Centre for Studies in Democratisation
Students' Working Paper Series
Climate Change, Democracy and
Democratization : The Causal Relationship.
Chris Biggs
[email protected]
Working Paper n. 5/ 2011
Centre for Studies in Democratisation
Department of Politics and International Studies
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom
The Centre for Studies in Democratisation (CSD) was established at
the University of Warwick in 1992 in response to a growing interest
in the study of democracy at a theoretical and empirical level.
Democratisation has become a central political theme and features
now prominently on the foreign policy agenda of western countries.
Members of CSD are seeking to understand why, how and when
democracies emerge, sustain or collapse. They also investigate the
reasons why democratisation can sometimes be problematic.
Do not hesitate to contact us for more information!
Renske Doorenspleet (Director):
[email protected]
Or visit our website:
An inquiry into the relationship between democracy, democratization and
climate change, opens a door to a vast array of possible interfering causal
factors which must be analyzed and considered. This essay will present the
main causal factors which may impact the relationship democracy can have
on climate change. The paper will begin by explaining certain
methodological limitations that must be taken into consideration when
dealing with data from the literature, plus the restrictions they provide on
fully analyzing the relationships between these concepts. Following this the
four main causal factors will be analyzed and critiqued; Climate Security,
Development, Good Governance and
the role of International
Organizations. The main arguments on the potential affects of climate
change on democratization will then be presented, arguing that it has mostly
negative affects, but there are some positives and more are dependent on
other external factors. The paper will then look at the effect of democracy
on climate change, specifically the characteristics inherent in a democracy
and how they may have a positive impact on mitigating climate changes
detrimental effects. Along with this, it will be argued that a democratic
system provides a better system of dealing with climate change than that of
an authoritarian regime. Finally, it will be said that democratization while
preferential is not sufficient in dealing with climate change and only in
combination with the causal factors mentioned is it likely to have more of an
impact on climate change.
Key Words: Climate Change, Democratization, Democracy, Authoritarian
Regimes, Causality, Development, Good Governance.
Climate Change, Democracy and Democratization : The Causal
Chris Biggs
Any inquiry into the relationship between climate change, democracy and
democratization brings with it a wealth of questions relating to the numerous
causal and associative factors that contribute to the impact these three variables have on each other and our study of them. Democracy is but one component and alone it’s effects are minimized, therefore the influence of causal
elements must be analyzed. Two important methodological considerations
will be highlighted to begin with - temporal and spacial - plus, further limitations with regard to definitions and indicators, to make the reader aware of
certain shortcomings in empirical data. For purposes of space, I will first acknowledge and critique the main causal connections one must consider - Climate Security, Development, Good Governance and role of International Organizations - these will then be brought in, to a lesser degree, when answering the main question. The essay will then proffer the principle arguments on
the effects of climate change on democratization and its consequences on the
prospects of successful democratization in the future. This will be followed
by a presentation and analysis of the ways in which characteristics inherent
to a democracy can have an effect on climate change. Along with the latter, I
will be arguing that democracy as a political system is better suited to deal
with climate change, compared with an authoritarian regime. While I will argue that democracy is preferential in the long term as a regime with which to
combat climate change, it is far from perfect or sufficient, with multiple
causal factors and indirect political variables playing significant roles. To
conclude, it will be put forward that democracy and its causal connections
have the potential to create more of an impact on climate change, than climate change on democratization.
Methodological limitations and Causal Connections
The relationship between democracy, democratization and climate
change is intertwined through a variety of causal connections and methodological considerations that need to be taken into account when analyzing the
impact they have on each other. I will discuss the main influencing factors
that contribute to our study of these variables; those that have direct and indirect effects, and with regard to empirical data, the common temporal and
spatial matters affecting the study. I will begin with temporal issues which
arise on numerous occasions in both the methodology of studies and as separate causal strands that impact democracies effectiveness. When dealing
with climate change, one must consider that it will have far-reaching effects
that will become apparent as time moves on, and that it’s effects will have
implications for humanity as whole not just certain nations, it’s a cross-border and intergenerational issue.1 Therefore, when considering democracies
effect on climate change we must ask whether as political system it is suited
to such a challenge. Arguably, democracies do work in the long term with
regard to economic development and amelioration of socio-economic
Ludvig Beckman and Edward A. Page, “Perspectives on justice, democracy and global climate change,”
Environmental Politics, 17, 4, (2008): 527.
