Contextual factors affecting EU climate policies and their outcomes

Institutional, economic, and social contexts influence the formulation as well as the implementation of climate policy instruments. Although they are highly complex, better awareness and understanding of these contexts could enable policy-makers to design policy instruments to be more robust and adaptive to changes in contextual frameworks.

The CARISMA Discussion Paper “Contextual factors affecting EU climate policies and their outcomes”, published in February 2017, seeks to contribute to the understanding of the factors that constitute a context for the formulation and implementation of a policy instrument. While knowledge about contextual factors remains fragmented, the paper maps, categorises and discusses key contextual factors and gives examples of how they could affect decision-making. The mapping and categorising exercise is based on a review of the literature on, among others, climate change mitigation and support measures for both renewable energy (including innovation or investment) and energy efficiency (including behavioural change and household consumption). By organising and presenting existing information related to the contexts for climate change mitigation options and policy instruments, this paper aims at supporting EU and national policy-makers. For this purpose, the paper focuses on the key contextual factors that are particularly relevant for EU climate change mitigation actions.

Approach to arriving at contextual factors

The Discussion Paper presents three categories of contextual factors that are especially relevant to climate change mitigation in EU policy-making.

  • institutions and governance
  • innovation and investment
  • attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle

They are derived from “common enabling factors” to underpin adaptation and mitigation responses in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The IPCC also indicates a list of common factors that constrain the implementation of adaptation and mitigation options, i.e. “constraining factors”. This Discussion Paper excludes the fourth category mentioned by the IPCC, “sustainable livelihoods”, as the narrower scope of the other three categories sufficiently captures the contextual factors relevant to climate change mitigation in Europe.

In addition, the paper has drawn from a variety of sources, such as scientific papers, policy briefs, and literature on categories of systemic problems that hamper diffusion and deployment of renewable energy technologies and include those associated with institutions, market structure and infrastructure.

Overview of contextual factors

Institutions and governance are the means for deciding, managing and implementing climate change mitigation policies and measures. This paper focuses on the following factors associated with the context of institutions and governance in European countries: institutional coordination, regulatory alignment with non-climate policies, administrative feasibility, and constellation of stakeholders.

Innovation and investment take place in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure. Such actions are influenced by contextual factors originating from the form and condition of the broader economy, as well as the actors within the economy. This work identifies five factors that relate to the structure and health of the economy, and the degree of collaboration and general attitudes of actors within it. They can be categorised in the following ways: presence of a technological innovation system, market framework, policy continuity, macroeconomic environment, andcorporate and investment culture.

Social attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle may pose implicit constraints or drive behavioural change, as motivated by policy measures that influence individual adopters’ decisions, and are usually the hardest to change. This paper looks into seven factors, which relate to the influence of social structures over individual behaviour, as well as behavioural characteristics and resource challenges. These are categorised as follows: collective environmental beliefs & norms, social attitudes & parameters, public perception, behavioural predisposition at the individual level, knowledge and experience, financial resources, and social capital.


The overview of contextual factors in the Discussion Paper does not show the relative importance of contextual factors for specific policy instruments; neither does it claim to be fully complete. It nonetheless shows the diversity of contextual factors that may be of particular interest to policy-makers.

Different factors or conditions may facilitate or hinder effective policy implementation (i.e. in terms of attaining policy outcomes) as so much depends on the institutional, economic and social contexts. In addition, not only international pressures but also local barriers (e.g. the state and infrastructure of a sector) may affect the effective implementation of and associated response to a policy tool adopted at a national level.

The next step would be the collection of more empirical evidence to show how contextual factors can actually shape and influence policy-makers in different ways across European countries (selected EU member states and accession countries). This evidence will be presented to policy-makers in the form of country cases and fact sheets, including more comprehensive information on the role of the context for replicating policy practices.

The CARISMA Discussion Paper “Contextual factors affecting EU climate policies and their outcomes” was written by Noriko Fujiwara (CEPS), Andreas Tuerk, Keith Williges (University of Graz), and Niki-Artemis Spyridaki (UPRC). The discussion paper also includes a table with a more detailed categorisation of contextual factors.


This article is based on a Discussion Paper as prepared in the framework of the EU-funded CARISMA project.

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