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Matthew Hoffmann Discusses Climate Governance at the Crossroads

October 24, 2011 

The global response to climate change has reached a crucial juncture even as the efforts to achieve a globally binding treaty have proved inadequate. In the absence of an effective policy, new climate governance initiatives have emerged at various levels of organizations. Matthew Hoffmann, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, has studied in great detail how these new actors are playing a significant role in addressing the issue of climate change. "People and organizations frustrated with the multilateral process have shown that global treaty-making is not the only way that climate change can be addressed," he said during a presentation at the Fletcher School.

Hoffmann's new book, Climate Governance at the Crossroads: Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto, chronicles these innovations and explains how the world is experimenting with alternate means of responding to climate change. "The efforts of NGOs and other actors used to be focused on the multilateral process, but with the emergence of experimentation, they are focusing on other kinds of governance approaches," Hoffmann said.

For his research, Professor Hoffmann selected 58 such initiatives across the world to study how cities, provinces, citizen groups, and corporations are addressing the causes and symptoms of global warming. "This approach is outside the Kyoto protocol approach, and favors bottom up governance through experimental learning, though it may be termed as less focused on achieving a singular outcome."

Hoffmann spoke about his concern with the multilateral process that has not been able to deliver the deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions required to avert the most serious impacts of climate change. He said if climate change is truly an existential threat, it should be fought differently. The newly emerging climate governance is "liberal environmentalism" that is market-oriented and focuses on mitigation rather than adaptation. This model believes that markets can be used to fight climate change and bring about eco-benefits.

Hoffmann outlined several experiments including The Climate Group, Carbon Rationing Action Groups, the C40 organization of major cities co-operating on the issue of climate change and the Carbon Disclosure Project. In his research, Hoffmann has identified four distinct governance models: networkers, infrastructure builders, voluntary actors, and accountable actors. "Most of the experiments were initiated after 2001 and are located in the global north. Motivation behind these initiatives ranges from sheer profit to the need for urgent action," he told the audience.

In his view, these actors are focusing on making rules and policies without polity and have begun to assert authority by attempting to manage the problem themselves. These initiatives show that the center of gravity has shifted from a multilateral to an experimental approach. It is not centralized, yet it is organized. Hoffmann hopes that bottom up bubbling of flexible, decentralized climate governance may turn out to be a better option to fight climate change. On being asked how effective these initiatives are in tackling the challenge, Hoffmann replied with a quote from Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement: "It is an invitation to have a go. We have no idea if it is going to work or not."

-Sachin Gaur, MALD candidate F13