Participation in International Cooperative Initiatives (ICIs) – Incentivising and Enhancing Local Non-State Actors in Sustainable Transitions in the Global South.
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As the world faces sustainability challenges due to the effects of climate change, the global environmental governance landscape is striving to implement innovative solutions that can restore ecosystems. Due to the alarmingly limited capacity of national governments to guide society towards safe pathways of climate adaptation and mitigation, a wide range of non-state and subnational actors are increasingly engaging in the pursuit of this goal. Research investigating the effectiveness of non- state and subnational efforts is still limited and mainly concerned with estimating mitigation potential, often capturing their impact only in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions. This research contributes to the discussion by examining the role of International Cooperative Initiatives (ICIs), which involve non-state and subnational actors working across national borders to steer society towards a common goal. The potential of these actors lies in their structural elements, i.e., multi-level governance and transnational reach, which can foster their success. However, as the design of these institutions is often studied through an exclusive governance theory lens, the literature is limited in understanding the role of ICIs in achieving sustainable goals involving sectoral transitions and in understanding how ICIs can deploy their role in society to incentivise and enhance local collective action. This study develops a broader approach to examine the role of these actors. The analysis framework integrates governance concepts with insights from transition theory. Implementing this approach through a combination of methodologies, i.e., a large-N survey and a small-N study involving desk research and case studies, it explores the practices that ICIs deploy to promote purpose-driven collective climate action and enhance existing local efforts. The selected case studies are located in the Global South, where local communities are most at risk of extreme weather events and interventions are most urgent. The findings contextualise the role and potential of ICIs by analysing ongoing transitions in the agri- food, healthcare, and forest management sectors. In particular, the research looks at the requirements that local actors have to fulfil in order to be part of these international networks, the engagement of ICIs with local actors and the social platforms that have been built, and the perceived benefits of ICI representatives and their participants in belonging to these networks. In the light of the results, the research finally discusses the opportunities that emerged to stimulate and enhance climate action by local actors and highlights the common weaknesses that appeared empirically from the case studies considered.