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How International Organizations Could Shape Our Energy Future

  • While conferences like the UN’s Climate Conference are often criticized for their shortcomings, international organizations have a key role to play in climate governance.
  • At their most effective, international organizations should serve as an apolitical, transparent, and global research body that informs climate governance and regulation.
  • In order to function effectively, these organizations should engage with both governments and local authorities to ensure effective climate mitigation.

International organizations like the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Economic Forum (WEF) are in many ways the leaders of global climate mitigation efforts. With their professional knowledge, monitoring functions, and facilitating capabilities for collaboration, international organizations should receive as much data as possible regarding the international execution of climate policies from state actors. In turn, they should use the findings to bridge existing gaps between countries in order to instigate a more efficient and globally coordinated effort to mitigate climate change.

An infographic depicting the climate change ecosystem of actors, by Analyst Einat Elazari.

The 2021 Glasgow Summit organized by the UN was followed by divided opinions regarding its success. Different commentators argue for failure due to insufficient agreements and pledges to halt the climate crisis, whilst others contend that it achieved global progress on important issues, such as ending deforestation by 2030, India’s net-zero promise, and the global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% of 2020 levels by 2030. Nonetheless, the Glasgow Summit displayed the unique facilitating role of international organizations in coordinating global efforts and responses to climate change. 

While the ecosystem of actors involved in climate change mitigation is broad, this article analyzes the role of international organizations, particularly the UN, in climate change mitigation, its main strengths, and the manner international organizations should collaborate with states and cities to achieve efficiency in the global mitigation of climate change. In particular, it evaluates the way international organizations can facilitate efficiency in the various climate strategies and actions. Without the guidance provided by international organizations, the failure to achieve global and local climate goals, such as the reduction of greenhouse emissions by 2050 in states or the transition to renewable energy for public transportation, will become common. 

Lighthouses of Information: International Organizations and Climate Change 

International organizations have always played a pivotal and substantial role in raising awareness and addressing climate change. They play three key roles in catalyzing climate mitigation, that of: (1) sharing research-based knowledge and provision of recommendations; (2) monitoring national progress in achieving climate goals and collection of analysis of data coming from all national governments on the topics; and (3) facilitating collaboration between state and non-state actors. 

Quality of research. Possessing the highest standards of research with a global reach of scientists and analysts, international organizations are home to credible and professional research. The funding they receive from states and other actors enables them to conduct research of the highest standards with full transparency and to provide accessibility to every country or other interested actors. For example, the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) alone had an annual budget of US$460.8 Million in 2020 and a staff of approximately 860 employees worldwide including its own science division. International organizations are therefore uniquely positioned to perform credible research and meaningfully contribute to climate mitigation.

Apolitical nature. International organizations are fundamentally a-political entities unassociated with any individual interest of states: Researchers and other workers employed in these organizations represent the goals and values of international organizations rather than their national governments. Moreover, their apolitical nature is further enhanced by their inherent identity as representing the collective will of all nations and peoples. Amalgamated together, their lack of association with one particular regime and inherently bipartisan platform bolsters the credibility of their recommendations and actions.  

Collaboration Enablers. International organizations annually conduct dozens of conferences, assemblies, formal and informal meetings between representatives of nations, local authorities, and private firms. The leading example is, of course, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), which brought heads of state, civil society organizations, mayors, businesses, NGOs, and individuals to share and collaborate on their climate strategies. Additionally, these different events are a platform for knowledge sharing with the participating actors. Therefore, a vast amount of valuable data is being shared, such as progress in climate goals, successful (and unsuccessful) methodologies of execution, and the main challenges going forward.

Dynamics with other actors in the Climate Governance Ecosystem

With the three key capabilities established, international organizations should optimize collaborative climate mitigation efforts with other important actors in the climate ecosystem, particularly state and city actors. 

With regards to state actors, the main role of international organizations is to provide recommendations and guidelines on how to set and achieve climate goals. Another important role of these organizations is to monitor the progress of states in achieving climate goals through designated mechanisms like periodic meetings and data collection systems. These should help to closely monitor states’ progress and analyze the existing gaps in knowledge, goals setting, and capabilities, and assist with bridging them (by training, financial help, or other means). In other words, international organizations should shift their focus by strengthening collaboration with states and cities, ensuring that proper mechanisms are in place to engage, monitor, provide feedback, and tailor assistance where needed in a continuous manner. 

However, an efficient response to climate mitigation needs to occur not only on a state-wide policy level but should also include policy coordination on the city or municipal level in order to engage local circumstances effectively. The proximity of city officials to their citizens and their ability to quickly implement policies and make decisions attuned to local conditions render the city a pivotal and autonomous actor in this ecosystem.  Thus, in addition to state actors, international organizations must fully recognize the important role of cities in climate mitigation. In turn, international organizations should create and facilitate professional networks for cities by mobilizing resources, information, and collaboration.

Conclusion

Based on their unique characteristics and merits, international organizations must strive to share with nation-states and cities their research and data-driven knowledge and recommendations, making this information as accessible as possible for all states. In particular, international organizations should set up designated mechanisms for data and information sharing. This would enable both state and city actors to continuously report their progress on successes and failures in achieving climate goals without the lengthy bureaucratic processes of organizing annual reports and conferences. 

Having non-political, global actors who oversee the progress of climate mitigation efforts will ensure progress in climate mitigation, as states and cities would receive further guidance and assistance for climate policies. To do otherwise would slow the progress of these extremely important actors in achieving climate goals and inhibit an efficient and timely global response to the climate change crisis: an issue where there is no time to waste.

By Einat Elazari for Global Risk Insights

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