Project description

INLOCADE analyzes the processes and conditions relating to the political institutionalization of climate change mitigation in the high-carbon intensive sectors of agriculture and energy. We do so by focusing on the subnational level in emerging economies. Our research question is: Under what conditions does climate change mitigation become politically institutionalized in the high-carbon intensive sectors of energy and agriculture at the subnational government level of democratic emerging economies?


We depart from two findings that stand out in existing literature dealing with the politics of low carbon development:

  • First, we witness the emergence of numerous governance experiments that are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These experiments are undertaken by a variety of state- and non-state actors as an approach to govern with the objective of learning and policy adaptation.
  • Second, various scholars describe the need for ambitious, inter-sectoral, and all-encompassing, societal low-carbon transformations to maintain the economic and social development within planetary boundaries.

We know from previous climate governance literature who does what and why and, to some extent, how successful governance experiments have been. We also have a clear understanding of what is needed to reach low-carbon transformation. However, what we do not know is under which conditions we can close the gap between very specific and practically-oriented governance experiments and the broader societal goal of low-carbon transformations.

Previous research

In a previous DFG-funded project on climate governance arrangements we have analyzed the evolution and impact of two important climate governance experiments: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) was initiated in a top-down fashion, while Transnational City Networks have emerged as bottom-up activities. We investigated both modes of governance in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa. In particular, we investigated how these initiatives reconfigure public authority through forms of de- or re-centralization, and what kind of organizational and policy changes are being triggered in the respective policy fields. We found that governance experiments were taken up very differently across countries, sectors, and even within countries and sectors. We also observed a high variation in terms of political institutionalization, particularly at the subnational level.

We found that various interesting developments are occurring, regarding both policies and organizations. For example, we investigated the establishment of REDD+ agencies at the national and provincial level in Indonesia and East Kalimantan, the moratorium on new forest concessions in Indonesia, and the launch of the Green India Mission as a domestic substitute for REDD+ in India. While some policymakers initiated highly ambitious projects (e.g. the Corridors of Freedom Project in Johannesburg or the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Project on REDD+ in East Kalimantan), other initiatives showed very little progress (e.g. C40 engagement in Indian cities, such as Bangalore or New Delhi or Curitiba in Brazil), became stuck or even collapsed once the government changed (e.g. Central Kalimantan on REDD+ or increasing GHG emission trends despite existing climate policies in Sao Paolo).

Exploring institutional change

Hence, we witness a micro-macro paradox similar to that of reform processes in international development cooperation. We are thus interested in understanding the conditions under which governments move towards low-carbon transformations. Some authors claim that governance experiments scale-up and are being entrenched in political dynamics or by the diffusion of new policy instruments. However, recent research remains rather vague on the necessary or sufficient conditions for such processes to take place. As we will elaborate further below, we assume that political institutionalization is the missing link in overcoming the politics of carbon lock-ins. Interestingly, this coincides with our own findings, namely that single governance experiments rarely resulted in disruptive developments towards transformation. Instead, we found that context mattered crucially and that we need to look for more fundamental political dynamics to understand (non-)institutionalization of climate change mitigation.

The institutional change literature defines institutions as a set of formal and informal rules that actors tend to follow, either for normative, cognitive, or material reasons. Organizations are then understood as durable entities with formally recognized members, whose rules also contribute to the institutions of the political economy. Institutionalization is thus the process of developing formal and informal rules (including organizations) and changing previous existing formal and informal rules (including organizations).

Institutionalization can occur inside the political system (i.e. in terms of polity, politics, and policy) and outside of it in the broader society (i.e. in terms of social and economic structures, processes, and content). In this project, we focus only on institutionalization in the political (and administrative) system, because political dynamics are decisive and a prerequisite for social and economic changes.

Institutionalization is different from policy integration insofar as the latter focuses predominantly on the coordination and collaboration between silo-administrative structures. Some authors assume that better policy integration leads to better performance, even though evidence on this is scarce. By contrast, our focus is less on procedural aspects, but rather on the conditions that lead to the outcome of institutionalization as the very substance of (non-)change. For the INLOCADE project, we borrow from the literature on structure (i.e. geography, markets, political-administrative set-up, and normative orders), agency (state and non-state leadership), and multi-level politics (i.e. inter-/transnational and domestic politics). We thereby follow the argument recently raised in the literature on policy integration, which has acknowledged that more fundamental political aspects preclude transformational change.

Transforming climate politics

Despite a few noticeable exceptions, the (global) environmental politics literature so far knows very little about the conditions under which entire policy fields can be transformed, particularly when it comes to climate change mitigation in the respective policy fields. Previous research has primarily focused on analyzing the level of domestic climate change ambitions, indicating that progress in formulating rigorous climate policies has always been highly uneven across countries. This body of literature has neither explained the conditions for success and failure nor the observable differences within countries, namely between subnational jurisdictions or across policy fields. Furthermore, scholars dealing with climate governance experiments have neither included issues of timing and sequencing in their research nor have policy sciences included knowledge about the effects of experiments on policy change.

In contrast, research on societal and economic transitions has highlighted that innovations emerge in specific niches and that economic and technological aspects have to come together to foster change. Yet, transitions scholars left governance issues and the role of governments largely at the margin. Moreover, most explanations for ‘radical climate policy change’ are based on policy models that essentially reflect the domestic structures and lessons from the U.S., and are limited in their application to the global North. Most case studies do not integrate global governance developments sufficiently, and only a few focus on particular aspects of climate change institutionalization in the global South in a comparative manner. Our project will contribute to filling this gap by providing new insights into the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for political institutionalization to set us on a path towards low-carbon transformations.