Climate Backlash: Contentious reactions to policy action (BACKLASH)


Project overview:

Growing calls for ambitious climate change action are challenging for governance because such action can trigger backlash.

Why do societies sometimes accept costly public good action, but at other times push back suddenly and reject it? Abrupt and impactful reactions to climate policy actions are increasingly witnessed: Climate Backlash. Examples include the Yellow Vests in France, and acrimonious policy rollbacks in Canada and Australia. Yet, climate governance theory struggles to account for such dynamics, which undermines prospects for ambitious climate action. The challenge of BACKLASH is to empirically study, and to theorise, this type of contentious reaction to policy action.

The aim of the BACKLASH project is to explain how, why, and under which conditions climate backlash emerges in advanced industrial democracies.

The specific objectives are to:

  • Identify the configurational drivers of climate backlash across varying national contexts,
  • Determine the mechanisms and processes by which climate backlash occurs within specific national contexts,
  • Establish whether and how climate backlash diffuses within and between countries, and
  • Explain the forms and variation of climate backlash across contexts.

To do this, the BACKLASH project will conduct a two-level study of 36 OECD countries, and 4 in-depth national cases of climate policy, namely Australia, Canada, France, United Kingdom.

Overall, the BACKLASH project tackles a new challenging empirical circumstances confronting climate governance. This will open up new frontiers for the interdisciplinary study of backlash to policy in addressing contentious collective problems, with implications for understanding policy-society dynamics in a turbulent world.


The BACKLASH project is led by dr. James Patterson, Assistant Professor in the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. The project is funded for five years (2021-2026) through a Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council (Grant agreement No. 949332).