UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties & Non-state Actors I: History

by Amy Wilson 

Overcoming the climate crisis requires engagement from all levels of society (public and private). Alongside the state (represented by a specific government), non-state actors play a crucial role in influencing international climate negotiations. Non-state actors are defined as organisations and individuals that are not affiliated with or funded by the government but may have significant political influence. This includes non-governmental organisations, corporations, media organisations, and lobbyists [1]. 

Non-state actors can contribute to climate governance by driving new policies, presenting innovation to encourage climate ambition, and exchanging knowledge domestically and internationally [1]. 

Non-state actors and climate policy

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 1992) states that the Conference of the Parties should ‘seek and utilise, where appropriate, the services and cooperation of, and information provided by, competent international organizations and intergovernmental and non-governmental bodies’ [2]. But, non-state actors were not specifically identified in the convention, nor were non-state actors invited to be part of the ratification process.

Additionally, while non-state actors have been acknowledged by governments around the world as an important component in the fight against climate change,  non-Party stakeholders (otherwise known as non-state actors) were not mentioned in international climate policy until the Paris Agreement [3]. Important steps to ensure non-state actors were included in the Paris Agreement were the work at COP20 in 2014 and the establishment of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (formation of a coalition of actors to drive action in the pre-2020 period which has now continued post 2020) [3]. The Action Agenda resulted in the mobilisation of new partners and action towards resilient societies and provided a platform to share actions and commitments[3].

‘Current pledges by national governments are not enough to reach the goal set in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, but hope remains in the leading role being taken by subnational and non-state actors like cities, companies and organizations’ 

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, 2017 [4].

The  Paris Agreement of 2015 builds on the work achieved in 2014 and encourages Parties to work with non-Party stakeholders to reach their mitigation and adaptation goals [3]. However, it must be noted that non-Party stakeholders are not bound by the Paris Agreement because they did not sign or ratify the agreement nor are they classified as Parties to the agreement. The agreement calls on Parties to ‘recognize the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches […] to enhance public and private sector participation in the implementation of nationally determined contributions’ [5]. Consequently, the emphasis is on Parties to the Paris Agreement to work with non-state actors to fulfill their Nationally Determined Contributions.

A decision was also taken at COP21 in 2015 to mobilise stronger and more ambitious action by Parties and non-state actors. It was further decided to appoint two High-Level Climate Champions for each COP period to ensure the continuation of voluntary and collaborative actions [3]. One Climate Champion represents the COP presidency for that respective year and another the incoming COP presidency for the next COP [3]. The role of the champions is to engage with interested Parties and non-state actors, to assist with building on existing initiatives, support new and diverse initiatives, connect initiatives with nationally determined contributions, ensure greater transparency, and demonstrate the credibility of the initiatives [6]. 

Finally, the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action was launched in 2016 at COP22. It provides a framework for mobilising non-state actors and for aligning their actions with the Sustainable Development Goals through roundtable discussions [3]. The partnership is led by the High-Level Climate Champions and supports collaboration between governments, cities, regions, businesses, and investors [7]. The Marrakech Partnership is involved in a range of events including Regional Climate Weeks and the COPs and led to the organisation of the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018 [8].


Featured Image Courtesy of the UNFCCC Flickr Page

[1] Hale, T., (2018) The Role of Sub-state and Non-state Actors in International Climate Processes, URL: https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2018-11-28-non-state-sctors-climate-synthesis-hale-final.pdf, (last accessed 31/08/21)
[2] UNFCCC, (1992), URL: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf (last accessed 08/09/21)
[3]  United Nations Climate Change, History of Non-Party Stakeholder Engagement, URL: History of Non-Party Stakeholder Engagement | UNFCCC (last accessed 31/08/21)
[4] United Nations Climate Change, (2017), Subnationals, Non-state Actors Are Crucial for Paris Success, URL: https://unfccc.int/news/subnationals-non-state-actors-are-crucial-for-paris-success, (last accessed 31/08/21)
[5] UNFCCC, (2015), Paris Agreement, URL: https://unfccc.int/files/meetings/paris_nov_2015/application/pdf/paris_agreement_english_.pdf
[6] United Nations Climate Change, Background, URL: https://unfccc.int/climate-action/marrakech-partnership/background (last accessed 31/08/21)
[7] United Nations Environmental Programme, (2018), Bridging the emissions gap – The role of non-state and subnational actors, URL: https://www.unep.org/resources/report/bridging-emissions-gap-role-non-state-and-subnational-actors, (last accessed 31/08/21)
[8] United Nations Climate Change, Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, https://unfccc.int/climate-action/marrakech-partnership-for-global-climate-action, (last accessed 31/08/21)

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