Principal Investigator

At a Glance

To achieve incremental, near-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions, both governmental and private stakeholders can be encouraged to form partnerships driven by diverse political and economic incentives. These initiatives may take a variety of forms, and may serve to enhance the emissions reductions promised by existing international agreements.


Research Highlight

Since its initial adoption in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has made progress in strengthening the commitments of national governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a notable agreement on Nationally Determined Contributions reached in late 2015. While these pledges are significant, they are not legally binding and are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the goal of a peak and subsequent decline in global emissions in the near future.

To complement the efforts of the UNFCCC, Oppenheimer and his colleagues have proposed a framework involving a variety of initiatives that engage both public and private actors, taking advantage of stakeholders’ diverse motivations, which are not necessarily directly related to mitigating climate change. This “building blocks” approach holds the potential to spur emissions reductions in an incremental, low-risk fashion. The researchers suggest that the UNFCCC may play a key role in encouraging, developing, and improving such initiatives.1

Oppenheimer, together with New York University environmental law specialists Richard Stewart and Bryce Rudyk, has evaluated alternative paradigms for building strategies to leverage diverse motivations for emissions reductions. These include:

  1. Clubs of private or public entities whose members agree to follow a set of rules. Members may have different incentives for following the rules. One example of such a club is the International Smart Grid Action Network, an association of 24 national governments and the European Commission that collaborates on the development and adoption of clean energy technologies. In the private sector, another potential model is that of the Forest Stewardship Council, a group of businesses and environmental NGOs that has established a certification system to set industry standards and respond to consumer demand for sustainable products.
  2. Linkages that extend the missions of existing international agreements and organizations. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, for instance, has been adjusted six times since it was adopted in 1987. As further information becomes available, new ozonedepleting chemicals have been added to the Protocol, and the group is considering the addition of substitutes for these chemicals that are also greenhouse gases. Oppenheimer, Stewart, and Rudyk suggest that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations might expand its Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which obligates countries to limit pollution from land and forest fires, to include provisions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Dominant actors that take measures prompting others to follow similar rules. The impacts of this model are evident from the so-called “California effect,” which has encouraged other jurisdictions to adopt more stringent motor vehicle emissions laws, and the “Brussels effect,” in which European Union consumer product regulations have led to stricter standards in the global marketplace.

Stimulating the spread and impact of such strategies will require increased and sustained support for enterprising individuals within the relevant institutions. Oppenheimer and his colleagues suggest that the UNFCCC may serve as a key champion for spurring and developing effective partnerships.

They conclude that the UNFCCC has the potential to provide vital information, organize stakeholders, contribute technical and financial resources, and raise the visibility of emerging efforts. These activities may be coordinated through the UNFCCC’s Technical Expert Meetings and other events held in conjunction with each Conference of the Parties, while the UNFCCC’s Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) may serve as a clearinghouse to monitor emissions reductions resulting from cooperative programs.

Figure 3.2. Display of flags at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris. (Wikimedia, Surfnico)


  1. Stewart, R.B., M. Oppenheimer, and B. Rudyk, 2015. A building blocks strategy for global climate change. In Towards a Workable and Effective Climate Regime. Eds. S. Barrett, C. Carraro, and J. de Melo. London: Centre for Economic Policy Research Press, 213-223.