Why do some countries adopt the Kyoto protocal and IPCC recommendations earlier than others?

How is science empowered in different countries? What are the actors and conflicts in different countries? Why is it that more democratic countries seem to adopt the Kyoto protocol earlier than others? The social sciences have a real role to play in answering these questions which will be discussed in the upcoming IHDP Open Meeting in Bonn by researchers affiliated to the COMPON project.

The COMPON project, Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks, is a network of social scientists developing cross-national surveys to explain why some countries adopt IPCC recommendations quicker than others. COMPON, started by US sociologist Jeffrey Broadbent and now includes studies in Japan, China, the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, England, and Greece.

The aim is to trace the flow of cognitive models (“facts,” frames, ideas and normative evaluations) concerning climate change between the global and national levels, and within the national levels in the policy-formation process… [The] policy network method includes the full range of organizations involved in climate change politics (government agencies, political parties, business, union, NGO and movement associations).

One of the researchers involved is German sociologist Philip Leifeld who has an interesting piece on is homepage that more democratic countries are faster at ratifying the Kyoto protocol.

The rate of adopting the Kyoto protocol in different countries

[Red shows democratic countries; Black undemocratic - countries are classified using different indices - not HDI doesn't show a clear difference]

The trend is followed for other similar international agreements like the Montreal protocol and the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. Philip discusses why we see these patterns:

Why do we find this impressively consistent pattern? Why do democratic countries ratify the protocols faster than the others? We find four theories about this in the literature:

1. Corruption: In countries with high levels of corruption, industry lobbying can more easily assert national policies against climate protection or similar “threats”.
2. Accountability: Democratic countries have a better capacity to foresee upcoming long-term risks because science, policy-makers and the media engage in an open, public discourse.
3. Collective goods and public choice: Climate protection is a collective good, and countries have an incentive to be freeriders regarding international agreements. But only autocratic countries can afford to do so because they do not have to face punishment by the voters.
4. Capacity: Non-democratic countries usually have a lower level of development, less money and more other competing problems, so they assign a low priority to climate protection.

Which theory is now valid, and which one is wrong? The answer is: We don’t know. The problem is that democracy, corruption control, development, freedom of speech and assembly, wealth, etc. are highly collinear, so it is not possible to separate the effects. This is rather a theoretical than a methodological problem. The plots in figure 4 exhibit the problem: Corruption, development and democracy can all be predicted by gross domestic product per capita.

There are only some small clues that may provide preliminary answers: If we try to assess whether corruption or democracy are responsible for ratification pace, it may be a good idea to look at countries that are democratic but also corrupt or countries that are neither corrupt nor democratic. The only strong outlier in this sense is Singapore, which scores low on most democracy scores and also low on the corruption index. Singapore ratifies the Montreal protocol very early but is an extreme laggard in the cases of Kyoto and Cartagena, so it does not provide us with a satisfactory answer. The second clue may be the difference between the two climate protocols, Kyoto and Montreal, and the biosafety protocol, Cartagena. On the one hand, the difference in pace between democratic and non-democratic countries is much less extreme for the Cartagena protocol, and biosafety is indeed much less important for the industry than pollution control, so this may be a case for the corruption theory. On the other hand, the difference is still there, and it is consistent over all indices, so this suggests that a combination of several explanations is at work. Which one is the most important can unfortunately not be determined at the moment.

One thought on “Why do some countries adopt the Kyoto protocal and IPCC recommendations earlier than others?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>