Think Piece

The Case for Climate Clubs

January 2015
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Negotiations on climate change have made little tangible progress since the early 1990s. Much of the failure to make diplomatic progress reflects that the problem is structurally extremely difficult to solve. This paper focuses on one among the many institutional reforms that could allow for more progress—making a greater effort in small groups, or “clubs.” Framing climate deals in smaller groups—designed in a way that encourages expansion of membership and linkages among groups over time—could allow for greater flexibility and reduce the effort and complexity of required deal making. This club approach to diplomacy would not eliminate the need to work in maxilateral, global forums such as the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Outlining the problems with the status quo, the paper identifies major tasks that clubs could perform. They could help to provide a forum for enthusiastic countries to “do the deals” that would get reluctant countries to make bigger efforts. In crafting these deals, it is likely that both enthusiastic and reluctant countries will find that there are benefits to working in small groups—small enough that complex deals can be crafted and yet large enough that there are gains from multiple countries engaging in coordinated efforts. Small groups offer, as well, a place to work out the contentious issues surrounding trade in embodied carbon, which has exploded with the globalisation of the economy and will require new trade rules such as border tariff adjustments. Smarter trade rules will diminish the concerns that countries have about the impacts on international trade and create an incentive for developing countries to join a treaty. Small groups will also allow the flexibility needed to coordinate policies on technological innovation and deployment among the handful of countries that account for most technological change in the world economy. New technologies are essential to solving the climate crisis. The flexibility of small groups, will among other things, also make it easier to engage firms that are essential players in the process of developing and testing new low-emission technologies. The strongest case for clubs lies in the ability of small groups to develop and demonstrate solutions to hard problems—and for those solutions to expand into more widespread use.

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