Political Institutions, Climate Change, and Adaptation in the Agricultural Sector (2014-15)

This project by researchers in political science and the environmental science and policy will study how political institutions affect policy on climate adaptation, and whether certain political processes enhance the sustainability of responses in the agricultural sector.

PI: Matthew Shugart, Political Science
Collaborators: Mark Lubell and Robert Hijmans, Environmental Science and Policy


Although scholars from diverse fields acknowledge that political institutions and policies play a significant role in how farmers react to climate change and resource scarcity, the linkages between political institutions, policy outputs and farmer response have not been investigated rigorously.

This project builds on political science research that demonstrates how institutional variation shapes legislative and executive behavior. The literature has established that the ways in which collective political actors (political parties) and individuals (chief executives, local legislators) respond to constituent demands and contextual pressures are conditioned by institutions including electoral rules, party systems and executive arrangements. These variations affect the “access points” that private interests have into shaping policy outputs and the design of governmental agencies that allocate scarce resources.

We expect institutional variation to correspond with differences in policy outputs, and ultimately to influence the ability of farmers to adapt to climate stress at local levels. Policies that affect their ability to adapt include water management policy, crop insurance, research services, conservation programs, drought relief schemes and carbon taxes or credits.

This project is important because of the urgency of climate change and the lack of understanding of how policy impacts the response of agricultural actors. Water scarcity, for example, is increasingly threatening to the viability of certain crops in many countries, especially given rural and urban competition over water allocation. Yet, predictive models on climate change impacts focus on the increased variability of rainfall and corresponding drought stress and low yields.

Few models have addressed adaptation of farmers, and none of these models have considered the impact of policies that influence farmer behavior alongside other ecological, economic and market considerations. For example, research has demonstrated that wine producers may shift the location of grapevines northwards to adapt to warmer conditions, but this shift depends on access to land and irrigation water, which are influenced by policy generated in political institutions.