The authors use a comparative politics framework, examining electoral interests, policy-maker's own normative commitments, and domestic political institutions as factors influencing Annex 1 countries' decisions on Kyoto Protocol ratification and adoption of national policies to mitigate climate change. Economic costs and electoral interests matter a great deal, even when policy-makers are morally motivated to take action on climate change. Leaders' normative commitments may carry the day under centralized institutional conditions, but these commitments can be reversed when leaders change. Electoral systems, federalism, and executive-legislative institutional configurations all influence ratification decisions and subsequent policy adoption. Although institutional configurations may facilitate or hinder government action, high levels of voter concern can trump institutional obstacles. Governments' decisions to ratify, and the reduction targets they face upon ratification, do not necessarily determine their approach to carbon emissions abatement policies: for example, ratifying countries that accept demanding targets may fail to take significant action.

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Author notes

Kathryn Harrison is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of Passing the Buck: Federalism and Canadian Environmental Policy (1996), coauthor of Risk, Science, and Politics: Regulation of Toxic Substances in Canada and the United States (1994), co-editor of Managing the Environmental Union (2000), and editor of Racing to the Bottom? Provincial Interdependence in the Canadian Federation (2006). She has published recent articles in the Canadian Journal of Economics, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the Canadian Journal of Political Science, and Governance.

Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Her previous work has focused on democratization, civil society, and foreign assistance programs in Russia. Recent publications include Funding Civil Society: Transnational Actors and NGO Development in Russia (2006) and “Foreign Assistance, International Norms, and Civil Society Development: Lessons from the Russian Campaign,” International Organization 59 (2) (2005).

We are grateful to the Weyerhaeuser Foundation for financial support, to Katherine Boothe for superb research assistance, and to the other contributors to this issue—Yves Tiberghien, Miranda Schreurs, Laura Henry, and Kate Crowley—whose work has been a source of much insight and who also provided valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this article.