Discussion: The Regime Complex for Climate Change by Keohane and Victor

Our group read and discussed “The Regime Complex for Climate Change” by Robert O. Keohane and David G. Victor. Professor Keohane was visiting the Department of International Politics the day after our meeting, and so we thought that this an excellent opportunity to engage with his work on the environment.

Robert O. Keohane and David G. Victor. (2011). The Regime Complex for Climate Change. Perspectives on Politics 9/1, pp. 7-23.

In his article, Keohane builds on his ideas about regimes and institutions. The core of his argument is the following: In the case of climate change we encounter a regime-complex rather than a fully developed regime. Regime-complexes are a loosely connected complex of specific regimes (p. 7). While Keohane and Victor doubt that the current climate change regime complex will allow for achieving the needed emission reductions, they argue that regime complexes might proof to be advantageous under certain circumstances, especially with regard to their adaptability and flexibility. Adaptability and flexibility are assumed to create opportunities and room for “innovation clubs” to find new ways to tackle climate change (pp. 17-8).

Framing it …

Keohane and Victor include an overview of the climate regime complex (p. 10). As part of our discussion, we were wondering why certain aspects where prominently included (such as geoengineering governance for example) while others seemed to have been subsumed under larger headings (REDD and REDD+ were mentioned).

Furthermore, talking about a climate change regime-complex seems to be only one way of framing the debate. We were wondering about alternatives: what about a sustainable development regime-complex, or, more prominently with the upcoming RIO+20 conference in mind, a green-economy regime complex. Climate change might only be one way of framing the debate and efforts at regime building.

Believing in science and progress …

Keohane and Victor write: “Success in the formation of innovation clubs would eventually make most aspects of the climate change problem easier to solve and politically more sustainable.” (p. 18) They point to the success of the Ozone regime where the availability of a cheap new technology led to regime success. A belief system change around clean technology and green jobs could also strengthen interests groups in the areas thus leading to changes in policy (p. 19).

This was the starting point of discussion to look into the role of science in climate change policy. Going beyond the article, we questioned the belief in science and innovation as solutions to the climate change problem and the idea that technology that is yet to be invented will play a major role in addressing climate change in the future.

Some other comments …

Another point that came up during the discussion is the fact that questions of climate justice seemed to be absent. Although Keohane and Victor address the normative dimension of regime-complexes, this wider question of climate justice seemed to be missing.

In general, we wondered about the relationship between climate mitigation and adaptation. One group member put it poignantly: “Why bother with mitigation?” Indeed, we agreed that there seems to be a shift from mitigation to adaptation.

Invitation to further discuss …

Surely, I wasn’t able to cover all the points or nuances of our discussion. So, if you want to add a point from the discussion or based on your own engagement with Keohane and Victor, please feel free to comment.

More by Keohane on climate change can be found here.

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One Response to Discussion: The Regime Complex for Climate Change by Keohane and Victor

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