Climate Clubs: Can Small Groups of Countries make a Big Difference in Addressing Climate Change?


  • Lutz Weischer,

  • Jennifer Morgan,

  • Milap Patel


Clubs, defined as smaller groups of countries that take action outside of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have been suggested in the literature as a way forward for climate action. Some have suggested them as a replacement of the UNFCCC. This article, by contrast, explores how clubs could assist in catalyzing greater ambition, defined as emissions reduction targets in line with climate science, which would eventually be captured in the UNFCCC. An analysis of the existing climate club landscape shows that clubs currently promote dialogue and/or implementation of specific activities. While these clubs make important contributions, their mandate and configuration are not focused on significantly increasing ambition. Current clubs enable incremental, rather than transformational change. An analysis of selected proposals for new kinds of climate clubs shows that, as a common element, they call for further incentives for action to underpin greater ambition. The article further analyzes a set of incentives, predominantly economic, for ‘transformational clubs’, related to trade, investment, labour mobility or access to finance, and identifies a set of future research questions.


Solving the climate change problem requires collective action on a global level. The stability of the Earth's climate is a global public good, which suggests that an internationally coordinated approach is necessary to protect it.1 However, progress in the multilateral framework that was created for this purpose, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been slow as agreement has been difficult to reach among countries with varying sizes, levels of development, governance structures, responsibility for historical emissions and capacity to engage in the negotiations.2 The gap between currently pledged emissions trajectories and global emissions levels consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5° or 2° Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures remains large.3 It is therefore not surprising that a range of proposals have emerged in the literature4 and been put into practice on how smaller groupings of countries can address the problem outside the UNFCCC framework, either as a substitute or a complement to the multilateral climate negotiations.

In this article, we refer to these groupings as ‘climate clubs’. The term ‘clubs’ includes any grouping that comprises more than two and less than the full multilateral set of countries party to the UNFCCC and that has not reached the degree of institutionalization of an international organization. While clubs may include other stakeholders, they are predominantly governed and funded by national governments. This broad definition can include very different degrees of formality and organization. Regular conferences and meetings, as well as groupings frequently referred to as ‘initiatives’, ‘forums’ or ‘partnerships’, are, for the purposes of this article, all included in the ‘clubs’ term. We exclusively consider clubs that discuss and promote greenhouse gas emissions reductions or a sub-issue directly relevant to climate change mitigation, such as the promotion of renewable energies. Clubs with an emphasis on adaptation are outside the scope of this article.

The literature is rich with explorations of the clubs theme. Biermann and colleagues review the existing literature and outline four aspects – speed, ambition, participation and equity – that are frequently mentioned as to why clubs may be an effective mechanism for change.5 Regarding speed, a smaller set of countries may be faster negotiators and more able to advance contentious issues without backlogs of negotiations. With regard to ambition, cooperation theory posits that smaller groups can be ‘narrow-but-deep’, reaching substantial policy goals that would not have been reached in a ‘broad-but-shallow’ regime that has more participants but less ambition due to the compulsions of placating all signatories.6 Clubs are also thought to possess more innovative capacity on subsets of climate issues such as measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) and land-use and forestry, and thus serve to raise the overall level of capacity and ambition in the international arena.7 Participation and equity are linked by the idea that a smaller club could have fewer barriers to entry for a wider range of stakeholders and can thus allow for tailored solutions for less influential countries, which previously would have been subsumed in a larger process more dominated by bigger players.8

While proposals to address climate change can be framed in many different ways – for example, from the environmental justice and ethics perspectives9 – many of the clubs proposals in the literature are consistent with game theory analyses of climate change, grounded in a particular strand of international relations theory.10

Some authors suggest that many of the flaws in global bodies such as the UNFCCC can be addressed at smaller scales.11 From this perspective, smaller groupings could become more relevant than the UNFCCC, potentially replacing it.12 Other authors posit that while smaller groupings are important to make progress, they cannot replace agreement within the UNFCCC.13 They point out that because climate change is caused by the cumulative effects of all global emissions, all major emitters need to be brought into an agreement to avoid free rider problems that would undermine the effectiveness of any solution. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change are affecting all countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, so they need to have a voice in the decision-making process to ensure an ambitious outcome that will be accepted as legitimate.14 In addition, the politics that plague the UNFCCC can be mirrored in other smaller forums, such as the G20, and therefore simply moving from one large group to a smaller group with the same interests represented may not ensure progress.15

In recent years, we have seen many climate clubs emerge, particularly after 2005, when negotiations on a post-2012 climate regime began in the UNFCCC.16 It is fair to say, however, that the current institutional landscape, including the UNFCCC and the existing climate clubs, is not catalyzing ambitious action at the scale required to reach the agreed goal of keeping the global average temperature increase below 2°C in comparison with pre-industrial levels.17 While existing clubs each serve a certain purpose, none has resulted in the necessary large-scale ambitious emissions reductions. The potential suggested in the literature for clubs to allow more ambitious action has thus not been realized in practice. This article therefore seeks to explore if a new kind of transformational climate club could help build momentum to close the emissions gap.

What would make a climate club ‘transformational'? The transformational change we are ultimately envisaging are emissions reductions in line with what climate science suggests is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Due to the global public good nature of climate stability, a large number of countries would have to contribute to these reductions. According to some authors, this suggests that a club needs to include all major emitters.18 However, it is unlikely that they would all participate in a club with ambitious goals from the outset. We take the view, by contrast, that clubs can be transformational without including all or most major emitters. In this view, clubs contribute to global emissions reductions indirectly by providing an attractive model that others, including major emitters, will follow in the long run. A transformational club would provide a proof of concept for low-emissions development, accelerate technology development and diffusion, create momentum and catalyze other initiatives. It could start small and grow over time. As it broadens its reach and becomes more institutionalized, it could become a ‘low-carbon union’ that provides multiple benefits for its members and that others want to join.

This approach to thinking about transformational clubs nonetheless implies that the club needs to set a model that has actual transformational potential – that is, if replicated by others it would lead to the necessary emissions reductions. This means that a transformational club needs to lead to actions in the participating countries that are commensurate with what climate science suggests would be the appropriate reductions for those countries.19 In order for replication to occur, the club also needs to involve a critical mass of ‘relevant’ countries so that the model is recognized by others who could then become interested in replicating it. This does not imply an exclusive focus on large emitters as there are other factors that could make a country ‘relevant’. For example, countries can be relevant (a) politically or strategically, because they are important allies or a leading voice within a given region or country group; (b) economically, because of a large gross domestic product or because they are a major producer or consumer of certain goods; or (c) symbolically, because they are, for instance, an island nation that is existentially threatened by climate change and can set a strong signal for low-carbon development.20

This understanding of transformational clubs also means that a multilateral forum is still needed to coordinate action among the larger set of countries. We thus envision transformational clubs that would complement rather than replace the multilateral framework by catalyzing greater ambition that could eventually be captured in the UNFCCC. Exploring such clubs and their potential links to the UNFCCC is particularly relevant in the context of the negotiations that were started at the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP-17) in Durban 2011 with the goal of developing ‘a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties’ by 2015 at the latest to come into effect in 2020.21 In order to explore the potential of such transformational clubs, this article begins by grouping and analyzing the existing clubs. It then moves on to a short survey of new club approaches in the literature and identifies potential incentives for forming new transformational clubs.

The Existing Climate Club Landscape

We will now analyze the existing landscape of climate clubs. We have selected 17 clubs that meet our definition criteria noted above.22 This list, shown in Table 1, provides a cross-section of existing approaches, but is by no means exhaustive. (Club descriptions and country membership numbers were accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change.)

