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After a decade-long search, countries finally agreed on a new climate treaty in 2015. The Paris Agreement has attracted attention both for overcoming years of gridlock and for its novel features. Here, we build on accounts explaining why states reached agreement, arguing that a deeper understanding requires a focus on institutional design. Ultimately, it was this agreement, with its specific provisions, that proved acceptable to states rather than other possible outcomes. Our account is multi-causal and draws methodological inspiration from the public policy and causes of war literatures. Specifically, we distinguish between background, intermediate, and proximate conditions and identify how they relate to one another, jointly producing the ultimate outcome we observe. Our analysis focuses especially on the role of scientific knowledge, non-state actor mobilization, institutional legacies, bargaining, and coalition-building in the final push for agreement. This case-based approach helps to understand the origins of Paris, but also offers a unique, historically grounded way to examine questions of institutional design.

Original publication




Journal article


Political Studies

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