action (2022)
Climate Action (2022)
Understanding international non-state and subnational actors for biodiversity and their possible contributions to the post-2020 CBD global biodiversity framework: insights from six international cooperative initiatives
International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2022)
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries (2022)
Climate Action (2022)