factors.2 One must look decades into the future to see improvements in
poverty, the same can be said for environmental policies. Evidence and benefits of mitigation may only become visible after a considerable amount of
time has passed. This is a weakness of many empirical studies done in the
1990’s, as not enough time had elapsed to accurately assess the impact of
global environmental policies.3 Furthermore, issues relating to climate mitigation that involve long term commitments, which may curtail democratic
freedoms, would be pushed on to future generations, disregarding the democratic right of self-determination.4 The importance of dealing with a phenomenon that reaches far into the future, is considering the crucial balance
between environmental consequences and democratic consequences, that are
a result of any mitigation or adaption policies on future generations.5 There
is a moral obligation when studying democracies potential effects on climate
change, to contemplate the implications environmental policies will have on
the future generations ability to constitute a liberal democratic system. In
line with temporal aspects, spatial concerns need to be taken into account.
The cross-border nature of climate change requires a global solution to a
global problem.6 Democracies are bound by their borders, and solutions are
state-based and therefore entirely dependent on state capacity.7 Any attempt
Quan Li, and Rafael Reuveny, “Democracy and environmental degradation,” International Studies
Quarterly, 50, 4, (2006): 954.
Manus I. Midlarsky, “Democracy and the Environment: An Empirical Assessment,” Journal of Peace Research, 35, 3,(1998): 359.
Ludvig Beckman, “Do global climate change and the interest of future generations have implications for
democracy?,” Environmental Politics, 17, 4, (2008): 615.
Beckman, “Do global climate change and the interest of future generations have implications for democracy?,” 611.
Peter Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization: A Complex Relationship,” Policy Paper, Heinrich
Boll Stiftung, Berlin, (November 2009): 9.
David Held and Angus Fane Hervey, “Democracy, climate change and global governance,” www.policynetwork.net, (November 2009) 9.
to address the issue of climate change on a regional or global scale are limited by structural difficulties in international organizations and norms.
The next methodological factors that must be considered, are the limitations of quantitative data and the qualitative complications of defining climate change and democracy found in existing literature. On the whole, the
theoretical arguments for a positive link between democracy and climate
change are a lot stronger than the empirical ones, as will be shown later.
Many of the empirical studies use a variety of ways to measure the variables,
and therefore produce conflicting results. Deciding on which aspect of climate change to focus on, whether just emissions from fossil fuels or including emissions deriving from offshore sourcing, i.e. carbon leakage, skews
results.8 Also, studies differ on which indicators of democracy to use and
which democracies to include, as the inclusion of the rich developed democracies may bias results.9 The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI),
which measures emissions trend and emissions level, and has climate policy
assessments by experts, looks at 57 countries which make up 90% of all energy related CO2 emissions. The 2011 index continues to leave the top three
places free as no country met the required standards, however, the next 10
are all democracies. Including large developing country democracies, such
as India, Brazil and Mexico, alongside the established developed country
democracies of United Kingdom, France and Germany. The positive rankings of Brazil (4), India (10), South Africa (29) and Mexico (11) in comparison to the low rankings of Russia (48) and China (56) are a good sign that
Peter Burnell, “Is Democratisation Bad for Global Warming?,” CSGR Working Paper 257/09 (2009), 7.
Michèle Bättig and Thomas Bernauer, “National institutions and global public goods: are democracies
more cooperative in climate change policy?,” International Organization, 63, 2, (2009): 293.
the developing democracies do seem to have a more positive relationship
with environmental policies which curb emissions, when compared to the
authoritarian developing nations. While this shows a positive pattern for the
claim that democracy has a positive effect, the Index also witnesses the USA
(54), Canada (57), Australia (58) and Japan (38) in the lower section of the
table, causing any evidence to be mixed and inconclusive.10 The reason behind many unclear results and mixed studies in existing literature is due to
inconsistencies in the measurement of variables. Studies may measure emissions, GHG’s, air pollution, soil degradation or commitment to environmental agreements, environmental protection, and/or outcomes of environmental
policies. This, coupled with a broad spectrum of regime identification
scores, causes results to be mixed with democracies and authoritarian regimes excelling in some areas, and failing in others, leaving empirical evidence on the matter rather ambiguous and the theoretical arguments unsupported. A more coherent and broad identification of measures is required,
balancing between policy outputs and outcomes in tandem with a defined indicator of climate change, whether it be emissions trend or emissions per
The methodological limitations of measuring and understanding the
relationship between democracy and climate change, are important to bear in
mind when analyzing existing literature and data. However, causal connections that impact and influence the way in which democracy effects climate
change and visa-versa are also crucial, as ignoring them would prevent one
Burk, J., C. Bals, and L. Parker. “The Climate Change Performance Index Results 2011,” Germanwatch
and Climate Action Network Europe, (Berlin : 2010.)
