The Miocene period saw substantially warmer Earth surface temperatures than today, particularly during a period of global warming called the Mid Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO; ∼17–15 Ma). However, the long-term drivers of Miocene climate remain poorly understood. By using a new continuous climate-biogeochemical model (SCION), we can investigate the interaction between volcanism, climate and biogeochemical cycles through the Miocene. We identify high tectonic CO2 degassing rates and further emissions associated with the emplacement of the Columbia River Basalt Group as the primary driver of the background warmth and the MMCO respectively. We also find that enhanced weathering of the basaltic terrane and input of explosive volcanic ash to the oceans are not sufficient to drive the immediate cooling following the MMCO and suggest that another mechanism, perhaps the change in ocean chemistry due to massive evaporite deposition, was responsible.