This article proposes an innovative theoretical framework that combines institutional and policy network approaches to study multi-level governance. The framework is used to derive a number of propositions on how cross-level power imbalances shape communication and collaboration across multiple levels of governance. The framework is then applied to examine the nature of cross-level interactions in climate change mitigation and adaptation policy processes in the land use sectors of Brazil and Indonesia. The paper identifies major barriers to cross-level communication and collaboration between national and sub-national levels. These are due to power imbalances across governance levels that reflect broader institutional differences between federal and decentralized systems of government. In addition, powerful communities operating predominantly at the national level hamper cross-level interactions. The analysis also reveals that engagement of national level actors is more extensive in the mitigation and that of local actors in the adaptation policy domain, and specialisation in one of the climate change responses at the national level hampers effective climate policy integration in the land use sector.