Exploring Polycentric Climate Governance in Latin America

Rosa Lehmann & Alejandra Irigoyen

Climate change is one of the most urgent and complicated topics of the global agenda. Since 1995 a yearly United Nations Climate Change Conference, the so-called Conference of the Parties (COP), takes place in different countries of the world in an effort to negotiate and assess climate change policies to transform the systems from a fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy. The participants of these conferences are different heads of states and governments, the European Union and members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This top-bottom policy approach has been criticized by the civil society considering that the conference is not reaching the goals set. The governments commit to comply with their National Determined Contributions (NDCs); however, they act individually and in their own interests. The absence of collaboration and interaction among state governments generates a search for new forms of climate governance.  But what are the main challenges facing Latin America in this regard? How are states and civil society positioning themselves? What impact can it have on the agents?

New forms of climate governance

In the last decade, new global efforts emerged to address climate change, to meet, among others, the compromise established in Paris in 2015 of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C. These forms identified the need of decentralizing governance and involve actors who were not considered previously. Consequently, climate governance landscape has been modified into a more diverse and multilevel way. The emergence of these novel forms brings interesting advantages to address climate change, such as, promoting collaboration and learning processes, encouraging interaction among actors across, identifying challenges at national and subnational levels and the creation of solutions and mechanisms which can adapt to specific cases. Likewise, actors from state bureaucracies, the private sector, and civil society are in contact and interact in different ways, for example, different transnational forums on climate governance. These forums are often a space where climate policies and mitigation strategies are designed, discussed and implemented in many cases. In most cases, they have a bottom-up approach, i.e. they are not found by one national government but by a group of stakeholders, i.e. companies or think tanks. Since they include actors from civil society, private business, and state institutions, the networks these forums create are increasingly researched under the concept of polycentricity.

How can the focus on Latin America contribute to fill a research gap?

Studies on polycentric climate governance so far majoritarily map the features of this new institutional landscape. Additionally, research elaborates on how and under what conditions polycentric governance arrangements are effective in mitigating climate change. However, this literature has not reached beyond the stage of conceptualization and the examination of few empirical cases.

Our project Interacting Actors in Polycentric Climate Governance is led by an interdisciplinary team of scholars of governance and network studies, discourse analysis, and political ecology. It aims at analysing how transnational forums established in recent years to address climate change, affect the discussion, selection, and convergence of climate change policies. To achieve this, we will examine how the networks of actors (bureaucrats, civil society actors, and business actors), as well as their interaction, policy preferences and perceptions actors in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, determine the impact of cross-level learning on policy convergence. Further, we are interested in the representation of included and excluded actors.

Interesting empirical cases are abundant and approach these with different methodologies. Jale Tosun, Johannes Glückler and Emiliano Levario Saad engage with the analysis of quantitative data on actors, networks, and interaction. Óscar Loureda and Julia Bouquet assess political and media discourses on climate change.

We (Alejandra Irigoyen and Rosa Lehmann) are currently assessing access to interview partners for contributing to the project’s goals with qualitative case studies. A model example and yet underresearched in the context of Latin America is the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM). It is an example of forum on climate governance at a sub-national level. It was founded in 2017 as a merge of the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of mayors, the two main initiatives for cities and local governments in the world. The (GCoM) is considered the largest global alliance for city climate leadership with 11500 signatory cities and municipalities in different regions of the globe. Research on the GCoM in the European context has shown that the motivation of cities to become members and the resource they have to comply with duties required from members differ highly and depend on national and subnational contexts. Given the increasing importance attributed to cities and municipalities for climate change mitigation and adaption, this empirical focus promises insights on climate governance from a Latin American perspective.

There is a lot of research to be done! Exploring climate governance in Latin America will provide a deeper insight into the present and future of a region highly dependent on natural resources and will contribute to a better understanding of the consequences of climate policies from the perspective of social actors and their strategies. In Latin America, different scholars have engaged with research on the topic. In order to engage with colleagues and exchange research results we are organizing a workshop on climate change mitigation and adaption policies with a focus on actors, interrelations, and impacts in Spanish at the Heidelberg Center Latin America (HCLA) in Santiago de Chile, in October 2022.

Rosa Lehmann 

HCIAS Junior Professor of innovation and Sustainability in Iberoamerica

Alejandra Irigoyen

HCIAS Doctoral Researcher


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