Book chapter

Origins and Theory of Climate Change Politics (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies


Climate change politics refers to attempts to define climate change as a physical phenomenon as well as to delineate and predict current and future effects on the environment and broader implications for human affairs as a foundation for political action. Defining the causes, scale, time frame, and consequences of climate change is critical to determining the political response. Given the high stakes involved in both the consequences of climate change and the distributive implications of policies to address it, climate change politics has been and remains highly contentious both within and across countries.Climate politics presents difficulties for study given its interdisciplinary nature and the scientific complexities involved in climate change. Climate change politics emerged in the mid- to late 1980s, as climate science became more accessible to policymakers and the public. However, scholarship on international climate politics was relatively slow to develop. Prior to 2008, major publications on international relations (except for policy journals) only lightly touched upon climate politics. Climate change was frequently referenced in articles on a range of topics, but it was not the primary focus of analysis. Since 2008 there has been a dramatic increase in literature focusing on climate change. The possibility of massive economic, political, and ecological dislocation from the consequences of climate change as well as from policies to address the problem have resulted in an extensive literature. Scholars have addressed aspects of climate politics from every paradigm within international relations, as well as drawing on research from numerous related disciplines. The international relations theories that shaped the scholarship on climate politics provide the foundation for understanding the ongoing normative debates surrounding domestic and international policies to address climate change.