Multi-stakeholder partnerships among states and non-state actors have become increasingly prevalent models for the delivery of global public goods. Various international organizations—particularly the United Nations entities—are pouring resources into large-scale efforts such as conferences and summits to promote partnerships. Are such efforts effective? If so, what is the causal mechanism at work?
Analyzing all major UN conferences and summits on climate change in the 2000-2015 period, this study finds that contrary to conventional wisdom, only two were successful in driving the growth of climate partnerships. Six organizational attributes acted as conditions of success for these efforts, enabling a mechanism this study labels the collective choreography of cooperation. They are: (1) strategic timing; (2) leaders’ level convening; (3) emphasis on ambitious, cooperative commitments; (4) sectoral orientation; (5) subsidiarity; and (6) leadership with centralized decision-making. Effective collective choreography requires high level convening power and autonomy of the summit host. Among international organizations, only the UN Secretary-General has both these two attributes. Gaining sufficient autonomy on climate change without alienating key member states took decades, during which successive Secretaries-General engaged in ‘conference activism’ and expanded the range and breadth of their good offices to help overcome intergovernmental gridlock and steer towards constructive outcomes.
Achieving the Paris Agreement goals is a global policy priority that requires exponential acceleration of climate partnerships across economic sectors during the first half of this century. A five-year choreography cycle led by the Secretary-General over the next thirty years, and coinciding with the Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement, could serve to achieve this policy priority.
Four features of the climate problem have made it conducive to collective choreography that are more or less characteristic of many other global governance challenges. (1) There is dispersed control over causes of the problem and over possible solutions. (2) Economic and social benefits to non-state actors for engaging in voluntary cooperation on climate change exist or can be made to exist. (3) Barriers to cooperation exist in the form of high transaction costs, risks, and limited trust. (4) The problem is mature enough that multilateral solutions had already been attempted, without success thus far. As such, this paper provides a basis for further investigation into the potential to apply collective choreography to other global public goods.