from gaining a real understanding of the multiple factors in play. The causal
factors are separate variables which work in conjunction with democracy but
are not inherently found or part of democracy itself, therefore not directly
relevant to the inquiry of democracies effects on climate change, but are indirect components. I will first very briefly touch on climate change as a security risk, as this relates to the effect climate change can have on democratization and will be mentioned subsequently when inquiring into this relationship. The German Advisory Council on Global Change published a report
entitled Climate Change as Security Risk in 2007, which posited that in the
coming decades climate change would overwhelm many weak/poor states
abilities to deal with its effects and thereby lead to destabilization and violence. Existing tensions may be exacerbated by water scarcity, land-use disputes, and climate migration, all which could lead to conflict or resource
wars.11 Climate conflicts could therefore cause existing political systems or
regimes to collapse leading to failed states. It’s important to investigate
whether democracies are more or less able to handle such crises and whether
countries in transition can survive such pressures.
One of the most noted causal links that impacts current studies, environmental policies and international agreements, involves the addition of development to the equation. While rich developed countries are mostly responsible for the climate situation we currently face, no solution nor agreement is possible without the input and actions of the worlds developing
countries, who are year by year becoming greater emitters of CO2, China
German Advisory Council on Global Change, Climate Change as a Security Risk (London and Sterling,
VA: Earthscan, 2007), 1.
being the largest,12 while also being those countries most vulnerable to climate changes detrimental effects. Therefore, studies into the role of development have become truly significant. Most give rise to what has become
known as the ‘cruel choice’, which originally existed between developing
nations having to choose between economic growth or democratic processes
but which is now becoming a choice between mitigating climate change or
economic growth and development.13 The tragic irony is that economic
wealth is purportedly needed for climate mitigation. The Brundtland Commission asserted, that environmental protection requires economic growth as
a means of managing protection costs.14 It has been found for example, that
growth in GNP per capita, is the best predictor of policy outcomes relating to
air pollution in 32 industrialized countries.15 The importance of this is clear,
when we consider whether democracies or authoritarian regimes are better
equipped to make the choice between climate mitigation or development. It’s
an enormous task for any country to pursue democracy, development and
tackle climate change simultaneously. Traditionally, the isolation of authoritarian regimes from civilian pressures would make it easier for such a regime
to take such a choice. However, authoritarian regimes rely on providing economic growth for legitimacy, and the decision to focus on climate mitigation
is taken only by the elite in the country, who are also most likely to be those
that benefit from environmental degradation.16 Therefore if, as prevailing
theories state, democracies are more likely or just as likely to deliver ecoBurk, J., C. Bals, and L. Parker. “The Climate Change Performance Index Results 2011,” Germanwatch
and Climate Action Network Europe, (Berlin : 2010.)
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 17.
Midlarsky, “Democracy and the Environment,” 342.
Midlarsky, “Democracy and the Environment,” 342.
Margrethe Winslow, “Is Democracy Good for the Environment?,” Journal of Environmental 'Planning
and Management, 48, 5, (2005): 772.
nomic growth as authoritarian regimes and if economic growth is needed for
climate mitigation, then it would seem that the promotion of democracy is
essential, as a democracy is more likely to manage resources efficiently and
target climate change. However, the Environmental Kuznets Curve states,
that only after a certain level of economic growth is reached does the negative environmental impact lessen17, and the ability for countries to reach this
level and the emissions accumulated in the process are potentially unmanageable. Moreover, can one morally ask a developing country to shift its resources from poverty alleviation to climate mitigation, essentially dooming
the country to a lower level of socio-economic development while rich developed countries feel no such harm?
