UNFCCC vs. Minilateralism: Effects of Agreement Design Features on Support for Global Climate Governance Architectures

32 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2014

Date Written: September 10, 2014


Numerous scholars and policy advisors have in the past few years called for “climate clubs” – small groups of countries moving ahead in climate policy outside the UNFCCC, and empirical examples for such “minilateral” organizations include the now defunct Asia-Pacific Partnership and the recently established Renewables Club. Conceptual and theoretical work details the advantages of minilateralism regarding commitment structure, compliance incentives, and depth of agreement, making for greater effectiveness in solving the climate change problem. Some voices caution, however, that a minilateral agreement would critically lack in political legitimacy, commanding little support from both policy-making elites and the general public. Not every small coalition that would be able to deliver substantial mitigation might thus be politically feasible. To evaluate the effects of agreement design features on support for minilateral climate governance, I report results from a conjoint experiment conducted with a nationally representative sample in the United States and among national delegates to the 2012 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties. Results indicate that minilateral approaches receive low support compared to the comprehensive UNFCCC architecture, especially if the club does not regulate a large share of global emissions. Support can however be increased by certain configurations of other design elements, namely reduction commitment structure, membership benefits (“club goods”), and “sanctions” for countries outside the club without ambitious climate policies. Still, individual membership benefits do not affect US respondent support as strongly as one might expect given the recent enthusiasm for such club goods in the theoretical literature. In the delegates survey, both membership benefits and outsider sanctions affected delegates’ preferences from non-Annex I countries positively, whereas those design features did not influence Annex I delegates’ support. If major emitter countries like the US are unwilling to accede to a minilateral agreement because of domestic political obstacles, it is doubtful whether a climate club could deliver meaningful mitigation beyond what the UNFCCC has so far achieved.

Keywords: climate politics, burden sharing, climate clubs, public support, conjoint experiment

Suggested Citation

Gampfer, Robert, UNFCCC vs. Minilateralism: Effects of Agreement Design Features on Support for Global Climate Governance Architectures (September 10, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2494829 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2494829

Robert Gampfer (Contact Author)

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
Zürich, 8092

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