Home > Free Essays > Environment > Climate Change > Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories
Cite this

Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories Essay


Climate change (CC) sprouts multiple wicked issues that require extensive governance at multiple levels, which has spurred the development of the theory and practice of climate change governance (CCG). The present paper offers an overview of CCG and includes the relevant definitions, describes the complex relationships between the relevant actors at different levels, and discusses theoretical perspectives and conceptual difficulties related to the topic.

Definitions and Key Aspects

CC is the result of the Earth being “changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions” (Pittock 2013, p. 277). The humanity contributes to CC and suffers from its numerous impacts, including direct (for example, biodiversity is affected by the changes in the environment) and indirect ones (for instance, the difficulties in supply because of reduced crop yields resulting from changes in the rainfall) (Pittock 2013, p. 108).

Wicked problems are the “large and enduring policy dilemmas in which multiple and compounding risks and uncertainties combine with sharply divergent public values to generate contentious political stalemates” (ISSC & UNESCO 2013, p. 609). An example of a wicked environmental problem is a conflict over natural recourses and their use, which is being complicated (made wicked) by the changes in the amounts of the resources related to CC (ISSC & UNESCO 2013). To manage the wicked problems and CC, climate policies are being introduced at the international and national level, and the concept and practice of CCG are being developed (Harrison & Sundstrom 2010).

CCG Example: The EU

The EU is a major force that has been contributing to the promotion of CCG (in particular, the Kyoto Protocol ratification) and pushing other countries to engage in CCG to a greater extent than they were initially ready to do. The Union has had to manage internal (national-level) and external (international) resistance. For example, Germany was originally reluctant to reduce carbon emissions, and after the US had withdrawn from the Protocol agreement, the EU had to negotiate with other countries, which had noticeably smaller emission percentages (Schreurs & Tiberghien 2010, p. 23).

As pointed out by Schreurs and Tiberghien (2010), the leadership position of Europe in the field of CCG, which is largely based on leading by its example of innovation and cooperation, emerged from the complex relationships of its internal actors and required the coordination of their actions in the conditions of decentralised governance. The authors demonstrate that the pioneering states (Spain, the UK, and some others) and governing organisations (the European Parliament, the European Commission) took up leadership roles due to the strong public support. This example illustrates the relationships between relevant actors at multiple levels of CCG.

The Relationships of the Actors and Institutions in CCG

There are several levels of CCG, where actors are affected by different factors. The political actors can take key roles in CCG processes, but the weight of individual political figures and parties depends on the organisation of a country. For example, Harrison and Sundstrom (2010, p. 4) demonstrate how the existence of proportional electoral systems can improve the effectiveness of the green initiatives while the veto points created by the horizontal authority are more likely to hold environment-friendly policy development back.

The voters are also an important political “actor.” As pointed out by Harrison and Sundstrom (2010), the idea of environment protection generally receives the public acclaim in the majority of countries, but the attention that is paid to the issue by the population is often very limited, which is why the actual electoral pressure is not sufficient to promote CCG ideas in the government.

Apart from the political actors, economic ones are not unlikely to affect decision-making, which, according to Harrison and Sundstrom (2010) has already happened in the history of the ratification process. For example, the Kyoto Protocol was mostly ratified by the countries that did not have to achieve emission targets while those with targets were more reluctant in anticipation of the costly changes and actions.

As a result, the combination of the inertia exhibited by various actors can lead to a sceptic attitude towards CCG. A countering force can be found among multiple environmental organisations and groups that seek to promote “green” initiatives by influencing the electorate and the political actors. Harrison and Sundstrom (2010) demonstrate how the increased salience becomes the force that affects voters as well as politicians, which illustrates the potential of an environmental group’s influence.

Apart from the internal actors, the external ones are of importance for the national CCG, especially in case the country is involved in a multilateral agreement (Harrison & Sundstrom 2010). Examples of international actors include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN with its global Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the World Wildlife Fond (Pittock 2013). Also, the EU can be regarded as an external actor, for instance, for the US.

Actors’ Relationships Example: The US

Initially, the US was reluctant to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which could be explained by the daunting prospect of the most challenging CO2 emission reduction. Instead, the country adopted its federal CCG policies, which have been defined as rather weak. Apart from that, it did not stop the development of voluntary environmental activities, which grew into established and reputable groups that, however, used to lack public support (Harrison 2010; Pittock 2013).

According to Harrison (2010), this lack of support was one of the key factors that contributed to this lack of interest in CCG in the US in the past decades. This factor was also combined with an active business opposition and the federal political organisation of the country, which contributed to the difficulties in coordination. At the same time, Harrison (2010) demonstrates that the situation is changing: state-level CCG takes place as the electorate’s attention towards CC increases, which implies that in the future, the level of the cooperation of the US in international CCG is also going to increase.

Theoretical Perspectives and Debates

The theory of governance and CCG is being developed very actively nowadays through research and experiments that involve the collaboration of governmental, scientific, and other actors (Hoffmann 2011). The following recent theoretical approaches and related debates can be of interest when reviewing the topic of CCG.

Top-Down and Bottom-Up

An important aspect of governance is the direction of the approach: top-down or bottom-up. Top-down policy-making is more traditional, and it has the advantage of having the full-picture view and being centralised and coordinated. However, it has been criticised for lacking the responsiveness and awareness of the realities and specifics of the diverse communities situated at the “bottom.” As a result, ISSC and UNESCO (2013) recommend uniting the top-down approach with the bottom-up one to maximise the positive outcomes.

