Q&A with Thomas Hickmann, Author of "Rethinking Authority in Global Climate Governance"

Thomas Hickmann, author of Rethinking Authority in Global Climate Governance discusses his new book and its contribution to the important but often neglected research question: How do the various newly emerging transnational climate initiatives launched by different types of sub- and non-state actors relate to the international climate regime?

Why did Rethinking Authority in Global Climate Governance need to be written?
The book had to be written because it addresses a largely neglected research question: How do the various newly emerging transnational climate initiatives launched by different types of sub- and non-state actors relate to the international climate regime? Due to its topicality, the book is a valuable resource for all participants and observers of the intergovernmental process towards a new legally binding international climate agreement.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Several authors have shown that transnational climate initiatives contribute to solving the problem of climate change. But at the same time, it is clear that many transnational initiatives use the international climate regime as a point of reference and have adopted various rules and procedures from international climate agreements. Most importantly, the case studies in my book demonstrate that the effective operation of transnational climate initiatives strongly relies on the existence of an international regulatory framework. Thus, the book emphasizes the centrality of the intergovernmental process clustered around the UNFCCC and underscores that multilateral treaty-making continues to be more important than many scholars and policy-makers suppose.

How is it different from other books in the field?
The various existing studies on newly emerging transnational climate initiatives have certainly consolidated our understanding of the role and function of sub- and non-state actors in the global response to climate change. However, the interplay between transnational climate initiatives and the international climate regime has so far not been studied in much detail. In order to fill this gap, my book provides a systematic in-depth analysis of how individual transnational governance initiatives relate to existing modes of inter-state cooperation. The book moves beyond the debate on the emergence of transnational governance initiatives and explores the broader significance of this phenomenon for global climate governance.

What findings in writing/researching the book surprised you?
Although scholars and policy-makers have become increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the international climate negotiations, the overall finding of my book is that the international climate regime remains the center in global climate policy-making. My book illustrates that sub- and non-state actors have indeed attained several authoritative functions in climate policy-making. Nevertheless, the case studies also demonstrate that we are not witnessing a general shift of authority away from nation-states and international institutions towards transnational governance initiatives. The term shift of authority seems therefore inappropriate to capture the current trend in global climate governance. Instead, what can be observed is a reconfiguration of authority across various actors and multiple levels of decision-making, which only reinforces the importance of state-based forms of governance.

What are some of the controversies surrounding climate change that you discovered when writing the book?
While most scholars agree that global climate policy-making is marked by a high degree of institutional complexity, they are divided on the question of whether multilateral or transnational initiatives are better suited to address the problem of climate change. Yet, I seek to direct attention to the question of how the existing modes of inter-state cooperation can be adjusted to enable transnational initiatives to more effectively contribute to climate change mitigation. In my view, it is particularly fruitful to examine to what extent the activities of sub- and non-state actors can alter the political conditions for achieving a comprehensive international agreement on collective action to address climate change.

How is the field evolving – has it changed much?
The field is evolving at a rapid pace, especially the research strand on institutional complexity in global climate governance. Scholars have developed various concepts in order to capture this institutional landscape. What is most important is that we continue to pay attention to the various patterns of interaction between disparate institutions dealing with climate change. I think it is fair to say that scholars concerned with climate policy-making have pioneered this line of inquiry. They have produced a great number of conceptual and empirical studies on how multiple international institutions co-govern the problem of climate change.

What got you interested in this area?
Most of my still short life as a scholar has been revolving around the question of how humans deal with global environmental problems. Initially, I focused on the international efforts to solve the problem of stratospheric ozone depletion and the success story of the international ozone regime. Later, I began to dedicate more attention to one of the most complex and sprawling environmental problems: the issue of climate change. I believe that it is one of the most important tasks of our time to create durable patterns of global and transnational cooperation to cope with the various human-induced global environmental changes we will face in the future.

What suggestions would you make for change/future research/interventions?

My book shows that the international climate secretariat has begun to act as an orchestrator of the myriad of transnational climate initiatives developed by sub- and non-state actors. This approach could be strengthened in order to allow transnational actors to reach a significant impact in global environmental policy-making. The main challenge thereby is to design the intergovernmental process in such a way that the activities of sub- and non-state actors become stepping stones on the way to wide-ranging and ambitious global treaties.

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