Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-xfwgj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-16T09:01:39.094Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Political Strategies to Overcome Climate Policy Obstructionism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2022


Great socioeconomic transitions bring about the demise of certain industries and the rise of others. The losers of the transition tend to deploy a variety of tactics to obstruct change. We develop a political-economy model of interest group competition and garner evidence of tactics deployed in the global climate movement. From this we deduce a set of strategies for how the climate movement competes against entrenched hydrocarbon interests. Five strategies for overcoming obstructionism emerge: (1) appeasement, which involves compensating the losers; (2) co-optation, which seeks to instigate change by working with incumbents; (3) institutionalism, which involves changes to public institutions to support decarbonization; (4) antagonism, which creates reputational or litigation costs to inaction; and (5) countervailance, which makes low-carbon alternatives more competitive. We argue that each strategy addresses the problem of obstructionism through a different lens, reflecting a diversity of actors and theories of change within the climate movement. The choice of which strategy to pursue depends on the institutional context.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:


Aguirre, Jessica C. 2021. “The Little Hedge Fund Taking down Big Oil.” New York Times, June 23, 2021. Scholar
Aklin, Michaël, and Urpelainen, Johannes. 2013. “Political Competition, Path Dependence, and the Strategy of Sustainable Energy Transitions.” American Journal of Political Science 57, no. 3: 643–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). 2021. ARC’s POWER Initiative. Scholar
Ard, Kerry, Garcia, Nick, and Kelly, Paige. 2017. “Another Avenue of Action: An Examination of Climate Change Countermovement Industries’ Use of PAC Donations and their Relationship to Congressional Voting over Time.” Environmental Politics 26, no. 6: 1107–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bacon, Wendy. 2013. “Sceptical Climate Part 2: Climate Science in Australian Newspapers.” Australian Centre for Independent Journalism 1222.Google Scholar
Bertrand, Marianne, Bombardini, Matilde, Fisman, Raymond, and Trebbi, Francesco. 2020. “Tax-Exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy as a Tool for Political Influence.” American Economic Review 110, no. 7: 20652102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
i Vidal, Blanes, Jordi, Mirko Draca, and Fons-Rosen, Christian. 2012. “Revolving Door Lobbyists.” American Economic Review 102, no. 7: 3731–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Breetz, Hanna, Mildenberger, Matto, and Stokes, Leah. 2018. “The Political Logics of Clean Energy Transitions.” Business and Politics 20, no. 4: 492522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brower, Derek, Aliaj, Ortenca. 2021. “Engine No 1, the Giant-Killing Hedge Fund, Has Big Plans.” Financial Times, June 3, 2021. Scholar
Brulle, Robert J. 2014Institutionalizing Delay: Foundation Funding and the Creation of US Climate Change Counter-Movement Organizations.” Climatic Change 122, no. 4: 681–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brulle, Robert J. 2018. “The Climate Lobby: A Sectoral Analysis of Lobbying Spending on Climate Change in the USA, 2000 to 2016.” Climatic Change 149, no. 3: 289303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brulle, Robert J. 2019. “Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis of US Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989–2015.” Sociological Inquiry 91, no. 3: 603–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brulle, Robert J., Carmichael, Jason, and Jenkins, J. Craig. 2012. “Shifting Public Opinion on Climate Change: An Empirical Assessment of Factors Influencing Concern over Climate Change in the US, 2002–2010.” Climatic Change 114, no. 2: 169–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, J. 2015. “Greenpeace Bank Accounts Frozen by Indian Government.” The Guardian, April 10, 2015. Scholar
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). 2021. California Solar Initiative (CSI). Scholar
Chamon, Marcos, and Kaplan, Ethan. 2013. “The Iceberg Theory of Campaign Contributions: Political Threats and Interest Group Behavior.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 5, no. 1: 131.Google Scholar
