Economic Theory

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 353-369

First online:

Nested externalities and polycentric institutions: must we wait for global solutions to climate change before taking actions at other scales?

  • Elinor OstromAffiliated withWorkshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana UniversityCenter for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Arizona State University Email author 

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The literature on global climate change has largely ignored the small but positive steps that many public and private actors are taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A global policy is frequently posited as the only strategy needed. It is important to balance the major attention on global solutions as the only strategy for coping with climate change. Positive actions are underway at multiple, smaller scales to start the process of climate change mitigation. Researchers need to understand the strength of polycentric systems where enterprises at multiple levels may complement each other. Building a global regime is a necessity, but encouraging the emergence of a polycentric system starts the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and acts as a spur to international regimes to do their part.


Global public goods Climate policy Collective-action theory

JEL Classification

H4 Q2