Hidden handbrakes: overview and key research

'Hidden handbrakes' are invisible obstacles that are slowing down progress on climate action. This initiative, led by IIED, aims to identify and overcome these barriers to accelerate a global transition towards a greener future.

Despite global efforts to tackle the devastating effects of climate change, we are falling short of meeting the world's climate goals. So what is hindering our progress?

'Hidden handbrakes' are invisible obstacles that are slowing down climate action. They are the barriers, ingrained in societies and economies, away from the public eye.

But now IIED and the Generation Foundation are identifying and exploring the underlying systems of power that protect the status quo, and working with others to unlock the power of climate action.

This interactive platform, launched in September 2023 during Climate Week NYC, is designed to uncover and share these hidden handbrakes. With your help, we aim to uncover and remove these obstacles through research, coalitions, communication and influencing.

Exposing the hidden handbrakes

Our research into hidden handbrakes has revealed how shadowy investment tribunals enable fossil fuel companies to claim US$80 billion of taxpayers’ money and how governments are subsidising ingredients for carbon-intensive ultra-processed foods by up to $42.5 billion a year despite the negative consequences for both people and planet.

Below are links to our latest research and reports: 

What are hidden handbrakes? Explained in just 53 seconds

Podcast: what’s holding back climate action?


In IIED's Make Change Happen podcast, guests unpack what we mean by ‘hidden handbrakes’ to climate action, with reflections on the role of governments that must be pressed to take long-term action, the law firms, marketing and advertising companies that act as enablers to oil and gas companies, and examples of countries challenging these barriers.

Guidelines for contributors

Once you have registered, submitting a hidden handbrake should take no longer than five minutes. Your submission will be checked and published within 48 hours. If we would like to discuss your submission before publishing, we will contact you via email.

All submissions and comments should be concise and simple to understand, avoiding jargon. This platform is not intended to be an opportunity to condemn specific individuals or collective bodies, but rather highlight the systems and processes blocking climate action.

We are keen to encourage insightful, intellectually challenging discussion that is inclusive of diverse perspectives. We are open to strong opinions but please avoid bad language (including profanity). We will edit or not post submissions that we deem to be offensive.

Please respect other people’s views and beliefs when contributing and do not post personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or other online contact details, which may relate to you or other individuals.

Do not make any commercial endorsement or promotion of any product, service or publication not relevant to the discussion. However, if it is helpful, please include a link to where more information on your submitted hidden handbrake might be found, or an article that illustrates your point.

‘Hidden handbrakes’ are invisible obstacles that are slowing down climate action. Read our overview to find out more.

We encourage you to share and re-use this content, in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

This platform is based on user-generated content, and contributions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IIED.

We welcome feedback on this platform and this work. Please send feedback or any enquiries to [email protected], where you can also report any inaccuracies.

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With support from the Generation Foundation