Could national climate change institutions be a game-changer for climate policies?

In Science, Christian Flachsland and co-authors say such institutions are key to implementing climate targets.

National climate change institutions are key elements in the development and implementation of climate policies, and both academic research and policy conversations should devote more attention to understanding and designing them, writes Hertie School Professor of Sustainability and Director of the Center for Sustainability Christian Flachsland and co-authors in a paper published on 5 November in Science.

The authors argue that “National climate change institutions are a missing element in climate mitigation discussions, which instead focus on the ambition of emission reduction targets, or the prevalence, design and stringency of climate policies.” They say that such current action toward future targets is more likely “when backed by an institutional machinery that guides policy development and implementation,” noting that such institutions act as mediators between political interests that may present hurdles to implementation.

The article, “National Climate Institutions are a Necessary Complement to Targets and Policies,” was published just as the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, with thousands of international attendees from government, civil society, business and other institutions took place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.

Flachsland also recently published a paper together with Hertie School Postdoctoral Researcher and climate policy expert Sebastian Levi, analysing Germany’s 2019 Climate Change Act (CCA). “Germany’s Climate Change Act”, published in October 2021 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Politics, empirically investigates the state of climate policy integration in Germany up to the year 2019 and discusses the CCA’s potential to increase it in the future.

Flachsland and Levi draw on policy integration theory and semi-structured interviews with senior policymakers and stakeholders, and use a climate policy integration (CPI) lens to examine how institutional changes such as those in the German CCA “can enhance coordination across sectors, mediate conflicts and advance consensus on climate change policy, and enable strategic governance across time.”

“The CCA establishes new institutions that address CPI such as formalized sectoral emission targets, an Expert Advisory Council, a Climate Policy Program, an Instant Policy Update mechanism, obligatory impact assessments, and a stakeholder consultation mechanism,” the authors write. “Yet despite these extensive reforms, the CCA does not lead to a high degree of climate policy integration. It advances the integration of policy instruments and policy goals in the non-energy sectors but contributes less to advancing subsystem integration or a shared recognition of climate policy as a cross-cutting governance challenge.”

The authors conclude with several lessons for governments:

  • Political institutions can increase political coordination either through multi-sectoral or cross-sectoral governance.
  • The German case also demonstrates how political institutions can mediate conflicts and advance political consensus on climate policy on different dimensions.
  • Finally, political institutions can strategically lock in long term goals.

Read the full paper in Environmental Politics here.

Read the article in Science here.

The Hertie School is not responsible for any content linked or referred to from these pages. Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.

Photo credit: HM Treasury on Flickr

About our expert