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Low carbon for the long term: essays on the comparative political economy of climate change policy

Finnegan, Jared J. (2019) Low carbon for the long term: essays on the comparative political economy of climate change policy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Long-term policy challenges – biodiversity loss, education and skills, infrastructure, and public debt – are everywhere, yet scholars are just beginning to examine their distinct political economy. In the context of these types of issues, politics is not only about who gets what, but who gets what and when. Climate change is the quintessential long-term policy problem. Why have some advanced capitalist democracies been more successful than others at addressing long-term problems like climate change? Surprisingly, political science has provided few answers to this substantively important question. This thesis tackles this question by focusing on the distributional politics of climate policy investment. It provides new arguments for how institutions and electoral incentives generate opportunities for governments to arrive at successful distributive bargains that impose short-term costs on social actors today for benefits that arrive in the future. Across countries, I show how electoral rules and interest group intermediation systematically structure the conditions needed for politicians to make long-term climate policy investments. Indeed, the complementarity between these institutions generate varieties of decarbonization, which push countries onto diverging policy trajectories. Building on these arguments, I look within countries over time and provide the first theoretical arguments and empirical evidence that links electoral competition to fossil fuel taxation. By influencing political risk, competition structures political incentives for imposing short-term costs on voters today for long-term benefits. It is only governments with a comfortable lead over rivals that can think past the next election to society’s long-run aggregate welfare. I find support for my arguments using new cross-national data on shadow carbon prices, original datasets of historical gasoline taxation across high-income democracies and US states, and a case study of fossil fuel tax policy decisions by the German Social Democratic-Green coalition government. Beyond shedding light on the politics of long-term policymaking in the case of climate change, the thesis points to crucial mechanisms that plausibly account for the differential ability of governments to tackle a wider range of long-term challenges.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Jared J. Finnegan
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Spiekermann, Kai and Soskice, David and Wehner, Joachim

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