Political systems involve complex networks of actors embedded within various institutional settings and operating across multiple scales, from hyper-local to global. This complex arrangement of governing institutions has been described as a climate change regime complex, as opposed to a comprehensive and integrated regime, and is characterised by loosely interdependent elements that are sometimes conflicting and sometimes reinforcing (Keohane and Victor, 2010). The political regime determines the set of rules and power structure regulating the operation of a government or institutions. Political actors shape and are constrained by the rules and regulations in their particular spheres (e.g. municipal, state, national), and by pressure from their constituents, advocacy coalitions and other interest groups. The political sphere can enable tipping in other subsystems, for example through the introduction of new policies or investments, and can itself tip, resulting in new policy goals, political leaders or regimes. At the same time, political systems can also be conservative forces, sometimes by design, often resisting change and reinforcing existing social orders, power structures and dominant practices. 

Political systems as tipping elements have received relatively limited attention in the literature on social tipping and detailed knowledge of the specific mechanisms, feedbacks and temporal and spatial scales are limited. Given the complexity of the political sphere, especially when it comes to the governance of climate change and ESTPs, it may be impossible to detect the exact point of tipping and more fruitful to examine tipping dynamics, including enabling conditions and feedbacks, and locating the most ‘sensitive points’ at which to intervene (Mealy et al., 2023; Farmer et al., 2019; Geels and Ayoub, 2023). For example, the policy feedback literature suggests that new technology firms (e.g. offshore wind or electric vehicles) can use their growing lobbying power to shape public policies. Strategic policies and investments can in turn support and reinforce the development of these new technologies and strengthen markets, especially at early stages of a transition, when there are greater costs or risks (Geels and Ayoub, 2023). New technologies and associated markets can create new coalitions that in turn change policy goals and alliances, as well as public discourse. Similarly, public attention can create pressure on policymakers to introduce, remove or strengthen policies or investments. These dynamics are discussed in more detail next.

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