Table 1. Climate Clubs Included in the Analysis, Listed by Founding Year
 Topic1Country membershipFounding year
TotalHigh incomeMiddle incomeLow income
  1. Notes: 1‘Topic’ refers to the focus of the club, as far as it deals with climate change. Therefore, the topic of the G8 or G20 is given as ‘general climate’, although the G8 or G20 deal with other global issues as well. 2The IEA Implementing Agreements or Multilateral Technology Agreements are a set of 42 agreements to facilitate information exchange and joint research activities on energy issues, energy efficiency and specific fossil, nuclear fusion and renewable energy technologies. Most of these are relevant to climate change mitigation and we consider every individual agreement, not the IEA per se, a club. Countries (both IEA members and non-members), business representatives, nongovernmental organizations and international organizations can decide to join only those agreements that work on issues in which they are interested. For the remainder of the analysis, we count the agreements as one club and consider a country a member if it is a member in at least one of the agreements. 3Renewable energy. 4Energy efficiency. 5Low emissions development strategies. 6Nationally appropriate mitigation actions.
Sources: See IEA Implementing Agreements website, found at: <>; G8 Information Center, provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, found at: <>; G20 website, found at: <>; REEEP website, found at: <>; CSLF website, found at: <>; REN21 website, found at: <>; APP website, found at: <>; Global Bioenergy Partnership website, found at: <>; MEF website, found at: <>; CEM website, found at: <>; REDD+ Partnership website, found at: <>; GMI website, found at: <>; GGGI website, found at: <>; International Partnership on Mitigation and MRV website, found at: <>; LEDS Global Partnership website, found at: <>; ‘International Energy and Climate Initiative – Energy+’, Open Energy Information Wiki, found at: <>; CCAC website, found at: <>. Country classifications are drawn from World Bank, Country and Lending Groups, found at: <> (Low: ≤ US$3,975, 2010 GNI per capita; Middle: ≤ US$12,275, 2010 GNI per capita; High: > US$12,275, 2010 GNI per capita).
IEA Multilateral Technology Initiatives (Implementing Agreements)2Energy4330941974
G8General climate98101998 (G6 1975, G7 1976)
G20General climate2011711999
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP)Energy: RE,3 EE445238142002
Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF)Energy: fossil fuel2518612003
REN 21Energy: RE148332005
Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP)General climate75112005 (terminated in 2011)
Global Bioenergy PartnershipRE2311662006
Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), preceded by Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change (MEM)General climate1710522009 (MEM 2007)
Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM)Energy: RE, EE and fossil fuels2316522009
REDD + PartnershipForests732016372010
Global Methane Initiative (GMI)Sub-set of emissions: methane411216132010
Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)Low-carbon development: green growth135352010
International Partnership on Mitigation and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)Low-carbon development: LEDS5; NAMAs639211262010
LEDS Global PartnershipLow-carbon development: LEDS137512011
International Energy and Climate Initiative – Energy+Energy: RE, EE; Low-carbon development: energy access105142011
Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC)Sub-set of emissions: methane, soot (black carbon) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)2014332012

Categorizing Existing Climate Clubs

The aim of our analysis of the current landscape of climate clubs is to understand what existing clubs are doing, which issues are covered and who participates in order to identify gaps and lessons that can inform the thinking about new, transformational clubs. This requires some degree of categorization and making ultimately subjective judgments about the nature of existing clubs. By doing so, we are not aiming to assess effectiveness or assign values, but rather assist in providing a clearer understanding of the current situation. We begin by asking what the function of each club is. We find that current clubs often serve as a dialogue forum and/or support the development and implementation of specific strategies and projects. Some clubs focus on the international level, while others support activities on a national, sectoral or individual project level. A mapping of clubs along these two dimensions – primary function and primary level of activity – is useful because it makes it possible to see whether clubs can be clustered into certain types and whether there are functions or levels that are currently not being covered by a club. A visualization using these two dimensions can be seen in Figure 1. While the exact placement of every club in this matrix could be debated, it provides a useful snapshot of current clubs.

Figure 1.

The Climate Club Landscape

Two major kinds of clubs with two sub-sets each can be identified: dialogue forums with political and technical dialogues and implementation groups with groups working on national-level strategies and on projects.

A dialogue forum can be described as one in which member countries convene for the primary purposes of information exchange and understanding country positions more deeply, which can then result in joint positions or statements. It can be argued that all of the clubs in our analysis will include dialogue – the mere act of setting up a club involves countries speaking to each other – but we focus here on those with a primary function on dialogue. We find several exclusively dialogue-based forums such as the G8, G20 and the Major Economies Forum (MEF). These can be grouped together as high-level political dialogues. These clubs issue statements of intent or voluntary commitments. However, these informal commitments – such as to ‘rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption’23 by the G20 – often go unimplemented.24 This implementation gap may be related to the fact that the commitments are often vaguely worded and lack prescriptiveness (note, for example, the absence of a clear deadline in the G20 commitment on fossil fuel subsidies) as well as to the absence of mechanisms that would support implementation, track progress and hold club members accountable. Nonetheless, such communiqués can influence other groupings and the UNFCCC negotiations. Certainly, the G8's consideration and endorsement of the goal to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in its 2007 and 2008 summit declarations,25 as well as the recognition of the 2°C target in 2009,26 while not enforceable or binding, had a large impact on both the MEF27 and the UNFCCC.28

Another subset of dialogue forums such as the Mitigation and MRV Partnership, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) and the Global Bioenergy Partnership fulfil a different role – that of more technical dialogues with a more specific focus. The wording on the Global Bioenergy Partnership's website, which aims to ‘promote global high-level policy dialogue on bioenergy and facilitate international cooperation’, is indicative of the function of this type of forum.29

The second category for climate clubs is implementation groups, the primary function of which is to collectively implement and, in many cases, fund programmes or projects. This may include the facilitation of clean energy projects (e.g., through the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, REEEP), or capacity building for member country decision makers (e.g., Global Green Growth Institute). One subset of implementation groups focuses more on providing advice and support for the development of national-level strategies, while another subset aims at implementing individual projects.

There is significant diversity in the way activities are funded. About half of the implementation clubs seek to finance activities through pooled contributions to an international secretariat (e.g., the now defunct Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP) and REEEP).30 Alternatively, in the other half of the cases, funding can flow directly from developed to developing countries, facilitated, organized or negotiated by the club.31 An example of this funding model is the Energy+ Partnership (International Energy and Climate Initiative), which was set up by the Norwegian government to scale up access to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, coordinating funding for these objectives from developed countries to specific developing countries. The REDD+ Partnership also fits this format as participating countries discuss how to scale up funding from developed member countries for REDD+ activities in developing member countries.

Governance structures are of great importance in implementation clubs due to the transfer of resources and the accompanying issues of legitimacy and accountability. There are different decision-making models to set priorities for the allocation of resources. Some of the clubs use a bottom-up approach – for instance, the Clean Energy Ministerial, where a ‘distributed leadership’ model allows any member country to propose a clean energy activity and identify interested partners and necessary resources.32 A top-down approach is demonstrated by the APP where a Policy and Implementation Committee identified projects for funding, drawing upon a pooled contribution that was provided by some of the developed country members (United States, Australia and Canada).33

Sectors and Topics Covered

The sector with the most clubs is the renewable energy sector, which includes REN21 and the related International Renewable Energy Conferences that started in Bonn in 2004, as well as REEEP. These clubs, along with now-defunct initiatives like the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition, stem from international commitments made at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.34 Clubs on other energy technologies have emerged in more recent years, 35 including the broad set of ‘clean energy’ technologies covered by the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) agreement and a club focused on carbon capture and storage, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF). Some clubs, while operating outside the UNFCCC, have been created to advance specific areas under negotiation in the UNFCCC, such as the REDD+ Partnership or the Mitigation and MRV Partnership. These clubs are meant to advance practical action (‘implementation’) while at the same time informing negotiations under the UNFCCC. The most recent additions to the club landscape have been initiatives to promote climate-friendly economic development, such as the Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) Global Partnership or the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). While some sectors are the focus of several clubs, others receive less attention. For example, land-use change and forestry are only represented by one club – the REDD + Partnership – despite the sectors' importance to global climate change.36

Country Participation and Membership Criteria

Membership in some of the existing clubs is either determined by the fact that a country is a major economy or located within a certain geographic region. Membership in the APP and the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change (MEM), set up by the United States, was by invitation from the founding country only. Most clubs, however, are open to any country that wishes to participate. A small number of clubs also require a commitment to a national action plan on a specific issue (e.g., the Global Methane Initiative, GMI) or adherence to certain principles (e.g., the REDD+ Partnership). There are no clubs for which the level of ambition is the membership criterion, in the sense that a country would have to demonstrate a certain track record or agree to specific commitments regarding emissions reductions as a condition for being admitted into the club.