The third causal connection is between democracy and good governance and it’s impact on climate change. Good governance is not necessarily unique to democracies, however, it has been argued that good governance
is more common in a democracy and as important if not more so than democracy itself in establishing effective methods of combating climate change.18
It’s also useful in promoting development, which therefore indirectly links it
to the previous causal connection. Good governance entails the rule of law
and property rights, both arguably essential for development. It also relates
to the capacity of the state to formulate necessary policies, which are then
enacted and enforced in the most effective manner. Therefore it’s argued,
that more important than pursuing democratic government is the strengthening of state capacity, along with better governance, allowing climate issues
Li, Q. and Reuveny, R., “Democracy and environmental degradation,” 954.
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 33.
to be handled in a democratic way.19 In addition, it has been argued that regime type and economic growth, are critical intervening variables that require good education and better governance if they’re to succeed. A study by
Dutt showed positive results when quality of governance and quality of
political institutions are factored in, leading to a clear lowering of emissions.20 While there is no direct correlation between the variables, the association of these features in cohesion with democracy and economic growth,
may be enough to find a causal relationship. Those developed democracies
with high growth, also have higher representation in institutions, better information and education on environmental risks, which potentially give rise
to improved environmental policies.21 While democracies are generally associated with good governance, it’s not inherently found within them, and
democracy alone may not be sufficient.
The final causal connection is that of International organizations. Climate change is a global problem, the role of global systems of governance
are therefore pivotal in fostering agreements to mitigate its effects. This
causal connection intertwines with previous correlational factors, such as development and democracy promotion/support. While being a vital actor it’s
also a key weakness in climate negotiations, as there exists a democratic deficit in international organizations. Democracy’s ability to combat climate
change is limited by its territorial boundaries, if a global solution is required,
democratic processes need to be adopted on the global level. This must be
Rolf Lidskog and Ingemar Elander, “Addressing Climate Change Democratically. Multi-Level Governance, Transnational Networks and Governmental Structures,” Sustainable Development, 18, (2010): 33.
Kuheli Dutt, “Governance, institutions and the environment-income relationship: a cross-country study,”
Environ Dev Sustain, 11, (2009): 720.
Winslow, “Is Democracy Good for the Environment?,” 781.
kept in mind when inquiring into democracies effectiveness against climate
change, as a global effort is needed and the national interests of all countries
considered. Most current negotiations become gridlocked due to tensions
between developed and developing countries, as to who should shoulder the
majority of the costs of climate mitigation & adaption.22 The two largest
emitters, the USA and China exemplify this tension, with one unwilling to
make a move without the other, and both possessing veto abilities in the UN.
A lack of democratic accountability when targets aren’t reached, and underrepresentation of developing countries is a further issue which compounds
the problem. Another question to consider is the relative weakness of international agreements whether under the auspices of the UN or not, there is no
way to enforce agreements.
Effects of climate change on democratization
Before looking into the effect of democracy and democratization on
climate change it is important to analyze one more relationship, that of climate change on democratization. This entails the analysis of how climate
change may either hinder or promote countries in transition to democracy.
By understanding climate changes effects on democratization, we are better
able to judge whether a push for democracy around the globe would be beneficial, if as I argue, democracy is deemed to be the best system to deal
with the challenges climate change presents. Furthermore, it will provide answers to those countries already in transition who are juggling the pressing
needs of nation and state-building, economic growth and climate change.
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 23.
The transition from non-democracy to democracy is a challenging journey,
climate change only increases the difficulty. A failed or blundered attempt at
democratization can cause a retardation in development and lead to insecurity, both are causal connections in the entangled web that is democracy and
climate change. Poor countries that rely on agricultural production will be
hit the hardest and those countries which suffer from deteriorating access to
water, will invariably be hit by protests and violence if human needs are not
met by governments.23 Also, a governments promise to deliver public goods
to its people with the move to democracy, may be hindered by the states
need to use resources to mitigate climate change, potentially leading to further destabilization.24 It once again boils down to a choice, as most states
would be unable to deal with both tasks at the same time, whether it is more
prudent to focus on building state efficiency i.e. good governance, before
moving to democracy and economic growth which then allows for the formulation of environmental policies. Once more, further research is required
into which of these factors are essential or requisites for others to function
properly. It appears that either way, whichever choice is taken, there will be
an opportunity cost on society, whether it’s a lack of liberties and rights or
weak economic growth and development, in order to prioritize climate
change. Climate change will be most harmful to those societies who lack the
political and economic resources to adapt,25 therefore it will impact some
states more than others. Needless to say, a one size fits all model is unlikely,
and each case will need to be viewed independently and judged upon its
political, social and economic situation.