Here, network governance can be mentioned as a form of democratic, anti-top-down governance. Network governance can be described as “governing with and through networks” of independent actors by organising their interactions and ensuring collaboration (Termeer, Dewulf & Breeman 2013, p. 33). The types of networks can vary in the level of their centralisation and coordination, but their informal and independent nature suggests the lack of hierarchy per se.

Market-Based Approach

Given the pressure of the economic actors and factors, the market-based approach to CCG was developed. It consists of various tools and instruments that are supposed to be used as an economic incentive. They include, for example, the emission trading introduced by the Kyoto Protocol, which, however, appears to fail to have an impact on the carbon emissions and was criticised because of this fact (Brunnengräber 2013).

A form of market-based approach (or, rather, its vision) is termed as “green economy,” which envisions the opportunity for the sustainable development of the economy that is based on innovation and efficient resources use (ISSC & UNESCO 2013, p. 289). “Green economy” is expected to contribute to the sustainability of economic development, which is beneficial for business, but the efforts that are necessary for its establishment may amount to major restructuring and require noticeable inputs of resources (ISSC & UNESCO 2013, p. 291). As a result, the global adoption of a “green economy” does not appear to happen shortly.

Adaptive Governance

Adaptive governance (AG) is a relatively new theoretical approach that focuses on the need to adapt to the changing environment while preserving the identity of an organisation or movement. An important concept of AG is the uncertainty (unpredictability) that makes it difficult but necessary to observe the signals which may potentially indicate the upcoming change.

To ensure resilience, this awareness is supposed to be supplied with robust yet flexible strategies and policies, and adaptive capacities. The major issue of AG consists in the fact that it requires restructuring and it may be difficult to implement on levels other than the local one (Termeer, Dewulf & Breeman 2013, p. 34-37).

Key Conceptual Difficulties in CCG

CC and related wicked problems are complicated issues, and CCG faces multiple difficulties in theory and practice, including conceptual ones. In particular, ISSC and UNESCO (2013, p. 322) highlight the fact that CCG is a multidisciplinary phenomenon, which presupposes challenge of coordinating and integrating the branches of science and areas of practice to develop new systemic, multidimensional approaches to the resolution of wicked problems. The difficulty of aligning the disciplinary efforts is mirrored by the requirement to align the efforts of the actors involved in the theory and practice of CCG (ISSC & UNESCO 2013, p. 203).

Also, a significant conceptual difficulty consists in the need to prioritise the research, actions, and resource allocation at various levels (ISSC & UNESCO 2013, p. 77). Apart from that, Head and Alford (2013) point out that the difficulty of defining the role of the government is an important conceptual issue for CCG and the management of wicked problems. The authors point out the dangers of overlooking the potential of bottom-up methods and emphasise that the “complexity, diversity, and uncertainty” of the wicked problems proceed to impair the governments’ ability to respond to the issues (Head & Alford 2013, p. 5), which calls for changes.


The present paper provides a brief overview of the theoretical and practical aspects of CCG and demonstrates that the complex and wicked CC issues require complex solutions. In CCG, the solutions demand the cooperation of science, policy, and practice and the respective multiple actors, who act at various levels, in the process of developing and implementing the advances of the theory of CCG, which is rapidly expanding to eliminate the lingering uncertainties, resolve difficulties, and inform CCG decisions worldwide.

Reference List

Brunnengräber, A 2013, ‘Multi-Level Climate Governance’, in WL Filho & J Knieling (eds), Climate Change Governance, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, pp 67-85.

Harrison, K & Sundstrom, L 2010, ‘Introduction: Global commons, domestic decisions’, in K Harrison & L Sundstrom (eds), Global commons, domestic decisions, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-23.

Harrison, K 2010, ‘The United States as outlier: Economic and institutional challenges to US climate policy’, in K Harrison & L Sundstrom (eds), Global commons, domestic decisions, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-23.

Head, B & Alford, J 2013, ‘Wicked Problems: Implications for Public Policy and Management’, Administration & Society, vol. 47, no. 6, pp. 711-739.

Hoffmann, M 2011, Climate governance at the crossroads, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

ISSC & UNESCO 2013, World Social Science Report 2013, Changing Global Environments, OECD Publishing and UNESCO Publishing, Paris.

Pittock, AB 2013, Climate change: The science, impacts and solutions, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Schreurs, MA & Tiberghien, Y 2010, ‘European Union Leadership in Climate Change: Mitigation through Multilevel Reinforcement’, in K Harrison & L Sundstrom (eds), Global commons, domestic decisions, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 23-67.

Termeer, C, Dewulf, A & Breeman, G 2013, ‘Governance of wicked climate adaptation problems’, in WL Filho & J Knieling (eds), Climate Change Governance, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, pp 27-41.

This essay on Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

301 certified writers online

Cite This paper

Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2020, August 13). Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/climate-change-governance-concepts-and-theories/

Work Cited

"Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories." IvyPanda, 13 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/climate-change-governance-concepts-and-theories/.

1. IvyPanda. "Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories." August 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/climate-change-governance-concepts-and-theories/.


IvyPanda. "Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories." August 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/climate-change-governance-concepts-and-theories/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories." August 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/climate-change-governance-concepts-and-theories/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Climate Change Governance: Concepts and Theories'. 13 August.

More related papers