A total of 122 countries participate in at least one of the clubs analyzed in this article.37 However, most developing countries are only a member in one or two clubs, which are usually implementation clubs with a funding component, such as the REDD+ Partnership, REEEP or the GMI. Overall, the current clubs are dominated by developed countries and a relatively small sub-group of developing countries that can be characterized as large middle-income countries or emerging economies. As Figure 2 illustrates, only 29 countries are a member of at least five clubs. Around two-thirds of those countries are high-income countries (19), while eight are middle-income countries. The only three low-income countries in this group are India, Indonesia and Ghana. Ghana and South Africa are also the only African countries that participate in at least five clubs. No least-developed countries participate in more than four, and no small-island developing States participate in more than two clubs.

Figure 2.

Countries in at Least Five Clubs

Drivers of Club Formation

The current landscape of clubs has developed over time. Clubs have been the results of various conferences (e.g., REN21, REEEP) and negotiations (e.g., MEF) or begun as independent initiatives to address a specific issue (e.g., GMI). In addition, existing clubs have expanded their scope to address climate change (e.g., G8, G20). Individual governments have also created clubs for specific political purposes. For example, the MEM (the precursor of the current MEF) and the APP were both created under the Bush Administration and, according to critics, were aimed at advancing a vision of action on climate change outside of the Kyoto context.38 They were strongly driven by the American government and the change in the Administration had a major impact on them. The APP was ended, and the MEM continued under a new name and with a new focus that stressed complementarity to the UNFCCC.39 The desire to show action to domestic or international audiences has led to overlap and duplication at times. The International Renewable Energy Conferences, begun in Bonn in 2004, and the CEM, started in Washington in 2010, both cover renewable energy (the CEM also includes other aspects, such as efficiency and carbon capture and storage). They also both promote a bottom-up, flexible approach where governments come together to work on areas around which they are ready and willing to work. Both were strongly driven by one government at first (Germany and the United States, respectively) wishing to position itself as a leader on clean energy on the international level.

In many cases, club formation seems to have been driven more by political opportunity than a systematic analysis of needs and gaps in the current landscape. In practice, there seems to be little overarching consideration either of how clubs fit together or how they could methodically drive forward the goal of tackling dangerous climate change with adequate ambition.

Contribution to Increased Ambition

The existing climate clubs fulfil important functions for the international climate regime, although potentially raising new issues as well. The dialogue forums have enabled a better understanding of country positions, which is helpful to assist agreement in the UNFCCC negotiations, but they also privilege the voices of those within clubs at the expense of those outside, reproducing existing international hierarchies. In many forums, the incentives are too weak to turn the more ambitious ideas contained in declarations and actions plans into real action. Such an emphasis on implementation would be beyond the clubs' mandate. For example, the MEF Technology Action Plans, which were announced in 2009 to drive ‘transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies’, are undertaken voluntarily by interested countries, in accordance with national circumstances.40 While the title ‘Action Plans’ might suggest a joint strategic approach of the MEF participants to advance these technologies, these plans are actually just an assessment of the current state and future prospects of certain technologies complemented by a menu of policy options that individual governments can pursue.41

The implementation groups catalyze a number of activities in specific fields that help reduce emissions. In addition, many of the existing clubs make knowledge and best practices available that enable countries to pursue low-emissions development. In general, most activities pursued by the implementation clubs will lead to incremental improvements, but not to transformational change as that is not their purpose. Implementation clubs with a strong North–South funding component might lead to significant changes in the developing member countries that would otherwise not have been possible, yet they do not lead to transformational change in the developed member countries. While dialogue and incremental improvement can make a contribution to increased ambition, no club has an explicitly stated goal of enabling and encouraging significantly increased ambition among its members.

Below, we review some recent proposals for new kinds of climate clubs that could go beyond the current focus on dialogue and implementation to identify ideas that could help design transformational clubs that can create new momentum for ambition.

New Kinds of Clubs Proposed in the Literature

The literature regarding ‘clubs’ or plurilateral initiatives contains a large range of proposals for additional clubs.42 Three more recent proposals have been chosen for a deeper analysis in this article. These three were selected because they do not merely propose another implementation or dialogue club, but rather present new ideas for a different kind of club, focused on providing economic benefits to the involved countries.

Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) has proposed the creation of a Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement (SETA), and discussed options for its possible design.43 This agreement would address a number of barriers to trade in sustainable energy goods and services, defined as ‘equipment and services required in the production of sustainable energy’ (solar, wind, small-scale hydro and biomass-related fuels, technologies and services) in order to reduce the cost of cleaner energy options compared to conventional fossil fuel.44 The authors list the various trade-related barriers with regard to goods, including tariffs, local content requirements, subsidies, export restrictions, taxes and dual pricing, and standards and certification, and classify their importance from less significant to moderate. They then identify the barriers to trade in services, which are highest in the fields of investment, competition policy, and trade facilitation and transit.

Many countries are looking to manufacture sustainable energy goods domestically, yet no one country will likely have the domestic capacity or know-how to produce all that they need. The authors therefore suggest that it would be in countries' interest to explore the various parts of the value chain for each technology, focus on their strengths and integrate with a liberalized international market more closely.45 While the authors note that there are also concerns around the liberalization of sustainable energy markets and that a ‘development dimension’ would need to be reflected in a SETA, it remains unclear how attractive membership in a SETA could be for developing countries that are not already competitive in some parts of the sustainable energy value chain.

The authors find that the World Trade Organization (WTO) may not be the best forum to negotiate this kind of agreement due to a range of reasons, including the lack of clarity around the issue of energy subsidies which has been stalled for many years, scattered negotiations on sustainable energy and the current ‘single undertaking’ approach of the WTO negotiations. The authors note the UNFCCC and the Energy Charter Treaty as well as other potential fora for this idea, but recognize their limitations. As a way forward, they suggest a two-phased approach to negotiations, starting with clean energy and then moving to energy efficiency products and standards.46 The negotiations could start in a plurilateral format under the WTO but be designed so that the concessions could be ‘multilateralized’ if a critical mass of WTO members wish to join. A SETA could also be completely independent from the WTO, but would need to clarify the relationship to the WTO framework.

Climate Accession Deals

In his recent book Global Warming Gridlock, David Victor proposes a ‘carbon club’ that would negotiate a set of ‘useful commitments’ that countries put forward as ‘bids’ to be negotiated with other parties.47 While the bids will differ, he posits that all should have a set of metrics and should be contingent on what other parties will do. Potential linkages could include commitments by developing countries contingent on funding from developed countries or scaled up reduction commitments contingent on similar ambition from economic competitors. While this does bear some resemblance to the current pledge model of the Cancún Agreements, Victor seems to have a different model in mind. In his model, there would be a series of ‘climate accession deals’ (CADs).48 Those countries most able and willing to act would be the first to put forward such CADs. Others would then follow, both widening and potentially deepening the commitments as the negotiations continue. Victor also notes the importance of incentives for countries to join, including access to emissions trading systems in participating countries, cooperation on offsetting schemes and perhaps the inclusion of ‘sticks’ such as trade sanctions against non-participants later on if needed.49

Victor posits that the club for climate change is likely to be small today but could grow over time just as the WTO has seen more countries acceding over time. He refers to the WTO as a potential model to pull more countries into the club where external benefits, including tariff reduction or intellectual property protection, are given in exchange for commitments. The accession negotiations are often highly complex and on average take about five years.50 Victor recognizes this may seem long to climate diplomats, but notes that the complexity of the negotiation and high stakes require this time. His hypothesis is that formalizing these types of offers and incentives into a legal framework on climate change would create greater reasons for countries to join.

