An Investigation of Climate Change Governance Trends in the United States: Challenges and Effective Drivers

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Climate change has become one of the most pressing environmental issues for our society. To effectively address climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted socioeconomic pathways, adaptation/mitigation actions, and governance as the three best ways to reduce emissions and halt the negative impacts from climate change. When studying governance structure, a clear and precise definition of ‘climate change governance’ is crucial. In this study, ‘governance’ refers to a range of initiatives, regulations, and government decisions aiming to establish cooperation between governmental and private sector stakeholders in dealing with a particular issue: climate change. Effective governance is achieved through a combination of strategic planning, integrating development decision-making, inter-department cooperation, adequate resources, and societal mobilization and education. This research project is organized into three phases that investigate and evaluate the effectiveness of the current climate change governance structure at different levels of government, identify effective drivers, and provide policy recommendations for improvement.

In phase I, current climate change governance structures were identified using results from an online survey and in-depth interviews. Survey and interview respondents were made up of federal, state, city, and county level government officials leading climate change initiatives. Key trends we identified regarding current governance structures were: 1) very few officials are working on climate change full time; 2) cooperation between departments is key to success and is becoming more common; 3) states and cities have different emission reduction priorities; 4) main challenges include budgetary constraints and organizational structure.

In phase II, utilizing information from the surveys, interviews and past literature research, we identified nine variables that we thought were the most important for effective climate change governance. By conducting factor analysis, these variables were split into three factors: Policy Support and Planning, Policy Development, and Utility Policy. Using the scores for each state and the calculated weights produced from factor analysis, we produced a climate governance effectiveness ranking for all 50 states. Not surprisingly, our results indicate more effective climate governance occurring in states along the West Coast and in the Northeast. Florida had the highest score for policy support and planning, confirming our previous findings that capacity building in the form of developing a well-informed and integrated strategic plan with sound research contributed most to effective climate change governance. Oregon had the highest score for policy development, which reinforces the importance of strong planning and cooperation for effective climate governance.

In phase III, two case studies were conducted on Florida and Oregon to evaluate how they have excelled in each factor and how that has impacted climate change projects in these states. Each state took a different approach and has different concerns regarding climate mitigation vs. adaptation. Florida showed advantages in conducting multi-level strategic planning, incorporating climate adaption initiatives into the city planning and infrastructure improvement process, establishing multi-disciplinary research institutions for climate change impact and mitigation strategy research, and establishing education programs to promote climate change awareness and support. We specifically analyzed a climate adaptation project in the City of Miami that focused on storm water management due to rising sea levels. This project was based on a detailed impact analysis and had coordination among key departments, including the planning department, to take aggressive action against the expected risks of climate change. For this specific case, the benefits associated with the project relied on key economic factors such as tourism revenue and property values that would be impacted by rising sea levels and a cost-benefit analysis reflects this. Although the capital costs for the project are quite high, they are greatly outweighed by the consequences of inaction.

The Oregon case study focused on a climate mitigation project to install a solar system along an interstate highway to offset CO2 emissions in the transportation system. In terms of policy development, Oregon utilized an innovative financing strategy to encourage private entities to financially support the project and utilized local companies for design and construction. As a result, the Baldock Solar Highway Project successfully utilized public and private resources and funding through cooperation with other entities, to incorporate CO2 emission reduction into the ODOT strategic plan. After conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the project, costs appeared to outweigh the benefits. However, this did not account for non-quantifiable benefits such as boosts to the local economy, or the achievement of state policy goals. Finally, this puts Oregon in a good position given the expected shift towards more aggressive renewable energy goals and carbon standards nationwide.

Overall, this project makes several key points and recommendations: • Identifying the current trends in governance structure and combining this with the governance effectiveness index can help provide states that are not addressing climate change now with the best strategies for future structure and implementation. • The current major challenges associated with climate change governance in the U.S are inadequate budgetary and human resources, and a low priority placed on climate change • Organizations are recognizing the importance of inter-department cooperation, and are taking steps towards restructuring and integration. However, more efforts are needed for strategic planning and social mobilization. • The most effective drivers of climate change governance are policy support and planning and policy development. Therefore, it is most efficient to invest financial and human resources in developing these two areas. • It is beneficial to devote resources to incorporating climate adaptation initiatives into urban planning and infrastructure improvements, for states with high vulnerability to climate change impacts. Moreover, devoting resources into policy development can help states secure strategic positions when facing aggressive nationwide mitigation standards.





Doolin, Matt, Muxi Yang, Pa Ye and Zhe Wang (2015). An Investigation of Climate Change Governance Trends in the United States: Challenges and Effective Drivers. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.