A recent evaluation in the context of the United Nations’s first-ever Global Stocktake — an assessment of our climate action to date and a roadmap for where the world needs to be — finds that climate action is woefully insufficient. Crucially, the report underscores the urgent need for greater cooperation among governments on policy, finance, technology and other areas to get us there.

New WRI analysis shows that there has been a significant surge of new climate partnerships and alliances to tackle emissions involving national governments since the signing of the international Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015.  The report identified and analyzed 93 intergovernmental initiatives which include broad forums such as the Clean Energy Ministerial, the Global Methane Pledge and smaller and targeted coalitions such as G7’s Industrial Decarbonization Agenda. Yet, even with this increase, only a few initiatives have adopted key features for effective cooperation as most of these coalitions are focused on knowledge sharing. Very few are built around concrete agreements focused on policies and investment to drive emissions down at the country level.

It’s evident that individual country ambition needs urgent scaling up and enhanced cooperation has the potential to motivate countries to do more. For example, this can be done through sharing efforts, coordinating action and/or through financial and technical support.

As governments from around the globe prepare to gather for the UN’s annual conference on climate change (COP28) in Dubai at the end of the year, here’s what we know about the landscape of existing cooperative initiatives and the actions needed to advance collective progress. 

1) There’s a Notable Surge in Initiatives Since the Adoption of the Paris Agreement

Most of the of 93 intergovernmental initiatives that have been developed to accelerate mitigation action at the sector level were created in the previous eight years, most likely motivated by the Paris Agreement.  Given that, sector-level cooperation on mitigation is a relatively new occurrence.

Most of these initiatives have been initiated by governments from developed countries, generally in the context of a major event such as COP or an international summit. In a few cases, international organizations such as the International Renewable Energy Agency have served as conveners of efforts that are close to their objectives.  In general terms, the cooperation landscape has emerged in a bottom-up manner and based on the motivations of the actors (such as governments or international organizations) who have championed each initiative and their understandings of what is required to address climate change.

2) Participation Is Fragmented in a Landscape Dominated by Developed Countries

All countries are members of at least one climate initiative, with the exceptions of North Korea, Iran and Eritrea. However, large differences exist in terms of how many countries participate in specific sectors and the number of initiatives that each country is a member of.  Developed countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan, dominate a landscape of initiatives in which governments from Africa, Eastern Europe and small island developing states have low levels of engagement. Overall, large emitters from all geographies are actively engaged but not always in initiatives with the highest potential for effective cooperation. Engagement is fragmented in sectors like industry, transport and buildings. In fact, only a small percentage of initiatives gather members representing a large portion of the respective sectoral emissions. 

3) The Cooperation Landscape Is Most Prominent in Energy Supply

Intergovernmental initiatives cover all important emitting sectors with the large majority (28%) dedicated to energy supply. The subject of cooperation is varied with initiatives addressing different aspects of climate change mitigation. For example, cooperation on energy supply includes initiatives around the phasing down of fossil fuels, renewable energy technologies, smart grids and others, while cooperation on transport is mostly focused on zero-emission vehicles.

Crosscutting initiatives that target specific technologies such as carbon capture and storage, low-emissions hydrogen production and biofuels are relevant across multiple sectors, including energy supply, industry, transport and buildings.

4) Many Initiatives Are Aimed at Sharing Knowledge While Only a Few Seek Effective Cooperation for Climate Policy or Investment

Ultimately, cooperative initiatives among governments should enable and trigger mitigation action at the national level, consistent with the aims of the Paris Agreement. Essential elements for effective cooperation include aiming to advance action at the country level, the designation of quantitative targets based on science, the involvement and direction of high levels of government and the supply of technical and financial support. Other elements such as secretariats and robust transparency arrangements inject process and efficiency into the cooperation process.

Examples of initiatives with some of the right elements for effective cooperation include the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and the Green Public Procurement Campaign of the Clean Energy Ministerial because they set specific country-level deliverables and targets, are supported by proper institutions and have some degree of financial support. However, more is needed to adequately address the needs of developing countries.   

Analyzing the elements in WRI's research on intergovernmental cooperation shows:

  • Most (70%) cooperative initiatives have been established as forums for sharing knowledge, which entail exchange of experiences and lessons, and in some cases, some coordination of activities. Success depends on the participants’ capacity and authority to apply this knowledge in their respective countries. 
  • Another set of initiatives involve global pledges, where a group of countries agrees on delivering, as a group, a shared target. This model provides some incentive for cooperation, but its success depends on the willingness and determination of each nation to deliver enough action at home to achieve the pledge. 
  • Finally, only a small portion of initiatives seek deeper cooperation aimed at the formulation and implementation of policies by individual countries, the delivery of sectoral targets or sharing the costs and benefits of technological development. Arguably, the identification of country specific commitments provides enough incentives to secure their delivery.

There's also a limited and fragmented use of quantitative targets, gaps in financial and technical mechanisms to support action and weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation, which is the basis for accountability.

Gleaning from the Gaps

Better cooperation between governments is essential to address the climate crisis. It is important to have venues to share different perspectives on what actions are needed, who has the capacity to take them and what responsibility countries have at home and abroad. The current landscape of initiatives represents a good starting point with some general directions for strengthening cooperation, including:

  • Identifying and agreeing on goals for sectoral decarbonization, identifying benchmarks, adopting science-based targets and developing road maps to guide sectoral transformation.
  • Undertaking efforts to secure a critical mass of governments and, in particular, to increase participation by developing countries — for example, by enhancing financial and technical assistance mechanisms and supporting the development of cooperation arrangements within specific regions and led by developing countries.
  • Moving beyond the sharing of experiences and knowledge toward agreements to implement specific policies for guiding investment, scaling-up research, development and dissemination of green technologies, and increasing public climate finance to accelerate these two directions.
  • Strengthening financial and technical support to members and enhancing operational features such as transparency mechanisms.

The need for more effective cooperation and credible initiatives among governments for bridging the ambition and implementation gap will likely be highlighted at the COP28 climate conference at the end of the year. Governments should take this unprecedented opportunity to reflect on strengthening the current landscape and pursuing new and more targeted modes of cooperation that can bridge the differences between countries poor and rich, producers and consumers, and large emitters and vulnerable countries.