Five Worlds of Political Strategy: Evidence from the Climate Movement

In many parts of the world, from the United States and Brazil to India and Australia, the climate movement has been obstructed by the lobbying efforts of a well-resourced counter-movement spearheaded by incumbent industries. Given the presence of such obstructionism, we ask the question: what strategies will be necessary to ensure that climate advocates can successfully change politicians’ incentives to pass and preserve robust climate policies? Drawing on evidence from the history of socio-economic transitions and the ‘theories of change’ that propelled them, we develop a typology of five strategies for overcoming obstructionism: antagonism, appeasement, co-optation, institutionalism and countervailance. Antagonism increases the reputational and economic costs of obstructionism; appeasement offers compensation to the losers of the transition; co-optation seeks change from within the businesses leading the opposition by persuading them to act otherwise; institutionalism involves regulatory changes to make obstructionism harder; and countervailance bypasses direct confrontation by supporting and strengthening the disrupters or disruptive technologies. We develop a framework to show how these strategies, and the tactics within them, change (or fail to change) the incentives of politicians across different institutional contexts. We argue that the emergence of ‘Net Zero’ as an organizing principle of the climate movement has led to an auspicious shift in the political terrain, one which demands a cross-fertilization of strategic perspectives to leverage its full potential.