Clark, Cynthia E., and Crawford, Elise Perrault. 2012Influencing Climate Change Policy: The Effect of Shareholder Pressure and Firm Environmental Performance.” Business & Society 51, no. 1: 148–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Climate Action 100+. 2021Investors | Climate Action 100+. Scholar
Colgan, Jeff, Green, Jessica, and Hale, Thomas. 2020. “Asset Revaluation and the Existential Politics of Climate Change.” International Organization 75, no. 2: 125.Google Scholar
Congressional Research Service (CRS). 2019The POWER Initiative: Energy Transition as Economic Development. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.Google Scholar
Dafermos, Yannis, Nikolaidi, Maria, and Galanis, Giorgos. 2018. “Climate Change, Financial Stability and Monetary Policy.” Ecological Economics 152: 219–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dal Bó, Ernesto, and Di Tella, Rafael. 2003. “Capture by Threat.” Journal of Political Economy 111, no. 5: 1123–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DellaVigna, Stefano, Durante, Ruben, Knight, Brian, and La Ferrara, Eliana. 2016. “Market-Based Lobbying: Evidence from Advertising Spending in Italy.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8, no. 1: 224–56.Google Scholar
Douglass, Frederick. 1979. The Frederick Douglass Papers: 1855-63. vol. 3. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Druckman, James N., and McGrath, Mary C.. 2019. “The Evidence for Motivated Reasoning in Climate Change Preference Formation.” Nature Climate Change 9, no. 2: 111–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Engine No.1. 2021. Engine No.1–Homepage. Scholar
Esfahani, Asal, Chan, Cherie, Westling, Christopher, Petrofsky, Erica, Litwin, Joshua, Jimenez-Petchumrus, Narissa, and Francisco, Tory. 2021. 2021 California Solar Initiative Annual Program Assessment. California Public Utilities Commission. Scholar
European Commission. 2021. “State Aid: Commission Opens In-Depth Investigation into Compensation for Early Closure of Lignite-Fired Power Plants in Germany.” Press Release, March 2, 2021. Scholar
Farmer, Doynem and Lafond, Francois., 2016. “How Predictable Is Technological Progress?Research Policy 45, no. 3: 647–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Farmer, Doyne, Hepburn, Cameron, Ives, Matthew, Hale, Thomas, Wetzer, Thom, Mealy, Penny, Rafaty, Ryan, Srivastav, Sugandha, and Way, Rupert. 2019. “Sensitive Intervention Points in the Post-Carbon Transition.” Science 364, no. 6436: 132–34.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Farrell, Justin. 2016. “Corporate Funding and Ideological Polarization about Climate Change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 1: 9297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Farrell, Justin., 2019. “The Growth of Climate Change Misinformation in US Philanthropy: Evidence from Natural Language Processing.” Environmental Research Letters 14, no. 3: 034013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fink, Larry. 2021. “Larry Fink’s 2021 Letter to CEOs.” BlackRock, Inc. Scholar
Gamson, William A., and Meyer, David S.. 1996. “Framing Political Opportunity.” In Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings, eds. McAdam, Doug, McCarthy, John D., and Zald, Mayer N., 275–90. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, Jessica, Hadden, Jennifer, Hale, Thomas, and Mahdavi, Paasha. 2021. “Transition, Hedge, or Resist? Understanding Political and Economic Behavior toward Decarbonization in the Oil and Gas Industry.” Review of International Political Economy 128.Google Scholar
Gullberg, Anne Therese. 2008. “Lobbying Friends and Foes in Climate Policy: The Case of Business and Environmental Interest Groups in the European Union.” Energy Policy 36, no. 8: 2964–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hart, P. Sol, and Nisbet, Erik C.. 2012. “Boomerang Effects in Science Communication: How Motivated Reasoning and Identity Cues Amplify Opinion Polarization about Climate Mitigation Policies.” Communication Research 39, no. 6: 701–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hayes, Chris. 2014. “The New Abolitionism.” The Nation. Scholar
Heerma van Voss, Bas and Rafaty, Ryan. 2022. “Sensitive Intervention Points in China’s Coal Phaseout.” Energy Policy 163: 112797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hepburn, Cameron, O’Callaghan, Brian, Stern, Nick, Stiglitz, Joseph, and Zenghelis, Dimitry. 2020. “Will COVID-19 Fiscal Recovery Packages Accelerate or Retard Progress on Climate Change?Oxford Review of Economic Policy 36, no 1: S359–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keohane, R. O. 2015. “The Global Politics of Climate Change: Challenge for Political SciencePS: Political Science & Politics 48, no. 1: 1926.Google Scholar