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 20.
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 34.
Bättig, M., T. Bernauer, “National institutions and global public goods,” 282.
What can be said is that recent developmentalist paradigms, like that
used by China, have come at a very high cost to the environment, putting
rapid economic growth as the priority has led to dire environmental degradation.26 An interesting question is whether the need to focus on climate
change and its effects will prevent a country like China from eventually
democratizing, if a strong authoritarian state is deemed necessary to combat
any environmental effects, or if it’s failure will be the trigger to
democratize? The consequences of China’s astounding growth on the environment “have the potential to bring the country to its knees economically”27.
It remains to be seen if the countries government is able to implement sufficient adaption and mitigation policies to combat any disastrous effects while
keeping its economy afloat. While China’s development model can be
lauded on the success it has had, the costs to the environment have been
staggering; the adoption of the ‘Beijing Consensus’ by other countries in
Asia, such as Vietnam, however, present a pressing problem if it entails rapid economic growth at the cost of environmental preservation. Heggelund
and Cha found that the success of China’s development has increased environmental problems in the region.28 China’s success or failure, at mitigating
or adapting to climate change in the future will also either bode well for
democratization or lead to more countries adopting it’s development model.29
Nick Brooks, Natasha Grist & Katrina Brown, “Development Futures in the Context of Climate Change:
Challenging the Present and Learning from the Past,” Development Policy Review, 27, 6, (2009): 744.
Mark, Beeson, “The coming of environmental authoritarianism,” Environmental Politics, 19, 2, (2010):
Beeson, “The coming of environmental authoritarianism,”, 283.
Antonio Marquina, Global Warming and Climate Change Prospects and Policies in Asia and Europe,
(Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 466.
Climate change may have an effect on democratization in an indirect
way, other than exacerbating tensions on the ground due to resource scarcity
and natural disasters, which would have a malign political effect. The battle
to combat climate change by diversifying from fossil fuels to alternative energy, such as biofuels, may have an unintentional effect on democratization.
The rise in global commodity prices have lead to wide spread food security
issues. The demand for biofuels30 made from corn (ethanol) has caused food
prices to rise across the globe, leading to violence across poorer regions in
Africa. Recent uprisings in Tunisia for example, have been said to be linked
to protests on food prices in the country.31 It could be said that indirectly, the
failure of authoritarian governments in the region to provide for it’s citizens
is leading to revolutions calling for democratic government, which it is believed will be more capable of providing public goods and basic food to citizens. The example of recent cases for calls to democratize in North Africa, I
feel proves that although climate change may make transitions a lot more
difficult, it will not prevent the initiation of calls for democracy. While the
future of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and others in the region and those
currently undergoing political protest in the Middle East, are examples that
climate change will not prevent disgruntled populations from calling for
political change. It remains to be seen whether these countries are able to
successfully democratize. The challenges they encounter will be insightful
for many potential cases in the future and should be studied closely. In sum,
Lidskog and Elander, “Addressing Climate Change Democratically,” 35.
Climate Progress, “Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest,” Last modified February 4th 2011, http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/04/contribution-of-high-foodprices-to-mideast-unrest/
climate change can have a significant impact on democratization, indirectly
through impacting causal connections, such as preventing development,
causing climate conflicts, all of which destabilize the political system if it is
too weak to effectively handle the issues. Yet, the negative effects of climate
change and the inability of authoritarian regimes to combat them, may lead
to calls for democratization thereby promoting democracy in poor regions.
Whether this is good for democracy or bad, depends on the success of democracies themselves and the transition process. Its impact would then seem to
be mixed, having both negative and potentially positive effects. I would argue that it may be more prudent to focus less on democratization in the initial stages, and primarily build on state efficiency, improving rule of law and
good governance before attempting a fragile process of democratization,
which may fail due to needs not being met.32
Effects of democracy and democratization on Climate Change
Much of what has been said is dependent on the ability of democracy
to effectively combat climate change. Pushing for democratization across the
globe is only logical if having more democracies in the world makes it more
likely for a global solution to climate change to be found. Much like the
‘Democratic Peace Thesis’, the argument goes that the more democracies in
the world, the more likely there will be a global binding agreement on an environmental policy to lower emissions. I will therefore focus on whether a
democratic state has a greater capacity and ability to mitigate climate change
than that of an authoritarian regime. Having mentioned the causal connec32
Burnell, “Is Democratisation Bad for Global Warming?,” 26.
