American University
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Group Competition and Climate Policy Outcomes: Climate Activists, Fossil Fuel Lobby, and Government Preferences

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:12 authored by Barbara Soares Lima dos Santos

In the past two decades social scientists have tried to understand why, despite the high level of emergency posed by climate change, countries have persisted in not addressing the problem adequately. The goal of this dissertation is to contribute to answering this question by analyzing how domestic political-economic factors, such as interest groups and energy policy, affect a country’s climate policy outcomes, and how those factors interact with larger structural factors, such as the size of the economy and institutional quality. This dissertation is organized in the form of three research papers, each paper attempts to answer the research questions proposed from a different perspective. The first paper asks how the interactions between climate activist coalitions, fossil fuel industry, and government preferences influence climate policy outcomes. It argues that countries with a strong climate activist coalition are more likely to have stronger climate policy outcomes, in countries with a strong fossil fuel industry or where the government controls the energy sector and provides large fossil fuel subsidies to consumer, the likelihood of weaker climate policy outcomes is larger. I use a quantitative approach where I select proxy variables to measure the strength of interest groups and government preferences. The findings of this paper suggest that countries have stronger climate policy outcomes when there is a strong climate activist coalition and a private energy sector, and weaker climate policy outcomes when there is a strong fossil fuel industry. The second paper asks how structural factors, such as the size and composition of the economy and the quality of political institutions, interact with domestic political-economic factors, such as interest groups and energy policy, to yield stronger or weaker climate policy outcomes. Using a fsQCA approach I analyze the factors present in countries with stronger climate policy outcomes. The findings of this paper suggest that the absence of high levels of oil rents collection and high fossil fuel production is almost always necessary for higher climate policy outcomes. The third paper asks how the different interest group systems interact with government policy preferences, and how this interaction affects climate policy outcomes. I argue that the competition for climate policy is shaped by two forces, the nature of the interest group system – pluralist versus concentrated – and the nature of the energy sector – nationalized versus private. The combination of two forces changes the influence of each actor leading to different climate policy outcomes. I investigate this argument by developing case studies of four climate policy processes in four representative countries using interviews, and primary data sources. I find that in countries with a nationalized energy sector the government is a more influential actor and may use climate policy to achieve its political goals. In addition, in countries with a more pluralist interest group system climate policy is the result of the competition of different actors for their preferred policy points.



American University


Degree Awarded: Ph.D. Government. American University


Degree grantor

American University. School of Public Policy

Degree level

  • Doctoral

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