Victor suggests building and maintaining a new legal framework outside of the UNFCCC altogether. His focus is on the architecture of this new regime and the process by which commitments are embedded in that regime. However, it would also be worth exploring how such offers and incentives could be included in the UNFCCC. In the lead-up to COP-15 in Copenhagen, Australia put forward the idea of ‘National Schedules of Mitigation Commitments and Actions’,51 whereby countries would make commitment offers which would be negotiated and agreed by all. Commitments could be amended regularly, but only upward – that is, they could only become more ambitious. In addition, the implementation of the schedules would be subject to regular measurement, reporting and verification. While answering these institutional questions in depth lies beyond the scope of this article, the basic idea of CADs and proposals such as the Australian ‘schedules’ provide some ideas for how ambition could emerge outside of the UNFCCC and then be brought back in.

Global Diffusion of Feed-In Tariffs

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) proposes a technology-specific club around renewable energies that goes beyond what currently exists.52 The focus would be on feed-in tariffs (FITs) to increase the share of renewable energy in each of the participating countries. The authors put forward three different levels of ambition for such a FIT club.53 The low-ambition proposal entails that the German government, due to its experience in FITs, supports other countries through knowledge sharing and capacity building to put FITs in place nationally. A medium level of ambition would include a new initiative of developed and developing countries to introduce and expand FITs globally. Interested developing countries would declare their intent to introduce ambitious FITs and agree to concrete implementation plans; in exchange, developed countries would provide capacity building and technical support along with funding to cover parts of the FIT premium. The high level of ambition option would organize a similar initiative under the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), strengthening this new institution and bringing in even more countries. In the latter two scenarios, the recommendation is the establishment of an initiative to encourage ‘global adoption of the feed-in tariff system’, while also committing to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.54 The result would be a club of countries that have committed to the vision of increasing the share of renewable energy in their national energy mix and to implementing a specific policy instrument – in this case the FIT – in their country, and to assist developing countries with financing.

WBGU also considers other types of club-like commitments, from the G20 agreement on carbon pricing to further linking of emissions trading systems to ‘pioneer coalitions’ for forest protection and the establishment of low-carbon infrastructure.55 These would all complement rather than replace the UNFCCC. Indeed, there may be ‘clubs’ that form organically, where a group of countries wishing to go further faster than the UNFCCC negotiations allow, join together and create a set of collective benefits for each other. These benefits and incentives would need to be compelling enough to drive further action. In other words, clubs could form that do not actually include what would be a country's UNFCCC ‘commitment’ or ‘bid’, but rather focus on the collective action of smaller groups of ambitious countries around specific issues. If the benefits are strong enough, countries that to this point in time have been resistant to act will wish to join.

Potential Incentives for Transformational Clubs

Conditions for Success

Providing adequate benefits for countries to move forward is a key kernel of the SETA, CAD and FIT proposals. Identifying which benefits are most important for countries to be willing to move further faster is therefore a core question. There are some examples in non-climate areas where clubs have driven transformational change. Two examples of initially small groups of countries that were attractive enough for other countries to seek accession, even if joining came with significant commitments, include the European Union and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that eventually became subsumed under the WTO. Over time, both have also outgrown the more informal club structure to become fully developed international organizations. Within the weapons control regime, smaller coalitions have also been contributing to broader goals and increased their membership over time.56 All three were defined by a shared purpose and provided significant economic or security benefits to members.57 Although beyond the scope of this article, it seems wise to analyze overarching goals and incentives created in those three examples and other regimes to draw lessons for the climate regime.

As noted above, while useful, the current climate clubs are not aimed at explicitly meeting a global goal or driving transformational change at the speed or scale required to avoid dangerous climate change. Our analysis suggests that transformational clubs likely need to offer attractive benefits that result from joining the club. In addition, in looking to those clubs outside the climate regime mentioned above, we surmise that a shared sense of purpose among the club members is also required. The shared vision of a transformational climate club could be to advance a model of low-emissions economic development that allows for deep emissions reductions and generates significant economic benefits.

With regards to the benefits of membership, we argue that four main conditions would increase the likelihood of success of transformational clubs:

  • Benefits need to be significant. The perceived benefits from taking ambitious action within the club need to outweigh the perceived cost of that action. As long as action to combat climate change is seen as costly pollution control, countries will be reluctant to sign on to do more than others. However, if participation in a climate club generates benefits that outweigh the cost, the dynamic would change. When aiming to set up a transformational climate club, it is therefore important to be sure that there are real and significant benefits, most of which would likely be economic (jobs, investment, trade opportunities, etc). Detailed analysis will be needed to ascertain and quantify the benefits that could be generated by such a club.
  • Benefits need to be exclusive to the club members (i.e., not accrue to others outside of the club). This means that the club members grant each other privileges. If it cannot be assured that benefits would be exclusive to club members, at least to a large extent, governments are likely to worry about free riders and the incentive to join the club will be weak at best. The ultimate benefits, emissions reductions and climate stabilization, are of course non-excludable; it is therefore crucial that clubs provide additional benefits, some of which can be made exclusive. However, exclusivity might entail negative spillovers into the multilateral efforts (e.g., if knowledge is shared on a technology among the club members only, that might preclude sharing that knowledge in the UNFCCC technology mechanism context). These trade-offs need to be understood and minimized, but cannot always be avoided if the club is to become attractive enough to be transformational.
  • Benefits need to accrue to all members of the club (win–win). This condition again underlines the need for solid analysis to ensure the club contains the right mix of activities and commitments to create benefits for all of its members. For example, a club that focuses almost exclusively on trade liberalization for solar and wind technologies will be seen as beneficial predominantly for the small number of producer countries of that equipment and the incentive for others to join will be small.
  • The benefits need to be generated in a way that respects existing international law, including, notably, the UNFCCC as well as international trade law.

The privileges members grant each other could potentially reach beyond the realm of climate mitigation and energy. In order for a club to encourage ambition, all it needs in theory is membership that is contingent on ambition and benefits that are significant, exclusive and distributed across all members. This could be achieved, for example, if countries who agreed to a certain ambitious target for emissions reductions granted each other duty-free market access across a large range of goods, beyond just ‘climate-friendly’ products. This could certainly make the potential benefits more attractive. However, this article focuses on club benefits that have a link to climate because the benefits which accrue from low-carbon sectors of the economy can have direct impacts on global emissions and ambition. First, a focus on low-carbon sectors will enable the club to directly demonstrate the benefits of shifting to a low-carbon economy. Second, promoting low-carbon sectors would imply that the club does not just lead to a higher level of declared ambition, but also higher chances of that ambition being implemented. Finally, making the case for granting special privileges to other members of a climate club will be easier if those privileges are related to the common purpose; this might also increase the chances of withstanding WTO scrutiny. 58

Potential Benefits

Below, we provide a list of potential benefits that could provide incentives for countries to join a transformational club. This list just touches on those ideas; much more analysis would be needed to quantify and match them against the interests of countries. A transformational club could start by providing benefits in just one or two of these areas and grow to include a broader set. Our working title for a transformational club that includes many of these benefits is a ‘low-carbon union’.

