Marianne Kneuer « Debatte

Marianne Kneuer

28. April 2010,

Marianne Kneuer

PD Dr. Marianne Kneuer (M.A. 1989, Dr. phil. 1991, Habilitation 2005) holds an interim professorship for Comparative Politics/Political System of Germany at the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany). Her main research fields are: democratization, promotion of democracy, European Union and party system research.

Preliminary Remarks

As a scholar of democratization studies being asked to comment the policy paper “Climate Change and Democratisation“, I want to underline that there is still little research done. This implies that an empirical basis is lacking be it in form of analysis in democratization studies or be it in form of polls. Therefore and all the more this paper has to be regarded as a highly valuable contribution to a still neglected issue and the author has to be applauded for his in-depth study and his broad covering of different aspects. In the following I will not present a different view but pick some points in order to discuss them.

About goal conflicts

In the course of the paper, Peter Burnell various times points out to a core problem, namely goal conflicts or what he calls “cruel choice”. While after 1989 democratization – nationally and internationally – had taken a front seat in policy priorities, in the meanwhile the situation has changed and important global priorities are competing for this front seat; not only climate change, but also energy security – two issues which besides are linked – and just recently the financial crisis. The goal conflict not only consists in democratization versus climate change, versus energy security and versus financial crisis but also between climate change mitigation versus energy security and climate change versus financial crisis. This mélange of intersecting goal conflicts firstly makes choices even more complicated and can secondly make a difference in the negotiating position of democratic and non-democratic countries when it comes to bargaining transnational/global agreements. How much pressure will be put on Russia while at the same time gas or oil cutting has to be avoided? And how strong is the position of developed democracies in putting pressure on China regarding mitigation of climate change when it is the second country in wind power capacity in the world (and will be the first in the middle future)?

Goal conflicts are nothing new. The Cold War presented a classical goal conflict: security versus democratization. Maybe it would be interesting to look at this classical constellation in order to extract some theoretical basis for evaluating the present goal conflict analyzed in this paper and to recur to some core findings, what of course cannot be done in this short comment. Just some questions: Are we dealing with the dichotomy of idea (democratization) and interest (climate change mitigation) or with two ideas competing for the higher ethical value? What is then responsible acting? What policy strategies will arise? The frontiers are not as simplistic as in Cold War and in instead of the confrontation and containment the strategies of today are based on cooperation and compromise, albeit not less difficult in achieving results as the Copenhagen Summit proved.

Democracy in distress?

I find it very helpful that Peter Burnell differentiates into three categories of countries: democracies in the developed world, stable non-democracies and emerging democracies and that he analyzes for each group the effects of climate change and the performance in dealing with climate change. The interesting finding of his examination is that there are two main challenges:

First, democracy is challenged inasmuch non-democracies may be as efficient as democracies or even more efficient in climate policy. The race between democratic and non-democratic countries that we had bid a bind farewell after 1989 seems to be back again. The question thus is: Which form of political system is more likely to generate effective approaches in climate policy? On the first glance there are a lot of arguments supporting that democratic countries are in advantage. The second look however, puts some questions marks. Thus democratic principles like dispersion of power (by decentralization and self-administrative entities) can lower efficiency in policy-making or produce tensions between the different governance levels. Future studies could be interested in analyzing possible correlations between better climate policy performance and different models of democratic forms: Which form of democracy is greener? Moreover, autocratic rulers can legitimate limitations of democratic principles and freedom by the need of implementing measures against global warming and by preserving the public order, especially in respect to the possible conflict constellations in their societies (like struggles for control over resources or increasing inequalities). Likewise, autocratic rulers can implement measures in climate change mitigation like building barrages and displacing millions of citizens without caring about protest. In respect to climate change adaption we can observe that the reaction of autocratic rulers depends on the internal pressure they expect and on their perception how to handle internal conflict constellations. Thus during the earth quake in 2009 and the flood catastrophe the Chinese government surprised by a quite “human” approach while it seemed that for the government of Burma human life did not count very much as they preferred to refuse foreign help consciously accepting the negative consequences for the affected population. Finally, the question if western governments would rather prefer a stable and centrally controlled China than a China in democratic transition with unpredictable internal instabilities would be easily answered.