tions that contribute to democracies chances of success, I will be focusing on
those characteristics inherent to a democracy, which are then combined with
said connections, which I will argue make democracy the most suitable system. The empirical evidence on the argument is mixed and mostly ambiguous. The theoretical arguments in support of democracy can be grouped into
the systems three inherent characteristics; freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to vote.33 The freedom of speech argument is based
on the idea that in a democracy with a free press, there is easier access to information on environmental problems and therefore, society as a whole is
more aware of potential issues. This access to information is then used to
form interest groups and non-governmental organizations thanks to the freedom of association. These in turn provide even more information to the public and the government on environmental issues. The freedom to vote, allows
citizens in a democracy to hold governments accountable and for them to be
representative.34 This means that a democratic government is more receptive
to citizens desires and is motivated to deliver public goods like environmental protection so as to secure re-election. Elites are also less likely to benefit
from environmental degradation, when being scrutinized by other agencies.35
A democracy’s openness and freedoms allow for the spread of information
and learning, domestically and internationally. Furthermore, much like the
DPT states, the recognition of like minded polities allows for cooperation on
a global level and further promotes environmental cooperation, such as in
the European Union.36
Eric Neumayer., “Do democracies exhibit stronger environmental commitment? A cross-country analysis,” Journal of Peace Research, 38, 2, (2002): 140.
Neumayer, “Do democracies exhibit stronger environmental commitment?,” 140.
Winslow, “Is Democracy Good for the Environment?,” 772.
Winslow, “Is Democracy Good for the Environment?,” 772.
The growth of international NGO’s has led the way for informal and
formal institutions in democracies to work towards promoting environmental
policies and an awareness of climate change. The existence of networking
and civil society inherent to democracies, has enriched the green movement
globally. It has “succeeded in bringing a significant and often underestimated degree of democratic accountability to the global politics of climate
change.”37 This has led to growing trans-national-horizontal networks that
implement the use of local, national and international governments to establish agreements in collaboration with social movements in the form of
NGO’s, voluntary associations and businesses all working and sharing information on environmental policies. It’s hoped that this network of information across spheres and territorial boundaries, will allow for much needed
deliberation and innovation on climate mitigation and adaption policies.38
Meanwhile, in authoritarian regimes the lack of a free press, interest groups
and vibrant civil society, prevent any such pursuit. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes need for legitimacy means they strive to deliver economic goods
in the present with little regard for long-term investment in environmental
protection.39 Authoritarian regimes have little incentive to stick to or adopt
sustainable environmental policies. Any potential advantage they have in
‘cruel choice’ dilemmas is irrelevant if elites have no interest in climate mitigation, especially if the small number of elites benefit from the exploitation
of resources.40 Therefore, one would expect there to be a direct correlation
Burnell, “Climate Change and Democratization,” 19.
Lidskog and Elander, “Addressing Climate Change Democratically,” 38.
Winslow, “Is Democracy Good for the Environment?,” 772.
Ward, Hugh, “Liberal democracy and sustainability,” Environmental Politics, 17: 3, (2008): 387.
between democracy and environmental quality, Held and Hervey note that
out of the 40 highest carbon emitters, those with the best records are democracies.41
Despite these logical theoretical arguments, the empirical data is
mixed in its support of these assertions and it’s that which requires analysis.
Most notably there seems to be a gap in the success of environmental commitments by democracies and the eventual outcomes. By this I mean, that
studies by Congleton and Neumayer show that democracies are more likely
to sign international agreements that limit emissions. Yet despite such agreements, the outcome seems to remain largely unchanged as targets are not
met, i.e. Kyoto Protocol. Battig and Bernauer explained this by observing
that the causal chain linking environmental risks, public perception and public demand for mitigation to policy commitments, is shorter than that starting
from risk to policy commitment to policy outcome. The longer the chain the
more interference from outside variables that have a causal impact on the
success of such policies; such as mitigation costs, efficiency of implementing agencies etc. The outcomes of policies are invariably impacted by a variety of factors outside of the control of a territorially bound political system.42
Regardless, a positive relationship between democracy and participation in
global climate change policies is found by studies such as that of von Stein
and Battig and Bernauer. Meanwhile, they argue that methodological inconsistencies, as mentioned earlier on the measuring of emissions trend rather
than levels, provides their study with a more accurate test of the democracyDavid Held & Angus Fane Hervey, “Democracy, climate change and global governance,” www.policynetwork.net, (November 2009): 6.