Linking of Emissions Trading

If the club members use emissions trading systems, these could be linked so that certificates from one system are recognized in another. This would increase the size of the market, making it more efficient. From the perspective of those who are able to reduce emissions and generate certificates, this would increase the number of potential buyers, while from the point of view of emitters needing certificates, this would increase their options to buy (in many cases, cheaper) certificates. It would also lead to harmonized carbon prices, reducing competitiveness concerns between participating countries. The lower price could also assist in driving up the level of ambition.59

Trade in Goods

As has also been suggested in the SETA concept, reducing or eliminating tariffs on sustainable energy products could make them more competitive with high-carbon alternatives.60 From the perspective of equipment producers, this could create new export markets. The issue of reducing barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, including climate-friendly goods, has been under negotiation in the Doha Round since 2001, although countries have not been able to reach agreement on the multilateral level.61 The main areas of disagreement include defining the goods that should qualify (both the World Bank62 and ICTSD63 have made proposals for a list of ‘climate goods’) and the fact that not all countries are convinced that a reduction of tariffs would be beneficial for them.64 The estimates as to the potential of emissions reductions from trade liberalization in this area vary,65 and some analysts have pointed out that trade tariffs are a very small share of the costs in solar or wind power projects, if they are not already at zero.66 However, this issue remains a priority for many governments and industries, and could be included in the package of measures a low-carbon union agrees upon.

Beyond tariffs, other measures can create barriers to the trade in goods. An analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Peterson Institute for International Economics suggests that those barriers – including difficult customs procedures, divergent standards and certification rules, peculiar technical requirements, among others – are more significant than tariffs.67 While these ‘non-tariff barriers’ have proven to be difficult to address in multilateral negotiations, as they are harder to define and quantify, a smaller group of like-minded countries could agree to address them. More legal analysis is needed to explore how it might be possible to accord preferential access to other low-carbon union members without extending it to all WTO members as there is an inherent tension with the most-favoured nation treatment required in world trade law.68

Trade in Services, including Movement of Persons

Services that are relevant to the low-carbon economy include, for example, the development, installation and maintenance of renewable energy projects, as well as financing, energy efficiency contracting, research and development.69 Some of these services are highly regulated and could be opened up for participation by service providers from member countries of the low-carbon union. Important barriers are immigration rules and visa requirements that can, for example, make it difficult for wind turbine manufacturers to send their engineers to another country to install or service turbines. The low-carbon union could also agree on relaxed visa requirements for a broader group beyond service providers – for example, students and researchers of clean energy technologies.

Public Procurement

Governments are important buyers of a range of goods and services. The low-carbon union members could agree to use environmental criteria in their procurement, including low lifecycle emissions. Government procurement is exempt from the principal WTO rules regarding goods and services, with the exception of those WTO members who have signed the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) – a plurilateral agreement to which 14 countries plus the EU with its 27 Member States are a party.70 Provided that certain standards regarding transparency and non-discrimination are respected, preferences for the procurement of climate-friendly goods and services would likely be possible, also for GPA members.71 On the other hand, according explicit procurement preferences to companies located in low-carbon union member countries would likely be found a violation of GPA rules. A potential indirect connection to club membership would be to focus procurement on products meeting certain standards or labelling requirements and to develop those standards and requirements jointly by the club members. The participation of their respective governments in the standard setting process and harmonization and mutual recognition agreements might make it relatively easy for companies from club member countries to meet the requirements, without excluding other competitors.72 Nonetheless, the constraints contained in the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) discussed below, would have to be respected.

Harmonization and Mutual Recognition of Labels, Standards and Certification

Labels, standards and certification are often an important condition for market access; they will be even more important in countries that try to move aggressively from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy because they will tend to differentiate products by the carbon emissions that resulted from their production or will result from their use. Members of the low-carbon union can harmonize and mutually recognize their standards and certification procedures. Furthermore, they can cooperate in drafting new standards. Assuming that all or most club members will be WTO members, they would need to respect the principles set out in the TBT Agreement. The agreement explicitly recognizes countries' right to use regulations and standards to achieve legitimate policy objectives, including the protection of the environment, but calls for transparency, non-discrimination and a preference for international standards. It also provides a code of best practice for standard setting.73

Joint Projects and Investments

The members of the low-carbon union could undertake joint projects, similar to the range of activities undertaken in some of the existing clubs. This could include capacity building, technology transfer, demonstration projects as well as investments in infrastructure. Some of the projects would be driven by the member governments, while other investments would be made by the private sector, but could be encouraged and announced in the context of the low-carbon union. Common ambitious goals could be the driver – for instance, a commitment to a zero-carbon automobile sector by 2050.

Improved Investment Conditions

A number of regulations and requirements as well as a lack of transparent information can often make it difficult for the private sector to invest in foreign countries. These barriers could be addressed for low-carbon sectors of the economy in particular, bearing in mind that some measures perceived as investment barriers might reflect important public policy priorities. Reducing barriers would most likely benefit any investor and it would be difficult to make this benefit exclusive to investors from member countries of the low-carbon union. It could, however, be considered to grant companies from member countries access to dedicated information portals or special investment promotion services.

Joint Research and Development and Sharing of Intellectual Property Rights

Low-carbon union members can agree to undertake joint research and development and to share the intellectual property that is a result of those activities. Member governments could also agree to pool intellectual property rights they already own as a result of earlier public research.

Access to Public Climate Finance

Developed countries have made a commitment to provide finance to developing countries to assist them in the transition to low-emissions development.74 Developing country members of the low-carbon union could be given preference when distributing the climate finance made available by developed country members or they could receive special assistance to develop proposals to access multilateral sources of climate finance.

Exemption from Border Carbon Adjustment

In a world of diverging levels of ambition and diverging carbon prices, it is possible that countries might resort to a border carbon adjustment: imposing a carbon tax or requiring the purchase of emissions certificates at the border for certain imports from countries that do not have comparable pricing in place.75 If low-carbon union members apply comparable policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, it would be possible that low-carbon union members agree to exempt each other from any border measures they might impose against third countries.76

Agreement on the Acceptable Level and Form of Support for Green Industries

Currently, there are significant trade tensions around subsidies and policies, such as domestic content requirements, designed to favour domestic renewable energy industries.77 On the one hand, countries have made a commitment to open trade and a global market for clean energy technologies is likely to lead to lower prices. On the other hand, all governments would like to ensure that their commitment to clean energy also results in domestic industry and job creation. In the low-carbon union, members could begin a dialogue on what forms and amounts of support to domestic industries are acceptable. They could also agree not to launch trade complaints against each other over support to green industries, as long as the support follows the principles agreed in that dialogue.78

The above list is a menu of options. If countries were to consider forming a transformational climate club, country-specific analysis would need to show which combination of the above would meet the four criteria of significant, exclusive, mutually beneficial and legally consistent benefits. The result would be a package of incentives for joining a club that could raise ambition.

Regarding which countries are accepted into the club, there are many decisions that would need to be made. For example, a commitment to the vision (i.e. the long-term ambitious goal for the club) could be made a condition for joining the club. This vision could be framed around emissions reductions, targets for energy efficiency or renewable energy deployment, price parity for a renewable energy technology, amount of fossil fuel subsidies in the economy, etc. could be made a condition for joining the club. Additionally, club membership could be contingent on a track record of emissions reductions or concrete steps that contribute to emissions reductions and create markets for low-carbon goods and services (such as increasing the share of renewable energies) and/or it could be based on targets for the future. More research is needed to determine what entry conditions would be most useful as they will have to strike the balance between leaving participation open to a large enough number of countries for the club to have an impact and setting some standards that ensure that the club actually encourages more ambition.

Relationship to the UNFCCC

Some of the clubs or coalitions discussed in this article were originally formed to compete with the UNFCCC, while most of the clubs today complement it. The establishment of a new kind of transformational club with economic benefits raises the question of how such a club relates to the UNFCCC again. Would it compete or complement? Would it build ambition or drive energy elsewhere and therefore turn the UNFCCC into no more than a shell? The relationship depends heavily on the intent of the initial founders as well as on institutional design. There certainly is a model, as outlined in part of the literature noted above,79 whereby the club is a formalization of commitments or bids outside the UNFCCC through the creation of a new institution.

