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As climate leaders gather in Glasgow, Prof. Cary Coglianese’s scholarship illuminates the challenges facing the Paris Agreement

October 29, 2021

The Agreement’s structural limitations and increasing populism could inhibit the successful implementation of international climate mitigation strategies, observes Prof. Coglianese.

From October 31 through November 12, 2021, world leaders will convene in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26). As the biggest global meeting dedicated to tackling the climate crisis, it will bring leaders together in an effort to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Under the Paris Agreement, each country makes its own commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science“At this year’s climate summit in Glasgow, countries are being asked to renew and accelerate those commitments,” said Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science. “The challenges facing the international community are thus twofold: first, whether these commitments will be ambitious enough to stave off the worst ravages of climate change, and, second, whether countries will actually be able to deliver on their commitments.”

In a recent analysis, “Pledging, Populism and the Paris Agreement: The Paradox of a Management-Based Approach to Global Governance,” published in the Maryland Journal of International Law, Coglianese argues that the complications faced by the early implementation of the Paris Agreement reveal more than just the persistent challenges associated with international cooperation. They also reflect structural limitations inherent in the Agreement’s approach to climate governance, he writes.

Those structural limitations stem from the Paris Agreement’s “bottom up” approach, which expects each country to make and meet its own commitments. This approach, as Coglianese shows in his article, is similar to an approach common in national and local regulation known as “management-based regulation.”

“Although a management-based regulatory strategy may have been the best option available for securing a widespread global climate agreement,” writes Coglianese, “this strategy seems to offer little assurance of forward momentum on climate policy due to an inherent paradox created by the Agreement’s management-based design: global progress will depend on domestic politics.”

Most notably, he explores the rising tide of populism as a potential barrier to the successful implementation of the Agreement.

“[T]he Paris Agreement will succeed only if political efforts within individual countries push back the threat to global cooperation posed by populism and convince domestic leaders to support serious climate action,” he writes.

Approaching the issue from a separate but related angle in “Climate Change Necessitates Normative Change,” published in The Regulatory Review, Coglianese analyzes why, despite clearly identifiable solutions to climate change, humanity hasn’t made more progress in efforts to mitigate climate risk.

“The fundamental solution must address the ‘wicked’ structure of the climate problem and find a way to overcome the structural barriers to policy action,” he writes. “[S]ufficiently strong policy measures ultimately require a public drive for climate action that overcomes self-interested resistance.”

Coglianese specializes in the study of administrative law and regulatory processes and is the Director of the Penn Program on Regulation. He was a founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Regulation & Governance, and he founded and continues to serve as advisor to The Regulatory Review.

His research and scholarship focuses on the empirical evaluation of alternative processes and strategies in the role of public participation, technology, and business-government relations in policy-making.

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