Climate Change Politics

Posted: 15 May 2013

Date Written: May 2013


Within the past 25 years, climate change has evolved from an issue of interest primarily to some natural scientists into one of the top priorities on the global policy agenda. Research in political science and related fields offers systematic and empirically well-supported explanations for why solving the climate problem has turned out to be more difficult than originally anticipated. After reviewing this research, I focus on four areas in which we know less: (a) institutional design features that may help in mitigating or overcoming fundamental problems in the global cooperative effort; (b) factors that are driving variation in climate policies at national and subnational levels; (c) driving forces of climate policy beyond the state, in particular civil society, the science–policy interface, and public opinion; and (d) sociopolitical consequences of failing to avoid major climatic changes. The article concludes by identifying key questions at the micro, meso, and macro levels that should be addressed by political scientists in the coming years. In view of the fact that governance efforts at the global level are progressing very slowly, greater attention to bottom-up dynamics appears useful, both for analytical reasons (there is lots of variation to be explained) and for normative reasons.

Suggested Citation

Bernauer, Thomas, Climate Change Politics (May 2013). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 16, pp. 421-448, 2013. Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Bernauer (Contact Author)

ETH Zurich ( email )

Center for Comparative and International Studies
Building IFW, office 45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4
Zurich 8092, 8092
+41 44 632 6466 (Phone)
+41 44 632 1289 (Fax)


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