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The strength of weakness: pseudo-clubs in the climate regime

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The political utility of clubs hinges on their ability to provide excludable benefits to members. But in some cases of climate clubs, membership is not easily demarcated, and excludable benefits may be minimal. I argue that these governance initiatives—where membership is fluid and benefits are small—are more accurately defined as “pseudo-clubs.” Though they function differently than conventional clubs, “pseudo-clubs” can have considerable political utility. They can lay the foundations for emissions mitigation by solving technical problems associated with the measurement of GHGs. Moreover, since they have low entry costs and minimal sanctions, they can easily attract large numbers of users. With broad membership “pseudo-clubs” can help promote the uptake of standards, potentially solving coordination problems. However, since measurement is only a precursor to reduction, ultimately, incentives to measure will have to be coupled with rules to reduce emissions. Environmentally effective pseudo-clubs will eventually need the help of governments to shift from coordinating emissions measurement to cooperating on emissions reduction. Pseudo-clubs can serve as an initial building block toward meaningful climate action, but governments will have to finish the job.

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  1. Since creating this initial “corporate” standard in 2001, the GHG Protocol has issued a number of different standards, all with slightly different targets. See Green 2010, 2014.


  3. See CDP 2013 Scoring Methodology. Available at

  4. These benefits are excerpted directly from






  10. See

  11. As noted above, C40 is in the process of developing a standard for measuring and reporting city-level emissions. This component of the institution could be considered a pseudo club according to the definition set forth above.

  12. Granovetter himself notes that the strength of ties is generally recognizable on an “intuitive basis” (p. 1361).



  15. Lenox and Nash 2003 find that voluntary environmental clubs exhibit qualities of adverse selection, where the worst polluters are more likely to join clubs with weak rules – a clear form of greenwashing.

  16. Similar patterns of adoption are also occurring with actual clubs, such as voluntary offset standards. This demonstrates an additional route through which clubs might be an effective approach to GHG reduction—by paving the way for government action.



  19. See


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Correspondence to Jessica F. Green.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “Alternate Structures for Global Climate Action: Building Blocks Revisited ” edited by Richard B. Stewart and Bryce Rudyk.

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Green, J.F. The strength of weakness: pseudo-clubs in the climate regime. Climatic Change 144, 41–52 (2017).

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