Leonard, Christopher. 2020. Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
Markard, Jochen, and Rosenbloom, Daniel. 2020. “Political Conflict and Climate Policy: The European Emissions Trading System as a Trojan Horse for the Low-Carbon Transition?” Climate Policy 20, no. 9: 10921111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McKie, Ruth E. 2019. “Climate Change Counter Movement Neutralization Techniques: A Typology to Examine the Climate Change Counter Movement.” Sociological Inquiry 89, no. 2: 288316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meckling, Jonas. 2019. “Governing Renewables: Policy Feedback in a Global Energy Transition.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37, no. 2: 317–38.Google Scholar
Meckling, Jonas, Sterner, Thomas, and Wagner, Gernot. 2017. “Policy Sequencing toward Decarbonization.” Nature Energy 2, no. 12: 918–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mercure, J.-F., Pollitt, Hector, Viñuales, Jorge E., Edwards, Neil R., Holden, Philip B., Chewpreecha, Unnada, Salas, Pablo, Sognnaes, Ida, Lam, Aileen, and Knobloch, Florian. 2018. “Macroeconomic Impact of Stranded Fossil Fuel Assets.” Nature Climate Change 8, no. 7: 588–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mildenberger, Matto. (2020). Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mildenberger, Matto, and Tingley, Dustin. 2019. “Beliefs about Climate Beliefs: The Importance of Second-Order Opinions for Climate Politics.” British Journal of Political Science 49, no. 4: 12791307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nandi, Jayashree. 2020. “3 Green Youth Movements Allege Digital Censorship.” Hindustan Times. Scholar
Oreskes, Naomi, and Conway, Erik M.. 2011. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
Potomac Economics. 2010. Annual Report on the Market for RGGI CO2 Allowances: 2009. Scholar
Rafaty, Ryan, Srivastav, Sugandha. and Hoops, Bjorn. 2020. Revoking Coal Mining Permits: An Economic and Legal Analysis. Climate Policy 117.Google Scholar
Robinson, E., and Robbins, R. C.. 1968. Sources, Abundance, and Fate of Gaseous Atmospheric Pollutants. Final Report and Supplement. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Research Institute.Google Scholar
Rochedo, Pedro R. R., Soares-Filho, Britaldo, Schaeffer, Roberto, Viola, Eduardo, Szklo, Alexandre, Lucena, André FP, Koberle, Alexandre, Davis, Juliana Leroy, Rajão, Raoni, and Rathmann, Regis. 2018. “The Threat of Political Bargaining to Climate Mitigation in Brazil.” Nature Climate Change 8, no. 8: 695–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Misato, Sato, Rafaty, Ryan, Calel, Raphael and Grubb, Michael. 2022. “Allocation, Allocation, Allocation! The Political Economy of the Development of the EU ETS.” WIREs Climate Change. DOI: Scholar
Club, Sierra. 2021bWe’re Moving beyond Coal and Gas | Beyond Coal. Scholar
Skovgaard, Jakob, and van Asselt, Harro. 2018. The Politics of Fossil Fuel Subsidies and their Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stokes, Leah Cardamore. 2020. Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
White House. 2015. FACT SHEET: The Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. Washington, DC: White House, Office of the Press Secretary.Google Scholar
Tong, D., Zhang, Q., Zheng, Y., Caldeira, K., Shearer, C., Hong, C., Qin, Y., and Davis, S. J.. 2019. “Committed Emissions from Existing Energy Infrastructure Jeopardize 1.5 C Climate Target.” Nature 572, no. 7769: 373–77.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Vesa, Juho, Gronow, Antti, and Ylä-Anttila, Tuomas. 2020. “The Quiet Opposition: How the Pro-Economy Lobby Influences Climate Policy.” Global Environmental Change 63: 102–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wettengel, Julian. 2020. “Spelling out the Coal Exit—Germany’s Phase-Out Plan.” Clean Energy Wire. Scholar
Wonneberger, Anke, and Vliegenthart, Rens. 2021. “Agenda-Setting Effects of Climate Change Litigation: Interrelations across Issue Levels, Media, and Politics in the Case of Urgenda against the Dutch Government.” Environmental Communication 15, no. 5: 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhao, Stephen, and Alexandroff, Alan. 2019. “Current and Future Struggles to Eliminate Coal.” Energy Policy 129: 511–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: Link

Srivastav and Rafaty Dataset