There is a range of ways one could recognize these outside clubs inside the UNFCCC if parties chose to do so. There is currently a discussion in the UNFCCC about how to report on various initiatives and actions that are not captured in country commitments – for example, at the city or company level. One could take this one step further and ask clubs, through a decision which outlines the format, to report formally and at a regular time interval to the UNFCCC. Additionally, future MRV rules for climate finance could devise systematic ways to capture the activities of a club. For example, if a group of countries collectively agrees to reduce the carbon intensity of foreign direct investment and therefore generate funds for low carbon development, those institutions could report on those shifts utilizing a common format within the UNFCCC. Parties would need to decide whether those club actions constitute actual commitments or whether they are a set of voluntary actions being commonly reported inside the UNFCCC.

There is also a scenario whereby a smaller group of countries moves ahead in parallel to the UNFCCC and brings that ambition back into the UNFCCC over time. This element of ‘bringing in’ could take a number of forms which are still uncertain due to the very early stages of the negotiations towards a new agreement in 2015. In its simplest form, ‘bringing in’ would just mean that the club, due to the economic benefits, enables countries to take on more ambitious commitments in the UNFCCC. As the club members raise their level of ambition within the UNFCCC, they could pull other countries with them. ‘Bringing in’ could also mean that groups of countries who are willing to undertake particular commitments or actions, agree to have those negotiated, recognized and monitored within the UNFCCC. These commitments might take the form of emissions reductions targets or other targets (e.g., on renewable energy, efficiency standards or the reduction of trade barriers for wind and solar energy technologies) agreed upon by the group. Both the form of the commitments and the groupings of countries around those commitments would be influenced by the club.

At this moment in time, we would argue that a complementary club or set of clubs seems more effective than a replacement of the UNFCCC for a range of reasons. First of all, the UNFCCC is the one official forum where every country has a voice and therefore is understood as legitimate. Second, it has a complex set of institutions and decisions that have been created over many years. It would be difficult and take time to create a parallel set of institutions and be rather short-sighted to throw away institutions which have achieved results. Finally, as noted at the outset, climate stability is a global public good in which every country has a stake. A multilateral forum is the one platform where global ambition and equity can be discussed and potentially agreed.


This article has provided an analysis of the landscape of existing climate clubs and, following an assessment of key contributions to the literature on clubs, identified potential incentives that could increase ambition in addressing climate change. The analysis of the existing landscape has shown that a number of climate clubs already exist, focused on dialogue and implementation. These clubs make important contributions: they enable a better mutual understanding of countries' positions and interests, ensure the sharing of best practices, and provide support for mitigation strategies and activities. However, the current configuration of these clubs is not focused on significantly increased ambition. A different kind of club would be needed to drive ambition. An analysis of selected proposals, as well as experiences from outside the climate regime, suggests that a transformational club needs both the commitment to a shared vision and strong incentives to join the club. These incentives would come from significant, exclusive and mutually attractive benefits for club members; these benefits would predominantly be economic in nature, related to trade, investment, labour mobility or access to finance.

The relationship of such clubs to the UNFCCC could be manifold; defining this relationship could become an important issue in the ongoing negotiations of a 2015 agreement. The clubs could formally or informally report to the UNFCCC. Starting this now, as part of trying to raise ambition in the pre-2020 time period, could begin to build a linked regime that captures in different manners commitments inside the UNFCCC and actions outside. In addition, the actions of the club members could be captured in a set of formal commitments in the 2015 agreement. Such a proposal would be dependent on a broader definition of ‘commitments’ being adopted than currently exists in the UNFCCC as it would likely be a mix of emissions reduction targets, policies and measures, energy goals and perhaps financing goals. The current list of UNFCCC parties' nationally appropriate mitigation actions reflects the diversity of actions and thus may be a place to begin thinking on how to systematically capture such actions in the future.

More research is needed in four areas to advance the concept of transformational clubs. First, better understanding is needed as to how to define the commitment to a shared vision that countries would have to adhere to in order to join a club. For example, if the conditions for membership were so stringent as to exclude most major markets, that would make the economic benefits of joining the club less attractive. Without attractive incentives, a club is likely to be less effective at triggering transformational change. On the other hand, a lack of a clear vision and very general entry criteria would likely also harm the club's effectiveness. Second, further research is needed on the characteristics of the critical mass of countries that could form a transformational club. The ultimate goal of ambitious global emissions reductions is not going to be achieved directly by a club, but rather because the club will serve as model and catalyst of more ambitious action beyond its members. For this to be possible, how many countries and which countries need to be in the club? And is it possible to assess the different economic, political and symbolic dimensions of countries' ‘relevance’ in order to determine who needs to be in the club, so that it can be an effective model and catalyst of further ambitious action? Third, the potential benefits need to be analyzed and quantified for specific countries in order to understand whether there can be a package of benefits that would meet our four criteria – significant, exclusive, attractive for all club members and compatible with existing international rules. Fourth, difficult institutional questions need to be answered. For example, what kind of structure would a club require, how can negotiations to set up the club and then agree on commitments within the club be organized, do countries have enough resources to be able to negotiate this at the same time as conducting UNFCCC negotiations?

Legal scholars, economists and policy researchers can make an important contribution by advancing understanding on these questions. However, the factor that will ultimately determine whether a new kind of ambition-raising, transformational climate club is formed is the political will of some pioneer countries to try it out and lead the way.

  1. 1

    See, e.g., S. Barrett and R.N. Stavins, ‘Increasing Participation and Compliance in International Climate Change Agreements’, 3:4 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2003), 349, at 351.

  2. 2

    C. Riedy and I.M. McGregor, ‘Climate Governance is Failing Us: We All Need to Respond’, 8:3 PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies (2011), 1, at 3

  3. 3

    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The Emissions Gap Report: Are the Copenhagen Accord Pledges Sufficient to Limit Global Warming to 2° C or 1.5° C? A Preliminary Assessment (UNEP, 2010), at 52.

  4. 4

    See, e.g., R. Eckersley, ‘Moving Forward in the Climate Negotiations: Multilateralism or Minilateralism?’, 12:2 Global Environmental Politics (2012), 24; M. Naím, ‘Minilateralism’, Foreign Policy (July/August 2009), 135; G.B. Asheim, C.B. Froyn, J. Hovi, and F.C. Menz, ‘Regional versus Global Cooperation for Climate Control’, 51:1 Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (2006), 93; and M.J. Hoffmann, Climate Governance at the Crossroads: Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto (Oxford University Press, 2011).

  5. 5

    F. Biermann, P. Pattberg, H. van Asselt and F. Zelli, ‘The Fragmentation of Global Governance Architectures: A Framework for Analysis’, 9:1 Global Environmental Politics (2009), 14, at 25.

  6. 6

    J.E. Aldy, S. Barrett and R.N. Stavins, ‘Thirteen Plus One: A Comparison of Global Climate Policy Architectures’, 3:4 Climate Policy (2003), 373, at 378

  7. 7

    R.O. Keohane and D.G. Victor, ‘The Regime Complex for Climate Change’, 9:1 Perspectives on Politics (2011), 7, at 18

  8. 8

    See F. Biermann et al., 5 above, at 29.

  9. 9

    See H. Shue, ‘The Unavoidability of Justice’, in: A. Hurrell and B. Kingsbury (eds.), The International Politics of the Environment: Actors, Interests and Institutions (Oxford University Press: 1992), 373; E.B. Weiss, In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony and Intergenerational Equity (United Nations University, 1989).

  10. 10

    See O.R. Young, ‘Global Environmental Change and International Governance’, 19:3 Millennium: Journal of International Studies (1990), 337; G. Porter and J. Welsh, Global Environmental Politics (Westview Press, 1991); and G. Plant, ‘Institutional and Legal Responses to Global Climate Change’, 19:3 Millennium: Journal of International Studies (1990), 413.

