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Climate Backlash: Contentious Reactions to Policy Action (BACKLASH)


The challenge of BACKLASH is to empirically study and theorise backlash to climate policy. Growing calls for ambitious climate change action are challenging because such action can trigger backlash. Why do societies sometimes accept costly public good action, but at other times push back suddenly and reject it? Abrupt and impactful reactions to climate policy actions are increasingly witnessed, and may become more frequent in coming years as climate action becomes more demanding. Examples include the Yellow Vests in France, and acrimonious policy rollbacks in Canada and Australia. Climate politics and governance needs to understand this issue to avoid it undermining ambitious climate action.

The aim of BACKLASH is to explain how, why, and under which conditions backlash to climate policy occurs in advanced industrial democracies. We will 1) analyse drivers of climate backlash across varying national contexts, 2) identify mechanisms and processes by which backlash occurs within specific countries, 3) examine whether and how backlash diffuses within and between countries, and 4) explain variation in presence and dynamics of backlash across contexts. We do this by studying comparatively OECD countries (medium-N) and several in-depth national cases (Australia, Canada, France, United Kingdom).

BACKLASH takes an interdisciplinary approach combining climate politics, policy dynamics, social movements, and political theory. It will ultimately contribute to understanding policy-society dynamics in fractious and contested contemporary climate governance. BACKLASH contributes to several core themes of earth system governance research, including: Transformations, Democracy & Power, and Architecture & Agency. Substantively, it contributes to earth system governance scholarship on the politics of domestic climate policy.

More information about the project is available here


Research Team


  • James Patterson, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • Ksenia Anisimova, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • Jasmin Logg-Scarvell, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • Cille Kaiser, Utrecht University, The Netherlands



Patterson, J.J. (2022) Culture and identity in climate policy (Editorial), Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 13(3): e765. URL:

Patterson, J., Wyborn, C., Westman, L., Brisbois, M.C., Milkoreit, M., Jayaram, D. (2021) The political effects of emergency frames in sustainability. Nature Sustainability 4: 841–850. URL:


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme Grant Agreement No 949332 — BACKLASH — ERC-2020-STG

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