Despite clear scientific evidence that swift and ambitious climate action is necessary at the national level, many countries, particularly those with high emissions and GDP, are failing to implement policies to curb their climate impact. Even with high incomes, access to technology, policy expertise, and capacity to adapt these countries face a massive roadblock to avoiding the human suffering and immense economic, social, and ecological costs that will result from unchecked climate change – political will. This working paper provides guidance and a methodology for decision-makers, civil society, and donors to assess the political and governance challenges that different climate actions are likely to encounter at the national level. With these insights, they can focus on the best approaches for enacting ambitious policies that provide visible benefits and are hard to overturn.

Executive Summary

Full executive summary available in the report.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the social, economic, and environmental benefits of ambitious climate action outweigh the costs, only a handful of countries have made policy commitments in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. Given that none of these countries classify as high-income, it is apparent that capacity, access to technology, and policy expertise alone is not sufficient to ensure political ambition. A lack of “political will,” due in large part to the influence of vested interests, is often cited as a major culprit, but we do not think this superficial analysis helps stakeholders develop political strategies to ratchet up ambition or strengthen the enabling environment for implementation. A more systematic assessment of the political and institutional context, as well as the dominant ideologies and narratives, can help stakeholders take additional steps to build political support or strengthen rules and capacities guiding implementation.

While there is growing political economy literature on climate change—particularly on energy transitions—we have yet to see a guide designed to help multi-sector national coalitions that are grappling with diverse climate governance challenges. Such challenges include improving coordination across sectors and scales, building the capacity and incentive structure for accountability systems to work, and enabling more transparent monitoring of the progress of policy implementation, to name a few. We argue that any assessment of climate governance—rules, structures, and capacities that shape the interaction between actors—must consider the political and economic interests, incentives, and relationships that motivate actions. Given the urgency of shifting emissions trajectories in the short term to reach long-term goals, climate advocates must build political power quickly.