Disaggregating the dependent variable in policy feedback research: an analysis of the EU Emissions Trading System


Published Open Access in: Policy Sciences (2020) 53:291–307
Authors: Brendan Moore & Andrew Jordan, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia


The literature on policy dynamics has long argued for a better conceptualization and measurement of the dependent variable (“policy”), but this fundamental point has often been neglected in the policy feedback literature. In this paper, we explore how far disaggregating policy into different elements (policy instruments, objectives, and settings) addresses this gap. We do so by examining the world’s largest market-based climate policy instrument— emissions trading in the European Union—and reveal a number of valuable new insights. First, even if positive policy feedback locks in a policy instrument, actor contestation does not disappear, but narrows down to the more detailed level of policy settings. Second, feed- back may operate differently at each policy level: the policy instrument and its settings may strengthen at the same time as support for broader objectives weakens. Finally, positive feedback may simultaneously strengthen opposing actors’ support for multiple policy elements, leading to a form of “policy stability by stalemate.” These findings highlight the need for a new, interdisciplinary phase of policy feedback research that more fully disaggregates the dependent variable across a wider range of policy areas and policy instrument types. Policy scientists are well equipped to contribute to and benefit from such a debate.

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