Opinion & Analysis

Managing climate cooperation in the EU’s neighbourhood

The European Union increasingly relies on regional cooperation to govern climate change outside its borders. But what explains the EU’s engagement in climate governance in the European neighbourhood? Drawing on network governance theory and a new dataset, Karina Shyrokykh and Lisa Dellmuth show the EU is motivated both by self-interest and functional considerations when helping partner countries to improve their climate change adaptation and mitigation policies.

Climate change poses a transboundary policy challenge, as it cannot be handled unilaterally. In the absence of international cooperation among partner states, climate policies become uncoordinated and inefficient. The EU is often referred to as one of the leading actors in global climate governance, in general, and in the European Neighbourhood Policy region, in particular.

To coordinate efforts to combat the threats posed by climate change for nature and societies, the EU uses various instruments. Unlike the instruments that the EU can apply unilaterally, such as conditionality attached to trade agreements or climate diplomacy, climate policy networks build on horizontal ties between the EU and third countries.

In a new study, we (along with our co-author Elisa Funk) examine the determinants of the EU’s resource allocation in EU climate networks with its neighbours. We analyse longitudinal data to examine the first generation of EU regional climate projects in the European Neighbourhood Policy region: Clima East and Clima South.

These projects were active from 2013 until 2018 with the aim of improving policies, strategies, and market mechanisms relevant for adaptation and mitigation by fostering regional cooperation on climate change. The dataset we used uniquely distinguishes between adaptation, or the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, and mitigation, which refers to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – two central pillars of climate policy in the Bali Action Plan of 2007 and in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Cooperation on climate change

We approach EU climate cooperation with the European Neighbourhood Policy countries as policy networks that build on horizontal ties between countries. Similar to international organisations, policy networks reduce transaction costs and provide information that facilitates both effective monitoring and flexible problem-solving at the international level. Unlike the cooperation that takes place within international organisations, however, policy networks cannot take recourse to enforcement mechanisms.

Policy networks do not emerge spontaneously as self-sufficient and autonomous entities; both the operational and strategic character of networks depends on the actions of network managers. Network management refers to activities intended to steer interactions between network participants to enhance collective efficiency.

In climate governance in the European Neighbourhood Policy region, the EU acts as a network manager. Unlike in other policy networks in which cooperation is demand-driven, priorities for cooperation in Clima East and Clima South were rather supply-side spearheaded by the EU’s policies on neighbouring countries. A particular emphasis was put on the areas of agriculture, biodiversity, forests, energy, health, disaster risks, and water management.

Explaining resource allocation in climate networks

Building on network governance theory, we develop and empirically test three theoretical expectations which individually highlight the role of interdependencies, partner countries’ needs, and climate risks by partner countries.

The results from this analysis suggest that the EU climate networks are both cohesive and fluid at the same time. They are cohesive in the way the EU allocates resources in climate networks – both types of networks are allocated to address interdependencies and to improve partner states’ institutional capacity. The results also indicate some degree of fluidity in climate networks.

The effects of interdependence as defined by geographic proximity are larger when we consider resource allocation to adaptation compared to mitigation. Indeed, flawed adaptation could fail to prevent physical damage from extreme weather events to local areas. For example, if water dumps and related infrastructure in a neighbouring country are not climate-resilient, devastating cross-border effects can affect EU member states.

In fact, adaptation is largely discussed in the context of disaster risks and cross-border effects of climate change have been highlighted among other reasons to promote adaptation in neighbourhood countries. Thus, the observed differences between cooperation on adaptation and mitigation further support our interpretation of the results as evidence for the EU’s cohesive and strategic considerations and self-interest in climate networks in the European Neighbourhood Policy region.

Likewise, we detect differences in the effects of trade interdependence on resource allocation. The stronger trade interdependence, the more resources are allocated for climate change mitigation networks. These results underpin a common assumption made in network theory that policy networks are fluid and adaptive – in other words, they are established to address a particular structure of interdependencies.

In all, our study makes three contributions. First, we show that the EU’s adaptation and mitigation networks in the European Neighbourhood Policy region serve the EU’s interests in managing its external dependencies on the European Neighbourhood Policy countries. Second, our results indicate that climate networks on adaptation and mitigation also serve to improve partner countries’ institutional capacities. Using its power to decide on the scope of adaptation and mitigation policy networks, the EU tends to prioritise some cooperation foci and partners over others. These findings contribute to the understanding of the role of the EU as a network manager driven by multiple motivations.

Third, our study is the first to examine the functions of adaptation and mitigation policy networks in EU regional climate projects separately, rather than focusing on climate or environmental policy networks in general, as done in previous research. We demonstrate that EU climate networks are fluid in the sense that they allow for flexible resource allocation depending on context. Mitigation received more attention from the EU in the projects addressing a complex interdependence structure with the neighbours. Adaptation cooperation is more likely to target closely located countries, given the potentially devastating effects of insufficient adaptation or maladaptation, which occurs when adaptation actions exacerbate vulnerability.

About the authors:

Karina Shyrokykh

Karina Shyrokykh is an Associate Professor (Docent) in International Relations in the Department of Economic History and International Relations at Stockholm University.

Lisa Dellmuth

Lisa Dellmuth is a Professor of International Relations in the Department of Economic History and International Relations at Stockholm University.

Access the original publication here
© European Union, 2020, Source: Council of the EU – Audiovisual resources