Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo

Six people sit on a dais behind a long white desk. On the wall behind them are the words “United Nations Climate Change” and “U N Climate Change Conference U K 2021 in partnership with Italy.” A drawing of the Earth is also on the wall.
Figure 16.1 US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and leaders from across the globe discuss public-private investment and cross-sector partnerships in a climate-smart agriculture and food system at the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 4, 2021. (credit: “20212204-OSEC-UNC-0006” by U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr, Public Domain)

Chapter written by Emilia Barreto Carvalho

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) occurred in Glasgow, Scotland, in October and November 2021. The main goal of the summit was to foster collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society and to propel action to tackle the climate crisis.1

The conference was widely reported in both traditional media and nontraditional media. As discussed in Chapter 12: The Media, traditional media is characterized by mass communication efforts and professional journalism. The main traditional media outlets include newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. With increased use of the internet, smartphones, and social media platforms, nontraditional media has become increasingly powerful. Whereas professional journalists cover the news for traditional media outlets, nontraditional news coverage may be led by any individual with a smartphone and internet access. Nontraditional outlets, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, are particularly salient with specific niches of the public. That the results of the COP26 were reported on in traditional outlets like CNN, the Associated Press, the BBC, and Al Jazeera as well as nontraditional outlets like TikTok, Twitter, Instagram (more than 318,000 posts are tagged #cop26),2 and Facebook (more than 160,000 people have posted using the hashtag #COP26) suggests that the public is concerned with the environment.3

The COP26 summit produced an official agreement, and governments pledged to commit to adaptation, mitigation, and conservation efforts on methane, coal, transportation, and deforestation. These pledges could help the world prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, a goal the majority of climate scientists involved with the COP26 consider challenging but possible.4

While some governments have agreed to tackle the climate crisis, others have avoided making any commitments. Governments play the “commitment vs. avoidance game” because environmental policy, like every other kind of public policy, requires costs to achieve benefits.

For example, certain types of environmental regulations—the body of taxes and tariffs, quotas, subsidies, and regulations governments issue to promote environmental protection—increase the costs of industrial production. In a globalized economy, higher production costs make it more difficult for firms to sell their products in a competitive international market, especially if the regulations are adopted domestically but not internationally. In situations like this, a factory that cannot compete may be forced to close its doors, and if this happens, workers become unemployed5—that is, workers pay a high cost.

On the other hand, environmental regulations promote environmental quality. If a factory emits fewer pollutants, the quality of the surrounding environment increases. The community in the factory’s vicinity reaps the benefits of less pollution. Better environmental quality contributes to improved health conditions.

However, the causal impact of this environmental regulation in the promotion of a healthier environment is difficult to prove. The connection between the extent to which changes in pollutant emissions can improve or exacerbate the health of community members is complex. Many variables impact both environmental quality and the community’s health. To make things even more difficult, if you consider the market share of this factory in a country and compare it to the global market, the proportional environmental benefit of this environmental regulation may seem small.

Environmental regulations present a tradeoff: they promote environmental quality,6 but they may cause unemployment, at least in the short term. Environmental quality is a widespread benefit. The entire community profits from it, even if each element of the community profits only a little bit. On the other hand, unemployment is a localized cost, and unemployed workers lose a lot. As a result, labor unions, workers, and business parties commonly refer to environmental regulations as “job-killing regulations” and thus tend to oppose them.7 In short, because environmental policies redistribute economic costs and environmental benefits across different groups in society, they face strong opposition, even if, as responses to the COP26 indicate, the general public is concerned about the environment.8

Given the complexity of designing environmental policies, governments consider the redistribution of costs and benefits and play the “commitment vs. avoidance game” based on how much their constituents, or voters, stand to win or lose with environmental regulations.

The ways in which public policies redistribute costs and benefits across domestic and international actors are at the core of the study of international political economy (IPE). This chapter presents a panoramic view of the development of the field from the 16th century to the present. The discussion begins with a brief historical overview, which is then followed by an analysis of some of the most debated issues in the field.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 3, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.