Sub-theme 15: [SWG] System-level Barriers to an Effective Response to Climate Change

Zlatko Bodrožić
University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Ana María Peredo
University of Ottawa, Canada
Daniel Nyberg
The University of Newcastle, Australia

Call for Papers

The climate crisis is characterized by a disconnect between micro-level voluntary corporate sustainability practices – which regularly point toward progress – and aggregate environmental outcomes – which just as regularly point toward catastrophe (Wright & Nyberg, 2015). As a recent UN report suggests, current international pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will result in global warming of at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century (United Nations Environment Programme, 2019) –warming that may be incompatible with continued organized human civilization (New et al., 2011). This is often perceived as a distant future threat, but climate change’s devastating impacts are already becoming apparent, evident in the procession of record-breaking hurricanes, floods, droughts, firestorms, and heatwaves that have destroyed the lives of many; and climate scientists estimate that these physical impacts will only worsen in coming decades (Mora et al., 2018). This reality raises the question: why, in the face of the evident existential threat posed by climate change, have the world’s political and corporate elites failed to embrace the decarbonization of our economies that is necessary to avert disaster? As Elizabeth Kolbert (2006: 189) argues, ‘It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.’

In this sub-theme, we seek to unpack this conundrum by focusing on the system-level mechanisms that impede adequate responses to the climate emergency and lock in a ‘fossil fuel forever’ imaginary (Levy & Spicer, 2013). To date, a number of explanations have been proposed for the failure of humanity to meaningfully respond to the worsening climate crisis. These include a focus on:

  • Climate change as a market imperfection and the need to capture externalities through the pricing of carbon emissions (Newell & Paterson, 2010; Stern, 2007);

  • The institutional framing of climate change as a transnational commons problem to be solved with market mechanisms (Schüßler et al., 2014);

  • Climate change as a particularly ‘wicked problem’ which has temporal and spatial dynamics that fundamentally challenge human cognition and our ability to respond effectively (Giddens, 2009);

  • Taken-for-granted, everyday assumptions about economic growth as an engine for livelihood and well-being, crowding out the possibility of alternative scenarios (Peredo et al., 2019);

  • The divisions between the Global North and the Global South over who should share the burden of carbon emissions reductions – a conflict playing out against the broader context of a history of colonial domination (Banerjee, 2012; Bulkeley & Newell, 2015);

  • The organized political activities of major corporations and industry associations to enforce and maintain a hegemonic consensus for continued fossil fuel extraction and use (Levy & Egan, 2003);

  • The dominance of “neoliberal” perspectives on the state, which are characterized by trust in market mechanisms and a passive role of the state, leaving the state grossly under-underpowered to forestall the worst effects of the climate crisis (Adler et al., 2021); and

  • The fundamental conflict between capitalism as an economic system and the maintenance of a habitable climate (Adler, 2015; Foster et al., 2010; Wright & Nyberg, 2015).

We invite papers that use a wide variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses to analyze system-level impediments to effective responses to the environmental crisis. We welcome both original empirical studies as well as conceptual contributions. These can focus on both the limitations of current proposals as well as potential opportunities for meaningful change. Possible topics and questions include, but are not limited to:

  • The evolution and defence of fossil fuel hegemony through corporate political activity;

  • The failure of social movements to date to break the fossil fuel lock-in and, more generally, the challenges of bringing together wide coalitions to push for policy change;

  • The temporal and spatial dimensions of climate change and how these challenge human imagining and organizing;

  • The limitations of dominant forms of the state, and how they constrain the scope of corporate sustainability practices;

  • The limitations of the dominant forms of supra-national governance for ensuring global climate justice.


  • Adler, P.S. (2015): “Book review essay: The environmental crisis and its capitalist roots: Reading Naomi Klein with Karl Polanyi–Naomi Klein: This changes everything: Capitalism vs. the climate.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (2), NP13–NP25.
  • Adler, P.S., Bodrožić, Z., & Jermier, J. (2021): The Climate Emergency and the Proactive State: New Directions for Management and Organization Studies. Paper presented at the 37th EGOS Colloquium, July 8–10, 2021.
  • Banerjee, S.B. (2012): “A Climate for Change? Critical Reflections on the Durban United Nations Climate Change Conference.” Organization Studies, 33 (12), 1761–1786.
  • Bulkeley, H., & Newell, P. (2015): Governing Climate Change. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Foster, J. B., Clark, B., & York, R. (2010): The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Giddens, A. (2009): The Politics of Climate Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Kolbert, E. (2006): Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury.
  • Levy, D.L., & Egan, D. (2003): “A neo-Gramscian approach to corporate political strategy: Conflict and accommodation in the climate change negotiations.” Journal of Management Studies, 40 (4), 803–829.
  • Levy, D.L., & Spicer, A. (2013): “Contested imaginaries and the cultural political economy of climate change.” Organization, 20 (5), 659–678.
  • Mora, C., Spirandelli, D., Franklin, E.C., et al. (2018): “Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions.” Nature Climate Change, 8, 1062–1071.
  • New, M., Liverman, D., Schroeder, H., & Anderson, K. (2011): “Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369 (1934), 6–19.
  • Newell, P., & Paterson, M. (2010): Climate Capitalism: Global Warming and the Transformation of the Global Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peredo, A.M., & McLean, M. (2019):  “Decommodification in action: Common property as countermovement.” Organization, 27 (6), 817–839.
  • Schüßler, E., Rüling, C., & Wittneben, B. (2014): “On melting summits: the limitations of field-configuring events as catalysts of change in transnational climate policy.” Academy of Management Journal, 57 (1), 140–171.
  • Stern, N. (2007): The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (2019): Emissions Gap Report 2019. Nairobi: UNEP.
  • Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. (2015): Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Zlatko Bodrožić is an Associate Professor in Technology, Organization and Sustainability, and co-leader of the LESS research group on system-level sustainability at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. He is interested in the evolution of technologies, management models, organizational paradigms and the political economic-system (see, for example, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, March 2018). Zlatko’s current research focuses on the evolution of these spheres in the era of digital transformation and climate change.
Ana María Peredo is Professor of Political Ecology at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Her research focuses on community alternatives, social economy, social justice and participatory action research, particularly among Indigenous people and disadvantaged communities. Ana Maria’s work appeared in journals such as the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice’, ‘Organization’, ‘Journal of Business Venturing’, ‘Journal of World Business’, ‘Journal of Management Education’, among others.
Daniel Nyberg is Professor of Management at Newcastle University Business School, Australia. His research focuses on political activities in and by organizations. He is pursuing this interest in projects on how corporations respond to climate change, the politics of ‘fracking’, and corporate influence on democracy.