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date: 23 January 2018

Summary and Keywords

Climate change emerged in the late 20th century as a topic of global concern and thus a prominent foreign policy issue. Academic scholarship on the international community’s response to the environmental threat was not far behind. Scholars apply a number of theoretical constructs in their search to explain why states behave the way they do in their coordinated approaches to addressing climate-related activities. Of these, systemic theories such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism figure prominently. State-centric theories that consider changing power dynamics in the international system, the importance of evolving coalitions, as well as the role of hegemonic and leadership states, provide contending explanations. Nonstate actors, especially the climate regime itself which has received substantial attention, are similarly considered important variables affecting foreign policy. Constructivist arguments emphasizing the influence of ideas, norms, and identity have become increasingly common, especially as they relate to developmental disparities, “common but differential responsibilities,” and climate justice. While there has been less focus on the role of individual actors, domestic-level variables such as concerns for economic growth, reputation, and capacity to act, as well as multivariable explanations, continue to provide insight. In contrast to the diversity of explanations proposed, the young field is relatively homogeneous in terms of methodological approaches, with qualitative case studies or small-N analyses being most common. If history is a trustworthy guide, however, as on-the-ground, practical approaches to global climate governance evolve, so too will scholarly approaches to its study.

Keywords: climate regime, climate governance, multilateralism, emerging powers, Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Accord, climate justice, North-South divide, BASIC

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