Paul Tobin (University of York)

Actors at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) share more in common than their Party Groupings suggest. Our ongoing research seeks to capture patterns across actors’ targets.

Mapping climate targets

For the first time, in the run up to the Paris conference, actors were required to submit targets, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), before the Paris climate conference began. These INDCs are of particular relevance to INOGOV scholars, as they represent a clear example of recent innovations in climate governance.

The INDCs were published online prior to the start of the Paris conference. To analyse these INDCs, the team employed a relatively nascent method, called ‘Discourse Network Analysis’ (DNA). Here, statements are coded according to their contents, and grouped across actors. Those actors that share similar statements are linked together, thus creating a network of discourses, which looks similar to a spider’s web.

Our findings

One intriguing discovery has been the explicit manner in which current geopolitical issues are considered by actors to affect their abilities to achieve targets. For example, Ukraine’s target explicitly states that it will be more difficult to make significant emissions reductions, due to the need for construction of greater fortifications along the Russian border. For Lebanon, on the other hand, reductions will be more difficult due to its population having increased 30% as a result of Syrian refugees. These findings highlight the importance of political stability in order to  deal with climate change effectively.

Regarding the DNA, not all of the 163 INDCs have yet been coded. As such, the following network demonstrates just part of the initial findings of the STSM. The image below groups the actors according to the nature of their greenhouse gas mitigation targets.


Paul Tobin figure

This finding is of significant interest, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the network provides an effective means of disambiguating the different types of emissions reductions targets submitted via the INDCs, and codifying them. Secondly, the network demonstrates the types of actors most likely to submit certain types of targets. For example, as shown in the group at the top of the image, labelled ‘Absolute reduction on baseline year’, developed states, such as the European Union, USA, Switzerland and Japan, were willing to submit absolute emissions reductions goals, which would be based on a baseline year, commonly 1990, 2005, or 2010. Interestingly, certain developing states, such as Zambia, Eritrea, and the Dominican Republic were also willing to submit their targets in such an apparently ambitious manner. Thirdly, it can be seen that certain states, which had little responsibility for causing climate change, namely Swaziland, Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau, submitted INDCs, but did not include emissions reductions targets within these. Fourthly, it is important to note that some states submitted targets which were predicated upon future, as yet uncertain, Business As Usual scenarios, which based around predicted, future emissions, rather than current levels. As such, these targets seek to reduce emissions compared to a potentially overly-optimistic economic growth trajectory. Finally, we can also see that certain states expressed their goals in more than one way. Ethiopia, for example, submitted both a goal that was based on an explicit baseline year, and one that related to a future, Business As Usual scenario.

In addition to coding the types of emissions reductions target, we also analysed the INDCs according to a range of other features, such as the types of gases covered, the sectors included, and whether the target included an adaptation component. These different variables demonstrate the acute diversity of the targets. Moreover, the coding of these variables provides a means of looking beyond just the emissions reduction target, which traditionally dominates interpretations of the ambitiousness of climate targets.

Crucially, our initial findings show that new patterns are emerging, in which actors are sharing positions on issues which previously had been impossible to analyse, and which go beyond the traditional Party Groupings. Moreover, our analysis provides a more nuanced means of understanding the different types of targets submitted to the UNFCCC before the conference began.

The finished article will be presented at the INOGOV-funded workshop, ‘Pioneers and Leader in Polycentric Climate Governance’, taking place at the University of Hull, in September 2016. The article will either go forward as part of a special issue resulting from the project, or will be submitted to a journal separately in the autumn. We look forward to sharing our finished work with you.

This blog reports work completed during my Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM), funded by INOGOV, in which I visited Prof. Dr. Jale Tosun and Nicole Schmidt at Heidelberg University, for five weeks. Alongside my own Principal Investigator, Dr. Charlotte Burns from the University of York, our four-person team sought to analyse and map the ways that actors shared common – and different – stances at the recent Paris climate conference, which took place in December 2015.

 Photo credit: Heidelberg Old Town, Paul Tobin

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