The Political Effects of Climate Policy: Exploring Policy Feedback from the European Union Emissions Trading System

Brendan Moore

This paper examines one of the cornerstones of the European Union's climate change policy - the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) - using the concept of policy feedback effects. Policy feedback effects occur when a public policy, once adopted, influences and reconfigures both the way that resources are distributed to key stakeholders and the way that those stakeholders interpret the original policy; changes which subsequently influence the direction of future policy-making. The policy feedback concept was originally developed by welfare state policy scholars (Pierson 1993; Skocpol and Amenta 1986), but is increasingly being used by academics studying EU policy-making (e.g., Young, 2010; Jordan and Matt 2014).Drawing on fifteen years of public and internal documents, as well as interviews with policy makers and stakeholders in Brussels, this paper explores the EU ETS's policy feedback effects and how they have influenced the course of EU climate policy since 2005. The results reveal that while policy makers considered the political obstacles to adopting the EU ETS, they gave less consideration to post-adoption policy feedback. These feedback effects proved to be significant, creating a path dependent process that kept many of the aspects of the policy in place even as the European economic crisis drove changes in external conditions. For EU scholars, the findings will contribute to debates about who has the most influence in the EU policy-making process, by bringing the under-researched influence of previously adopted public policies to the fore.

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