What's the mind got to do with it? A Cognitive approach to Global Climate Governance

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 3rd Aug 2012 | last updated 19th Jan 2023


After more than 20 years of unsuccessful international negotiations, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) might be one of the biggest, and maybe most important, global governance failures of our time. 

Why is this problem so hard to tackle? Starting with the assumption that all human behaviour has cognitive origins, this paper begins to explore what analyses of cognitive processes could teach us about the climate talks – and how they might be made more successful.

After a brief outline of the fundamental questions that a cognitive research programme could and should answer, the paper introduces cognitive-affective mapping as a novel research tool that can facilitate such a programme by providing ‘access to the mind’.

Cognitive-affective maps open up a wealth of analytical opportunities, including a comparison of individual and collective belief systems and mental structures that might inhibit cooperative outcomes at the international level. The paper concludes with a brief summary of ongoing research that seeks to identify distinct belief systems regarding international cooperation on climate change among participants in the UNFCCC negotiations, using cognitive-affective mapping. 

M, Milkoreit., (2012). What's the mind got to do with it? A cognitive approach to global climate governance. SEI Working Paper.