The United States Climate Change Policy Paradox: Ideas about Cap-and-Trade in the US Knowledge Regime

Alexander Rygner Holm

Student thesis: Master thesis


Limiting the impact of climate change has been on the top of the international policy agenda for several decades, and many countries have taken policy action to limit the climate change causing greenhouse gasses. In recent years cap-and-trade has been the main tool used to limit greenhouse gasses. The United States Congress has on several occasions rejected a cap-and-trade system, even though the United States was one of the promoters of cap-and-trade in UN negotiations in the 1990s. Additionally, cap-and-trade is designed to fit a liberal, pro-market worldview and thus should fit perfectly in the US. This paradox of the lack cap-and-trade system in the US is the focus of this thesis. To understand the paradox better this thesis will add to the existing literature by focusing on the role of ideas, especially the ideas found in the climate change policy knowledge regime. This case study of the US focuses on creating understanding and developing a more comprehensive interpretation of the lack of federal cap-and-trade system. This thesis establishes that a climate change policy knowledge regime exists with a set of policy research organizations (PROs) governed by a set of institutions. This knowledge regime produces certain ideas that are analyzed using a discursive institutionalist approach. More specifically, the PROs, within the US climate change policy knowledge regime, agree on the virtues of cap-and-trade, yet they produce competing problem definitions (climate change is a big problem vs. climate change is not a problem). These problem definitions are connected to the different paradigms that the different PROs subscribe to: Neoliberal PROs reject climate change as a problem and pragmatic PROs support the “climate change problem” problem definition. This situation remains unsolved because the institutional machinery of the knowledge regime inhibits consensus and compromises, and encourages competitive and partisan behavior.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages101