Usual and unusual suspects: What network analysis can tell us about climate policy integration

Revealing social patterns, interdependencies and power relations
Workshop on climate change policy networks in Lima, Peru.

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In one of the most dramatic scenes of the legendary film Casablanca (1942), Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) shoots Major Heinrich Strasser to allow the woman he is in love with, and her husband, to escape and continue their efforts in the World War Two resistance movement.

Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) is the only witness, and when the rest of the police arrive, he tells his staff to “round up the usual suspects” instead of arresting Rick.

Those of us concerned with climate change are frequently doing the same. Even though policy action on adaptation or mitigation is not a crime, we tend to think in terms of “usual suspects” when we look for the climate champions or for those holding the key to change.

We tend to ignore the “unusual suspects,” the ones that are invisible or unheard but that can make or break climate action. Policy network analysis can help identify them.

Policy network analysis examines the interactions of the actors involved with, or affected by, policy processes. It answers questions such as who communicates with whom, who collaborates with whom, which actors exchange resources, and which actors depend on others.

It reveals the social patterns, interdependencies and power relations through which policy is elaborated and implemented. It shows who is dominant and who is isolated, as well as identifying the mediators that can foster new collaborations or relationships between different groups (also known as “brokers”).

A network analysis of climate-change policy processes that includes both adaptation and mitigation interactions helps identify the barriers and opportunities to effective climate policy integration. But what is climate policy integration and why do we need it?

A particular climate action can produce co-benefits for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development, but can also have unintended consequences for these other domains. This is especially true in the land-use sectors, such as agriculture and forestry.

The integration of climate change adaptation and mitigation policy processes is a search for synergies between these two policy domains. It means including joint adaptation and mitigation objectives in intervention design where this makes sense, and ensuring that policy actors interested in either adaptation or mitigation coordinate among themselves.


To document the interactions among actors involved with climate change policy processes (both adaptation and mitigation) in Peru, we conducted a survey and semi-structured interviews with representatives of 76 different organizations.

Our results showed that the usual suspects in national climate policy processes – national government organizations, foreign agencies and intergovernmental organizations – were the most central to both the adaptation and mitigation policy domains of our case study.

By central actor we mean that many other actors have indicated relational ties with this particular actor. As a group, national government organizations topped this type of centrality, indicating national ownership of the climate change agenda in Peru, as well as a good level of institutionalization of climate change responses.

We found many organizations from different groups to be well-positioned in the network for brokering relationships between the two domains of adaptation and mitigation. Many top inter-domain brokers were national government actors and international organizations that had a good brokerage position in both adaptation and mitigation, or at least in one of the two domains.

But there were some unusual suspects as well that were also in good brokerage positions. They were not brokers in any of the two domains separately, and nor did they exhibit a notably high centrality in one or both domains (e.g. a regional government organization and a producers’ association).

Despite their low profile in adaptation and mitigation domains, they were particularly important as mediators across adaptation and mitigation because they were the only potential links between several actors across the domains that might otherwise remain unconnected.

Policy network analysis is a relevant approach for assessing the integration of policy processes. This approach can help identify all the suspects that can foster linkages between domains, as well as the structures of power that can support or hinder more effective and just implementation of climate policies and measures.

In Casablanca, we discover Blaine’s true character. He pushes his personal love interests aside to help the resistance movement.

We need to make a greater effort to identify the acts that are resisting the status quo and making a difference to our climate and the preservation of our planet.

For more information on this topic, please contact Bruno Locatelli at b.locatelli@cgiar.org.
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Topic(s) :   Climate change