A multi-level climate club with national and sub-national members: Theory and application to US states

Nick Martin*, Jeroen C.J.M. Van Den Bergh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The minilateral approach of a climate club of countries has been suggested as an intermediate phase in a transition towards a global agreement that enforces national climate policies through harmonization. To garner critical mass, we propose an extended club configuration including sub-national states or provinces, resulting in a multi-level club. This would allow considerable contributions from important emitters like the US to be brought on board, relevant given its intended withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. We elaborate this idea and clarify potential roles of participants at distinct levels. The concept is operationalized by developing a method for identifying suitable entities at each level that uses a set of likelihood-of-involvement indicators capturing existing carbon dependence, public opinion, government policy and climate coalition membership. Application at the national level identifies a subset of seven of the highest emitting countries representing 21% of global emissions. This rises to 51% assuming that China, the dominant global emitter, could be enticed into the group. Given that US involvement remains unlikely for now, we illustrate selection at the sub-national level for US states. Here, an initial group of 21 states appear as potential members, jointly accounting for 36% of national emissions. An additional group, representing a further 34% of emissions, are potentially receptive to enticement via trade dependencies on four key countries identified within the group of national members. Accordingly, some 70% of US emissions, representing 11% of global totals, may be subject to climate club involvement via a combination of these pathways. While the implementation of such a club requires various political and legal hurdles to be overcome, the ongoing threat of climate change and inadequacies of the Paris Agreement suggest that novel solutions of this kind deserve serious attention from scientists and politicians.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124049
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2019


  • Carbon import tariff
  • Climate club
  • Climate policy
  • Paris agreement
  • Unfccc


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