A Missing Piece to the Implementation of the Paris Agreement

COP27 was meant to be the “Implementation COP.” But is implementation possible without a model of multilevel governance?

Scholars from the University of Pennsylvania are on the ground at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Follow their updates from the climate conference and tune into a special podcast series from Energy Policy Now.

COP27 was inaugurated as the “Implementation COP,” as the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary asked governments to shift their attention to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. With effective mitigation and adaptation against climate change requiring action at all levels of government, new initiatives to support multilevel governmental action have flourished, both at the meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the meetings of non-state attendees outside of the formal negotiations.

The proliferation of frameworks to enable mitigation and adaptation may not, however, succeed in accelerating the climate response without recognizing the need for multilevel governance. In this respect, the subsidiarity principle, which regulates the use of jurisdictional capacities across levels of government and requires that governmental action be taken at the lowest effective level of government whenever possible, is key to a successful implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Effective mitigation and adaptation require actions at all levels of government. A coordinated approach must include regulation across levels of government to collectively address climate change. The Paris Agreement, in its preamble, recognizes the importance of the engagement of all levels of government. As the product of an interstate process, however, the Paris Agreement stopped short of articulating a model for that multilevel governance. Instead, it took five COPs for multilevel action to be formally recognized by state parties.

With the rulebook of the Paris Agreement finalized last year, the focus has shifted to the implementation of the rules. At COP27, state and non-state actors have leveraged this opportunity to launch new initiatives to enable multilevel implementation, both within and outside of COP.

Within the COP process, the Egyptian presidency convened the first ministerial meeting on urbanization and climate change in the history of COP, with the hope that this meeting would be institutionalized over time. For the first time, mayors from various cities, including Oakland, CA and Utrecht in the Netherlands, addressed the state delegates in a formal COP meeting, challenging them to deliver the Paris Agreement by embracing a multilevel governmental response.

Outside the formal COP process, the Egyptian presidency launched the Sustainable Urban Resilience for the Next Generation (SURGe) initiative, in collaboration with UN-Habitat and with the facilitation of ICLEI—an NGO providing technical consulting to local governments to meet sustainability objectives—to enable climate finance to flow to cities.

Developed countries have also made concrete pledges to adaptation finance and embraced innovative frameworks for delivering finance directly to local governments, such as through the announced expansion of the LoCAL Facility hosted by the UN Capital Development Fund, which makes international funds directly available to local governments through budgetary top-ups earmarked for adaptation. Through the facility, eligible investments are co-designed by leaders from different levels of government—with the ultimate decisions made at the local level.

Such efforts to create enabling frameworks for multilevel governance are a step forward. It is unclear, however, whether the existing frameworks can scale up international climate finance and meaningfully support multilevel governance without clear principles underpinning multilevel climate governance. Which level of government should bear which responsibilities? What mechanisms should regulate the use of those jurisdictional capacities?

The climate crisis provides an opportunity to rethink multilevel governance and better harness local knowledge and capacity. Unsurprisingly, a system designed by nations for nations is unlikely to challenge the existing allocation of authority, let alone agree to defer to subnational governments.

Yet, stories of successful multilevel approaches to climate adaptation exist and inspire us. Kenya provides a noteworthy example. The Kenya County Climate Change Fund (CCCF) addresses both the decisionmaking and funding pieces of multilevel governance by devolving decision-making authority to the lowest level possible and creating inter-level budgetary incentives to coordinate adaptation planning decisions. This approach asks higher level authorities to refrain from acting; instead deferring to a lower level to accomplish the same objective whenever possible. The program was so successful that it is now financed by the World Bank.

These subsidiary success stories should inform the design of a multilevel climate governance model. If clearly articulated at COP, such a model would simultaneously scale up the flow of international climate finance to subnational governments and help improve our multilevel governance structures.

Paul-Angelo dell’Isola

Juris Doctor Student, Carey School of Law
Paul-Angelo dell’Isola is a juris doctor candidate and Franklin Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.