  11. 11

    See R.O. Keohane and D.G. Victor, 7 above, at 9.

  12. 12

    S.O. Ladislaw, A Post-Copenhagen Pathway (Centre for Strategic and International Studies, January 2010), found at: <>, at 5.

  13. 13

    See H. Winkler and J. Beaumont, ‘Fair and Effective Multilateralism in the Post-Copenhagen Climate Negotiations’, 10:6 Climate Policy (2010), 638, at 641. On the advantages of the UNFCCC regime, also see J. Depledge and F. Yamin, ‘The Global Climate-change Regime: A Defence’, in: D. Helm and C. Hepburn (eds.), The Economics and Politics of Climate Change (Oxford University Press, 2009), 433.

  14. 14

    See H. Winkler and J. Beaumont, 13 above, at 649.

  15. 15

    See J. Depledge and F. Yamin, 13 above, at 451; and R. Eckersley, 4 above.

  16. 16

    Decision 1/CP.13, Bali Action Plan (FCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1, 15 March 2012). Note that all but three of the 17 existing clubs analyzed below were started or, in the case of G8 and G20, began to consider climate change in 2005 or later.

  17. 17

    Decision 1/CP.16, The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1, 15 March 2011), Section I, paragraph 4.

  18. 18

    See, e.g., M. Naím, 4 above, at 136.

  19. 19

    Emissions reduction targets for individual countries can of course not be directly drawn from climate science. They depend on what one considers to be ‘dangerous climate change’, on the models and assumptions used and on political decisions as to which emissions trajectories are preferable and how reductions need to be apportioned among countries. As a minimum, we suggest that the targets for members of a transformational climate club should be in line with the IPCC's suggestions for achieving a greenhouse gas concentration of 450 parts per million volume (ppm), providing a 50% chance of meeting the 2°C target: Reductions of 25–40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80–95% by 2050 for industrialized countries and substantial deviation from the baseline for developing countries. S. Gupta et al., ‘Policies, Instruments and Co-operative Arrangements’, in: B. Metz et al. (eds.), Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 745, Box 13.7 at 776. It has been suggested that ‘substantial deviation’ would mean 15–30% below baseline by 2020 for non-Annex I countries as a group, with significant differentiation within that group. See M. den Elzen and N. Höhne, ‘Reductions of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Annex I and Non-Annex I Countries for Meeting Concentration Stabilisation Targets’, 91:3–4 Climatic Change (2008), 249. These targets are a minimum for a transformational club in the sense that they might need to be more ambitious – for instance, if one considers 1.5°C warming or a greenhouse gas concentration of 350 ppm the threshold to avoid dangerous climate change. If the club includes targets other than emissions reductions, they should be consistent with ambitious emissions reductions – for example, for renewable energy, we would suggest the deployment levels of the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 2°C Scenario as a minimum, with a share of around 45% renewable energy (including large hydro) in global electricity generation by 2035 and 57% by 2050. See IEA, Energy Technology Perspectives 2012: Pathways to a Clean Energy System (IEA, 2012). However, as demonstrated in the IPCC's special report on renewable energy sources, there is a large range of renewable energy deployment levels in different greenhouse gas mitigation scenarios, reaching up to 61% of global electricity generation in 2030 and 95% in 2050, depending on assumptions about the cost and potential of renewables as well as other options, such as nuclear energy or carbon capture and storage. See M. Fischedick et al., ‘Mitigation Potential and Costs’, in: O. Edenhofer et al. (eds.), IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 791, at 799. Determining the exact appropriate targets for participating countries will thus be up to the club members, but should be informed by ambitious mitigation scenarios.

  20. 20

    Eckersley also criticizes clubs focused on the large emitters only as ‘elitist, procedurally unjust, and likely to be self-serving’ and suggests that ‘inclusive minilateralism’ should include a more diverse set of countries representing ‘the most capable, the most responsible, and the most vulnerable’. See R. Eckersley, 4 above, at 26.

  21. 21

    Decision 1/CP.17, Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1, 15 March 2012), at paragraph 2.

  22. 22

    Our definition of climate clubs focuses on activities outside of the UNFCCC framework, so UNFCCC negotiating groups and groups that predominantly serve as a forum to prepare UNFCCC negotiations, such as the Cartagena Dialogue, have not been included. In line with the definition criteria, we have also excluded clubs that are not ‘predominantly funded and governed by national governments’.

  23. 23

    G20 Leaders' Statement: 2009 Pittsburgh Summit (24–25 September 2009), found at: <>, at paragraph 24.

  24. 24

    D. Koplow and S. Kretzman, G20 Fossil Fuel Subsidy Phase Out: A Review of Current Gaps and Needed Changes to Achieve Success (Earth Track Inc./Oil Change International, November 2001), found at: <>. For a somewhat more optimistic assessment, compare K. Lang, The First Year of the G-20 Commitment on Fossil-fuel Subsidies: A Commentary on Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (IISD Global Subsidies Initiative, January 2011), found at: <>.

  25. 25

    Growth and Responsibility in the World Economy’, G8 Summit Heiligendamm 2007 Summit Declaration (7 June 2007), found at: <,templateId=raw,property=publicationFile.pdf/2007-06-07-gipfeldokument-wirtschaft-eng.pdf>, at paragraph 49; and G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit Leaders Declaration (8 July 2008), found at: <>, at paragraph 23.

  26. 26

    Responsible Leadership for a Sustainable Future’, G8 Leaders Declaration (8 July 2009), found at: <>, at paragraph 65.

  27. 27

    The G8's recognition of the 2°C target is repeated verbatim in Declaration of the Leaders, The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change, found at: <>, at 2; see also Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), ‘Results of the G8 Summit 2009’ (January 2012), found at: <>.

  28. 28

    A. Vihma, ‘Friendly Neighbor or Trojan Horse? Assessing the Interaction of Soft Law Initiatives and the UN Climate Regime’, 9:3 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2009), 239; UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Press Release, ‘G8 Document Reenergizes Multilateral Climate Change Process under the United Nations’ (7 June 2007), found at: <>.

  29. 29

    See <>.

  30. 30

    This group includes APP, REEEP, GMI, CCAC and GGGI.

  31. 31

    This group includes CEM, REDD+, LEDS GP, Energy Plus and the IEA Implementing Agreements.

  32. 32

    See Clean Energy Ministerial website, found at: <>.

  33. 33

    S.I. Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and H. van Asselt, ‘Introduction: Exploring and Explaining the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate’, 9:3 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2009), 195, at 200.

  34. 34

    P. Suding and P. Lempp, ‘The Multifaceted Institutional Landscape and Processes of International Renewable Energy Policy’, Newsletter for the International Association for Energy Economics (Second Quarter, 2007), 4.

  35. 35

    For a discussion on technology-oriented agreements, see H. de Coninck, C. Fischer, R.G. Newell and T. Ueno, ‘International Technology-oriented Agreements to Address Climate Change’, 36:1 Energy Policy (2008), 335.

  36. 36

    See, e.g., R.B. Jackson et al., ‘Protecting Climate with Forests’, 3:4 Environmental Research Letters (2008), 1, at 2

  37. 37

    For the purpose of this statistical analysis of club membership, the EU is counted as a ‘country’.

  38. 38

    F. Zelli, ‘The Fragmentation of the Global Climate Governance Architecture’, 2:2 WIREs Climate Change (2011), 255, at 259; J. McGee and R. Taplin, ‘The Role of the Asia Pacific Partnership in Discursive Contestation of the International Climate Regime’, 9:3 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2009), 213.

  39. 39

    See <>.

  40. 40

    Statement of the Chair of the Leaders' Representatives of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate on Global Partnership Technology Action Plans and Clean Energy Analysis (July 2009), found at: <>.