Bättig, M.,T. Bernauer, “National institutions and global public goods,” 290.
environment relationship.43 Yet their study, as many others, found ambiguous
results on democracies impact on policy outcomes. They conclude that
“democracies are clearly more responsive at the political-commitment than
at the problem-solving level, not only in absolute terms, but also relative to
non-democracies.”44 Moreover, they identify signs that democracies perform
better over the long term, consistent with studies on democracies impact on
development/economic growth. Gleditsch and Sverdrup surmise this well
when they state that “the crucial point is that regardless of what harm democracies may do to the environment, they are more likely to make corrective
action.”45 I stress again, that much ambiguity on results of policy outcomes,
is also potentially explained by temporal factors, such as the lag in results,
this should be remembered. The participation of democracies in international
agreements although weak, is better than the inaction of authoritarian regimes.
The environmental kuznets curve also warrants mentioning. Studies
by Dinda and Dutt hypothesize the existence of an inverted U shape relationship between income and environmental quality. If causal factors are accounted for and ceteris paribus, democracy’s are equally, if not more able to
foster economic growth and increase income to a degree where environmental pressures no longer react negatively, but decrease due to more financial resources dedicated to mitigation.46 If this is the case, developing world
democracies will increase emissions as economic growth continues, until a
Bättig, M.,T. Bernauer, “National institutions and global public goods,” 292.
Bättig, M.,T. Bernauer, “National institutions and global public goods,” 303.
Neumayer., “Do democracies exhibit stronger environmental commitment?,” 158.
Dinda, S., “Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis: A survey,” Ecological Economics, 49, 4, (2004):
tipping point is reached. The question is, can the worlds eco-system sustain
any more pressure? Barros and colleagues in a 2002 study, argue that an improvement in education and other social capital may lower the turning point
of the EKC, thereby avoiding a increased damage before benefits are
To summarize, the freedoms found in a democracy theoretically enables greater understanding, sharing and acting on environmental issues such
as climate change through formal and informal institutions. Combined with
causal factors such as a positive effect on economic growth and development, plus higher levels of participation in international institutions, supported by a democracies long term stability and long sighted view, while not
perfect, is more suited than a short sighted, isolated, authoritarian regime.
While much of the empirical evidence is ambiguous and supports neither the
position of democracy or authoritarian regimes, there is some solid evidence
that shows positive relations with regard to environmental commitment, certain types environmental degradation on the domestic level and the relatively
strong presence of democracies high on the CCPI. More research needs to be
done to prove this relationship and it's strength, plus the relative importance
of the causal factors in ensuring democracies successful effect on climate
change so as to better understand where future focus should be directed.
The structural difficulties in finding a solution to a global issue such
as climate change, means that democracies are not guaranteed to succeed,
Dutt, ‘Governance, institutions and the environment-income relationship,” 707.
yet the same difficulties encountered by democracies are also encountered
by authoritarian regimes to an even higher degree. While democracy alone is
not enough, it has within it the potential as a political system, to work in coordination with causal factors of good governance, development and international organizations to find a global solution. The ambiguity of empirical
studies does not necessarily mean that democracies as a system are unable to
mitigate climate change, only that certain aspects of democratic processes in
certain countries, are lacking effective functions that allow for the improvement of environmental quality. The multitude of intervening variables and
temporal factors only compound the complexity of the situation. The adaptability and propensity of a democracy to learn and evolve, coupled with long
term stability are what allow it to have a significant impact on climate
change in the future. The call for a more deliberative form of democracy48,
or even one in which certain liberties are curtailed in order to preserve environmental interests for future generations, are two such possible futures.49 A
definitive answer on the question is elusive due to the need for more empirical research on the ‘cruel choices’ and relative importance of variables such
as development, good governance and economic growth, as to the degree
with which these factors contribute to democracies potential impact on climate change. What can be said is that democracy alone is not a sufficient
condition and the success of democratization is dependent on numerous aspects, such as existing state structures and capacities. I therefore conclude,
that democracy and democratization have the potential for a more significant
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Beckman, “Do global climate change and the interest of future generations have implications for democracy?', 622.
impact on climate change when causal connections are taken into account,
than the impact of climate change on democratization, but only time will
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