What makes a climate leader?

Developed countries’ responsibilities under the international climate regime.

What makes a climate leader?


This project seeks to elucidate the conditions and possibilities for climate leadership by developed states under the international climate regime. The project will generate insights into how and why climate leaders emerge, how they manage domestic and international political demands, and the conditions under which climate leadership is possible.

Outcomes / activities

This project developed a new conceptualisation of diplomatic leadership in multilateral climate diplomacy and disentangled the relationship between diplomatic leadership and national leadership in climate policy performance. It showed that national leadership in ambition and performance is not a necessary condition for diplomatic leadership in climate diplomacy but that national laggardship makes it very difficult to be a diplomatic leader. The project also showed that differences in a state’s conception of its role in the world, as revealed by government discourses on responsibility for climate change, can shed light on the puzzle of why some states with economies that have been historically dependent on fossil fuels have nonetheless adopted ambitious mitigation targets (such as Norway and Germany) while others (such as Australia) have adopted unambitious targets.


The most significant output on diplomatic climate leadership is:

  • Eckersley, R. “Rethinking Leadership: Understanding the roles of the US and China in the negotiation of the Paris Agreement,” in The European Journal of International Relations, First Published 11 June 2020

The most significant outputs on national climate leadership are:

  • Eckersley, R. “Who’s Afraid of a Climate Treaty?” in Gaita, Raimond and Simpson, Gerry (eds.,). Who’s Afraid of International Law? Clayton: Monash University Press, 2017
  • Eckersley, R. “National identities, international roles, and the legitimation of climate leadership: Germany and Norway compared,” in Environmental Politics, 25:1, 2016, pp. 180-201
  • Eckersley, R. “Australia is a Climate Laggard rather than Leader,” in Baldino, Daniel; Carr, Andrew and Langlois, Anthony (eds.,). Australian Foreign Policy: Key Debates. Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 233-241
  • Eckersley, R. “Poles Apart? The Social Construction of Responsibility for Climate Change in Australia and Norway,” in The Australian Journal of Politics and History 59(3), 2013, pp. 382-396

Project details


Australian Research Council – Discovery Project

Project team

Professor Robyn Eckersley – Chief Investigator (CI)


Professor Robyn Eckersley