  41. 41

    Technology Action Plan Executive Summary, Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (December 2009), found at: <>.

  42. 42

    For a review of different proposals, see D. Bodansky, International Climate Efforts beyond 2012: A Survey of Approaches (Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2004).

  43. 43

    International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), Fostering Low Carbon Growth: The Case for a Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement (ICTSD, November 2011).

  44. 44

    Ibid., at ix.

  45. 45

    Ibid., at 33.

  46. 46

    Ibid., at 63

  47. 47

    D.G. Victor, Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  48. 48

    Ibid., at 244.

  49. 49

    Ibid., at 245.

  50. 50

    Ibid, at 248.

  51. 51

    Draft Protocol to the Convention Prepared by the Government of Australia for Adoption at the Fifteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties, Note by the Secretariat (UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2009/5, 6 June 2009).

  52. 52

    German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability (WBGU, 2011).

  53. 53

    Ibid., at 290–291.

  54. 54

    Ibid., at 291.

  55. 55

    Ibid., at 311.

  56. 56

    B. Blechman and B. Finlay, ‘What Climate Control can Learn from Past Efforts to Limit Nuclear Dangers’, in: R. Greenspan Bell and M.S. Ziegler (eds.), Building International Climate Cooperation: Lessons from the Weapons and Trade Regime for Achieving International Climate Goals (World Resources Institute, 2012), 71, at 87.

  57. 57

    On the importance of a shared vision, see R. Greenspan Bell and M.S. Ziegler, ‘Lessons from the Weapons and Trade Regime for Achieving International Climate Goals’, in: R. Greenspan Bell and M.S. Ziegler , 56 above, 1, at 25.

  58. 58

    The possible WTO law implications of all of the measures taken under a climate club would have to be analyzed individually and will depend heavily on the concrete design of these measures, which is beyond the scope of this article. However, if the environmental exception contained in Article XX(g) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Marrakesh, 15 April 1994; in force 1 January 1995) (‘GATT’) were to be used to justify differences in treatment, it would have to be shown that the measure closely relates to the environmental objective – namely the reduction of global greenhouse gases. See, e.g., UNEP and IISD, Environment and Trade: A Handbook (UNEP/IISD, 2005), at 37.

  59. 59

    For an assessment of the benefits and challenges involved in linking emissions trading schemes, see C. Flachsland, R. Marschinski and O. Edenhofer, ‘To Link or Not to Link: Benefits and Disadvantages of Linking Cap-and-Trade Systems’, 9:5 Climate Policy (2009), 358; and K. Tangen and H. Hasselknippe, ‘Converging Markets’, 5:1 International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2005), 47.

  60. 60

    J. Monkelbaan, Trade Preferences for Environmentally Friendly Goods and Services (ICTSD 2011).

  61. 61

    Doha Ministerial Declaration (WTO Doc. WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1, 20 November 2001), at paragraph 31(iii).

  62. 62

    World Bank, International Trade and Climate Change: Economic, Legal and Institutional Perspectives (World Bank, 2008), at 75–77. The World Bank list is a climate-focused subset based on a list of 153 environmental goods submitted by the ‘Friends of Environmental Goods’ – a group composed predominantly of developed countries (Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Chinese Taipei, Switzerland and the United States). Neither list has been accepted by all negotiating countries. See M. Sugathan, Liberalisation of Climate-friendly Environmental Goods: Issues for Small Developing Countries (ICTSD Information Note 14, October 2010).

  63. 63

    R. Vossenaar, Climate-related Single-use Environmental Goods (ICTSD, September 2010).

  64. 64

    See M. Sugathan, 63 above.

  65. 65

    P. Wooders, Greenhouse Gas Emission Impacts of Liberalizing Trade in Environmental Goods (IISD, October 2009); and World Bank, 63 above.

  66. 66

    J. Funk Kirkegaard, T. Hanemann and L. Weischer, It Should be a Breeze: Harnessing the Potential of Open Trade and Investment Flows in the Wind Energy Industry (Peterson Institute for International Economics/WRI, December 2009); and J. Funk Kirkegaard, T. Hanemann, L. Weischer and M. Miller, Toward a Sunny Future? Global Integration in the Solar PV Industry (Peterson Institute for International Economics/WRI, May 2010).

  67. 67


  68. 68

    GATT, n. 58 above, Article I requires that ‘any advantage, favour, privilege or immunity granted by any contracting party to any product originating in or destined for any other country shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the like product originating in or destined for the territories of all other contracting parties’. For legal analyses on the compatibility of climate-related trade preferences and WTO law, see A. Green and T. Epps, ‘Is There a Role for Trade Measures in Addressing Climate Change?15:1 UC Davis Journal of International Law and Policy (2008), 1, at 8; G. Hufbauer, S. Charnovitz and J. Kim, Global Warming and the World Trading System (Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2009); and M. Kennedy, Legal Options for a Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement (ICTSD, 2012).

  69. 69

    R. Steenblik and M. Geloso Grosso, Trade in Services Related to Climate Change: An Exploratory Analysis, OECD Trade and Environment Working Paper 2011/03 (OECD, May 2012).

  70. 70

    Agreement on Government Procurement (Marrakesh, 15 April 1994; in force 1 January 1995).

  71. 71

    G. van Calster, ‘Green Procurement and the WTO: Shades of Grey’, 11:3 Review of European Community and International Environmental Law (2003), 298; and H. van Asselt, N. van der Grijp and F.H. Oosterhuis, ‘Greener Public Purchasing: Opportunities for Climate-friendly Government Procurement under WTO and EU Rules’, 6:2 Climate Policy (2006), 217.

  72. 72

    On the relationship between eco-labels, procurement and world trade law, see also Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Eco-labeling Standards, Green Procurement and the WTO (CIEL, March 2005).

  73. 73

    Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (Marrakesh, 15 April 1994; in force 1 January 1995).

  74. 74

    Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto, 11 December 1997; in force 16 February 2005), Article 11.2(a).

  75. 75

    This raises a whole set of issues, which have been outlined in, e.g., T. Houser et al., Leveling the Carbon Playing Field: International Competition and US Climate Policy Design (WRI, 2008).

  76. 76

    For a proposal to agree on principles governing BCAs among a club of countries in ‘Trade and Climate Code’ and apply a ‘grace period’ during the negotiations of the Code during which club members will not launch WTO disputes regarding BCAs against each other, see G. Hufbauer, S. Charnovitz and J. Kim, 73 above, at 103.

  77. 77

    M. Wilke, Feed-in Tariffs for Renewable Energy and WTO Subsidy Rules: An Initial Legal Review (ICTSD, November 2011).

  78. 78

    A similar code of good practice on climate policy more generally, including some provisions on clean energy subsidies, has been suggested by G. Hufbauer et al., 69 above, at 103.

  79. 79

    See D. Bodansky, 42 above; S. Barrett and R.N. Stavins, 1 above; D.G. Victor, 47 above.


  • Lutz Weischer is a research analyst in the Climate and Energy Programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI). His work focuses on international technology cooperation, renewable energy policies and the relationship between international trade and climate change. He is a political scientist with degrees from Freie Universität Berlin and Sciences Po Paris.

  • Jennifer Morgan is Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI). In this capacity, she oversees the Institute's work on climate change issues and guides WRI strategy in helping countries, governments and individuals take positive action toward achieving a zero-carbon future. She has worked on the international climate change regime since 1994. Prior to her position at WRI, she worked for E3G, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the US Climate Action Network. She holds a BA in Political Science and Germanic Studies from Indiana University and an MA from the School of International Service of the American University in International Affairs.

  • Milap Patel is a research assistant in the Institutions and Governance Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), working on the International Financial Flows and the Environment project. He conducts research and analysis on trends in international climate financing. He holds an MPA from Columbia University and a BA in Economics and Development Studies from the University of Sussex.