In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Climate Change and Politics

  • Introduction
  • Comparative Politics Perspectives on Climate Change Governance
  • Cities and Climate Change
  • Climate Change and Business
  • Climate Justice
  • Climate Change Skeptics and Deniers

Political Science Climate Change and Politics
Rüdiger Wurzel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0242


Since the 1990s, climate change has been transformed from a niche subject for political scientists primarily interested in environmental issues into an issue of major political, economic, and social significance that has been widely assessed by both international relations (IR) and comparative politics (CP) scholars. Climate change has become an issue of central importance not only for political scientists but also for policymakers. The social science literature on climate change– related issues has grown hugely. This bibliography provides the reader with a succinct guide to some of the most important political science publications on core climate change–related issues. The negotiations which followed the 1992 United Nations (UN) Rio Earth Summit that adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) firmly anchored climate change as an issue of central importance on the international political agenda. The UNFCCC was followed up with so-called Conferences of the Parties (COPs), which paved the way for the adoption of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement, both aimed at significantly reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The withdrawal by the United States from the Kyoto Protocol under President George W. Bush and the announcement by President Donald J. Trump that he may withdraw from the Paris Agreement did not halt international efforts to tackle climate change. While the United States abandoned its early climate leadership the European Union emerged as a leader in international climate change governance. China and India were initially reluctant to accept commitments to international greenhouse gas limitations but quickly expanded their domestic renewable energy capacities. It is not only state actors, international organizations (such as the United Nations), and the supranational European Union that have tried to provide leadership in climate change governance. Environmental NGOs, businesses, cities, and other subnational actors have also been key actors in climate change governance. In other words, an increasingly wider range of actors has pushed for the adoption of innovative policy measures at different levels of climate governance, including the international, supranational, national, and subnational levels. Because of its potential implications for national and international security, climate change has developed from a low politics issue into a high politics issue, and this has attracted the attention of political leaders who also need to concern themselves with climate justice and equity issues. All of these core issues are covered with relevant references in this article.

General Overviews

A large number of general surveys and handbooks on climate change governance issues have emerged. Reliable up-to-date information on international climate change issues can also be found on websites such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, while the Commission of the European Union offers information about the European Union’s climate change policies. A critical analytical perspective on climate change issues is offered on the website of the EU-funded Innovations in Climate Governance (INOGOV) program. A somewhat underrated early classic on global atmospheric change is Rowlands 1995. A broad general overview of different aspects of climate change is provided by Maslin 2014. Giddens 2011 offers a critical, succinct assessment of central climate change issues from a social science perspective. Good general overviews from international relations perspectives are provided by Boykoff 2010 (cited under Handbooks), Harris 2010, Hoffmann 2012, and Vogler 2016. An interdisciplinary perspective is offered by Bulkeley and Newell 2015. Where Newell and Paterson 2010 and Klein 2015 offer critiques of climate capitalism, Stern 2007 makes a strong case for using market-based instruments to tackle climate change. Siperstein, et al. 2017 (cited under Handbooks) offers interesting ideas about how to teach climate change in the humanities.

  • Bulkeley, H. A., and P. Newell. Governing Climate Change. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2015.

    This book takes an interdisciplinary perspective while drawing on geography, politics, and development studies in particular. It provides a brief history of climate change governance and covers issues such as equity, justice, and the politics of sustainable development. Its coverage includes the global and local climate governance levels for which useful empirical examples are provided. Provides a useful overview for academics, students, and practitioners.

  • Commission of the European Union.

    Website of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG Clima). Provides useful information and core documents on the European Union’s climate change policies as well as on developments in international climate change politics. The website is a useful source for anyone looking for primary documents about European Union climate policy.

  • Giddens, A. The Politics of Climate Change. 2d ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.

    Giddens’s book has become a classic that offers a critical analysis of why climate change has not been tackled more decisively. Students and scholars of climate change will find this interesting and helpful.

  • Harris, P. G., ed. Environmental Dynamics in International Affairs. London: Routledge, 2010.

    A helpful introduction that focuses primarily on the international politics of climate change. It contains chapters on the dynamics of and the reasons behind stalemates in the international climate change negotiations. Climate security and justice issues are also well covered in this book, which was first published as a special issue of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs.

  • Hoffmann, M. J. Climate Governance at the Crossroads. Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Argues that top-down multilateral climate governance at the international level ought to be supplemented or replaced with bottom-up climate innovations at transnational, national, and subnational governance levels. The importance of corporate actors and individuals is also highlighted.

  • Innovations in Climate Governance (INOGOV).

    The Innovations in Climate Governance (INOGOV) program, which has been financed by the European Union, aims to integrate a fragmented research landscape, build capacity, and to develop usable knowledge for policymakers and stakeholders. The INOGOV program has funded workshops, summer schools, and facilitated international research networks between experienced researchers, early career researchers, and postgraduate students. It offers policy briefs, (links to) publications, blogs, tweets, etc., for academics and advanced students as well as practitioners.

  • Klein, N. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. London: Allen Lane, 2015.

    Klein’s book offers a blistering attack on capitalism and big business, which she claims is responsible for climate change. Philanthropic billionaires who invest and/or donate large sums of money in technological solutions to abate greenhouse gases are seen as offering little more than greenwashing. Written in a highly readable investigative journalistic style, this book offers interesting examples and storylines.

  • Maslin, M. Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Focuses on core scientific, social, and political issues surrounding climate change. The politics of climate governance is not the main focus of this book; Maslin offers a good introduction to general climate change issues.

  • Newell, P., and M. Paterson. Climate Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511761850

    Offers a critique of the marketization of climate governance including the use of emissions trading schemes. It argues that global capitalism and free-market ideologies driven by powerful actors in business and finance are increasingly dominating international climate governance.

  • Rowlands, I. The Politics of Global Atmospheric Change. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995.

    This is a somewhat underrated classic. It offers a nuanced assessment of both climate change and ozone layer international governance. Rowlands’s analytical framework draws on power-, interest-, and knowledge-based perspectives to explain why the United States became an international leader in internal ozone layer politics while the European Union developed into an international climate change leader. Issues of equity and the rise of North–South issues play a prominent role in this book.

  • Stern, N. The Economics of Climate Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511817434

    Lord Stern, author of the seminal Stern Report, which was commissioned by the Treasury of the United Kingdom, makes a strong case for tackling climate change on economic grounds. Although it is likely to be most appreciated by readers with at least some basic knowledge of economics, it is also an important book for politics students and social scientists. It is aimed at advanced students and researchers.

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    The website by the United Nations provides a wealth of information on, for example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement as well as on the so-called Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the UNFCCC and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as agreed on under the Paris Agreement. It is a very useful source for academics, students, practitioners and NGOs interested in international climate governance.

  • Vogler, J. Climate Change in World Politics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137273413

    Vogler takes an international relations perspective while offering a detailed, critical analysis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It explains the politics of the international climate change negotiations while focusing, for example, on interests as well as climate justice issues.

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