Climate Backlash: Contentious reactions to policy action (BACKLASH)


Research papers:

Patterson, J. (2023) Backlash to Climate Policy. Global Environmental Politics. 23(1):1–23. [Open Access]

  • Although ambitious climate action is urgently needed in societies across the world, it can sometimes go wrong and trigger backlash. This can derail climate policy, and set back political momentum. But when and how backlash occurs is not well understood. This makes it hard to know what to expect when ambitious climate policy is introduced, and might even create fear among policymakers about how fast they can act. Therefore, this paper examines the issue of backlash to climate policy, and proposes an explanation for it: contested legitimacy. This illuminates why backlash is volatile and hostile beyond normal political disagreement. It provides a basis for future comparative analysis on the emergence, dynamics, and effects of backlash in climate politics.

Patterson, J.J. (2022) Culture and identity in climate policy (Editorial Commentary), Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change [Open Access]

  • Culture and social identity are increasingly seen as important in shaping the opportunities and limits of rapid climate action. For example, climate action can symbolise different things to different people. People may also be part of groups (e.g. local community, values-based community, or a nation) that see climate action as part of ‘who they are’ or as a threat to ‘who they are’. These kinds of shared beliefs, worldviews, values, and sense of self/others can shape behaviour alongside the tangible costs and benefits of a policy. This Commentary reflects on the ways in which scholars analyse culture and social identity in climate change research, and draws out implications for climate policy making.

Patterson, J., Wyborn, C., Westman, L., Brisbois, M.C., Milkoreit, M., Jayaram, D. (2021) The political effects of emergency frames in sustainability. Nature Sustainability 4: 841–850. [Open Access]

  • What are the political consequences of declaring climate change as an emergency? Does this help to generate collective action? Or does it have adverse effects (e.g. fear, securitisation, authoritarianism)? The literature is currently fragmented and divided. In this paper, we synthesize the range of political effects that can come with declaring sustainability issues as emergencies to provide a more comprehensive foundation for debate and decision-making.

Pahl-Wostl, C., Patterson, J.J. (2021) Transformative Change in Governance Systems (Commentary). Global Environmental Change 71: 102405.

  • Understanding transformations in governance systems is vital for advancing ambitious climate action because governance itself often needs reform. In this commentary, we reflect on the current state of knowledge on this topic, and argue that scholars need to give more attention to the contentious dynamics of such transformations.

Patterson, J.J. (2021) Remaking political institutions in sustainability transitions (Commentary). Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. [Open Access]

  • Political institutions often fail to lead to ambitious climate action, but reforming them is often difficult. Institutional change does not happen on a blank slate, and political struggles occur because institutions have consequences for how costs and benefits are allocated. This viewpoint argues that we need to get better at applying insights on (past) institutional change to ‘think forward’ about how future changes may be accomplished.

Broader communication:

How to make climate action popular (19 October 2021). The Conversation (series on the COP26 Glasgow climate conference). Patterson, J., Brisbois, M.C.

Declaring sustainability issues as emergencies: is it a good idea? (25 August 2021). Utrecht University News.

Related items:

Foundational research:

Patterson J.J. (2021) Remaking Political Institutions: Climate Change and Beyond. Elements in Earth System Governance Series. Cambridge University Press. Online ISBN: 9781108769341. DOI: 10.1017/9781108769341. [Open Access].

Patterson, J., Soininen, N., Collier, M., Raymond, C. (2021) Finding feasible action towards urban transformations. npj Urban Sustainability. [Open Access]

Patterson, J.J., Thaler, T., Hoffmann, M., Hughes, S., Oels, A., Chu, E., Mert, A., Huitema, D., Burch, S., Jordan, A. (2018) Political feasibility of 1.5°C societal transformations: the role of social justice. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 31:1–9. [Open Access]

Patterson, J., De Voogt., D.L., Sapiains, R. (2019) Beyond inputs and outputs: Process‐oriented explanation of institutional change in climate adaptation governance. Environmental Policy and Governance 29(5):360–375. [Open Access]

Patterson, J.J., Beunen, R. (2019) Introduction to Special Issue: Institutional work in environmental governance. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. Introduction to Special Issue. [Open Access]

Burch, S., Gupta, A., Inoue, C.Y.A., Kalfagianni, A., Persson, Å., Gerlak, A.K., Ishii, A., Patterson, J., Pickering, J., Scobie, M., Van der Heijden, J., Vervoort, J., Adler, C., Bloomfield, M., Djalante, R., Dryzek, J., Galaz, V., Gordon, C., Harmon, R., Jinnah, S., Kim, R.E., Olsson, L., Van Leeuwen, J., Ramasar, V., Wapner, P. and Zondervan, R. (2019) New directions in earth system governance research. Earth System Governance 1:1-18. [Open Access]

Patterson, J., Schulz, K., Vervoort, J., van der Hel, S., Widerberg, O., Adler, C., Hurlbert, Anderton, K., Sethi, M., Barau, A. (2017) Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. 24:1–16. [Open Access].