To explore if and how climate mitigation efforts are institutionalized in four emerging economies, we will adopt a two-step approach: We combine in-depth case studies with a cross-country comparison. This approach is based on expensive field research in the four countries as well as a qualitative comparative analysis.

Case selection

Our universe of cases includes subnational entities where climate change mitigation has been institutionalized at least to some extent. We will focus on comparable subnational units in four democratic, decentralized, and high GHG emitting emerging economies: Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa. We do this for the following four reasons: First, these countries have all started to become actively engaged by issuing climate change action plans. Second, in all four countries there is significant variation among subnational entities, i.e., within the same national setting and the same sector, and there are strong differences in performing climate activities that can only be explained by taking subnational features into account. As we will study a total of 16 subnational cases over the period from 2005 to 2021, we will be able to pinpoint phases of progress, stagnation, and reversal by focusing on the three time points of 2005, 2013, and 2021, which increases our sample from 16 to 48 units. In this context, we will undertake inter-sectoral and intra-sectoral comparisons to highlight differences and congruencies. Third, we explicitly focus on democratic and largely decentralized countries. This allows us to better explain the role of subnational politics that is, at least to some extent, independent of the nation-state’s capital.

In-depth case studies

We then undertake in-depth case studies focusing on the causal mechanisms within the configurations and solution pathways identified in the first step. When it comes to the conditions that enable or hinder institutionalization, out of the many possible variables we focus on eight key conditions within the following three clusters: (i) agency, (ii) structure and (iii) multi-level politics. We consider agency of state and non-state actors and their leadership to be relevant. As structures, we take into account markets, political-administrative configurations, normative orders, and geophysical conditions. Multi-level politics are insofar relevant as domestic and international support or constraints exist.

Cross-country comparison & qualitative comparative analysis (QCA)

In a first step, we undertake a cross-country comparison analyzing variation at the subnational level in four democratic emerging economies (Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa). In each country, there are subnational jurisdictions with differing degrees of political institutionalization of climate change mitigation in the sectors of energy and agriculture. For each policy field and each country, we analyze two subnational jurisdictions. Altogether, we scrutinize 16 subnational jurisdictions and compare them with each other.

The comparison is conducted using Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). As none of the eight conditions mentioned above can adequately explain the institutionalization of climate change mitigation at the subnational level alone, we are particularly interested in their combined effects. We hence use the method of QCA which is particularly useful for at least three reasons: (i) it captures the complexity of political institutionalization and related dynamics by using non-binary values to code the relevant conditions; (ii) it is well-suited for medium-N research; and (iii) it helps to identify the necessary and sufficient conditions for policy outcomes across a certain set of cases.