The Role of Non-State Actors in Climate Law

Forthcoming, Benoit Mayer & Alexander Zahar (eds.), Debating Climate Law. Cambridge University Press 2021.

13 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2021

See all articles by Mikko Rajavuori

Mikko Rajavuori

University of Turku, Faculty of Law; University of Eastern Finland - School of Law

Date Written: July 10, 2020


This chapter engages the key legal debates surrounding the role of non-state actors (NSAs) in climate law. NSAs—a wide category that reflects the expansion of international climate governance beyond the state—include entities as diverse as individuals, companies, international organizations, industry associations, cities, indigenous peoples, and civil-society organizations. Over the past decades, and especially since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the many roles of NSAs in addressing climate change have attracted significant interest from treaty negotiators, business man-agers, environmental activists, policymakers, and researchers. Seen as performing vital functions ranging from innovation and agenda-setting to implementation, monitoring, and enforcement, NSAs are widely considered as bringing about dynamic forms of climate governance. The potential of direct mitigation effort by NSAs, such as voluntary emission-reduction commitments by companies and cities, is similarly highlighted as a key component in any future solution to climate change.

The growing climate action by NSAs forces a rethink of the legal underpinnings of the climate regime and opens new perspectives on the logic of NSA-driven climate governance. This chapter discusses the legal dynamics of non-state climate governance. Using three archetypical NSAs—companies, cities, and civil-society organizations—as proxies, the chapter isolates three primary debates that frame the interactions between NSAs and climate law. These debates focus on the responsibility of NSAs for causing climate change, the legal techniques of NSA governance, and the role of NSAs as agents of legal change and they reflect the rise of polycentric climate governance and illustrate the expansion of climate law beyond its original emphasis on states. However, the discussion also exposes the difficulties that emerge when embedding different NSAs in a single conceptual frame, as well as the limits of NSA-driven governance more broadly.

Keywords: climate law, climate governance, mitigation, non-state actor, company, city, civil society organization

Suggested Citation

Rajavuori, Mikko, The Role of Non-State Actors in Climate Law (July 10, 2020). Forthcoming, Benoit Mayer & Alexander Zahar (eds.), Debating Climate Law. Cambridge University Press 2021., Available at SSRN: or

Mikko Rajavuori (Contact Author)

University of Turku, Faculty of Law ( email )


University of Eastern Finland - School of Law ( email )


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