The second interesting finding regarding democracies, autocracies and emerging democracies in the developing world is thus that democracies in the developed world as well as stable and affluent non-democracies are in an advantage. The group of countries in democratic transition and democratizing countries with low development however are confronted with several dilemata, are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change (water scarcity, agriculture) and most affected by the cruel choices. At the same time, weak state capacities and not yet stabilized political infrastructure make it much more difficult to this group of states to implement a consequent climate policy. These findings have consequences for the promotion of democracy by external actors like international organizations and the main national democracy promoters like the USA and the Western democracies.

Promoting democracy or good governance?

Peter Burnell makes an important point in indicating that efficient political and governance institutions are needed for an efficient climate policy which may not be the same thing as the right institutions for liberal democracy improving quality of democracy and distributing power. That means in consequence: The qualities we adhere to the concept of good governance could be more desirable for climate change mitigation than the qualities of liberal democracy. Democratization and good governance with good reason are considered to be a logical twin that belongs together. The context of climate change however may force to some “heretical” questions for scholars in democracy studies: Does democracy really improve good governance and thus guarantee an increasing level of rule of law, anti-corruption fight and sound public policy? Or is it preferable to firstly foster stable governance structures and functioning without explicitly targeting democratization of the structures which would then come maybe easily? Or to put it even more pronounced: Can the good governance be prioritized over democratization?

The author puts his finger even deeper into the wound of democracy promotion in several aspects: Firstly, He insinuates that pushing countries to democratize could end up with stalled transitions, hybrid or instable regimes that will not be able to tackle climate change effects. Secondly, he says that if democracy favors economic development and economic development means increase in CO2 emissions than retarding democratization could be an option. At this point some objections have to be made: As Peter Burnell exposes the correlation between democracy and economic growth that once had been found as quite strong has been out in question by impressive growth rates of non-democracies as well as by democratization processes taking place in low income developing countries. So we should be more carefully in weighting the components of this correlation. A central problem which needs a more interdisciplinary approach from political scientist and climate change experts is the broader and differentiated view on causes of climate change. It is not only and even not primarily about CO2 emissions but also for example about methane and this poses quite different problems, especially in connection with the perspectives of growth of population. Actually we find extraordinary economic growth rates and equally a high rate of population and an extraordinary increasing consumption in China. China with its economic potential implements progressive energy related steps (wind power, water power) which are CO2 neutral, notwithstanding being a hugh methan producer because of the need of rice (China and India produce the half of the total rice production worldwide and the emission of methane doubled in China and India since 1990). Already these points make clear that the equation: democracy = development = emissions does not work.

This certainly does not weaken Peter Burnell’s conclusion that there is a moral dilemma for democracy promoters and that there is a danger that the OECD model of democracy, human rights protection and economic development is increasingly on the defensive. This statement alone is reason to continue research and empirical studies in order to find out more about the connectedness or not of democracy and good governance. Does form follow function? Is good governance really thinkable without democracy? How would it be perceived – by the governments of autocratic states, by the population of the autocratic states – if the relevant democracy promoters decide to first support strong state capacity and only second democracy? What would that mean for the international climate of democratization? What would that mean for the “promotion of autocracy” (Richard Youngs)? On the other side: Could fostering good governance help to achieve both objectives: democratization as well as sound climate policy? Is it an option to work with an incentive-driven approach linking democratization and good governance with some sort of “climate mainstreaming” like gender mainstreaming in human rights promotion? Or would this mean an overload in the portfolio of the emerging democracies?

The international dimension – even more complicated

After considering predominantly the national level, I would like to shortly turn to the international dimension on which – and this is the only critical point to make about this excellent paper – the author could have elaborated more. In the end, tackling the climate change challenge is about crafting global agreements. After the disappointing result of the Copenhagen Summit that could not be included in the paper there remains some sort of helplessness and also impotence how to proceed in order to come to terms. This poses new questions to foreign policy analysis focusing climate change issues. Is there a difference negotiating climate, finance or security agreements? And if yes, what are the differences and why? Is the constraint for cooperation bigger in respect to the survival of international financial and economic international frameworks than in respect to environment? Is it about short-term and long-term thinking? What effects does this mélange of intersecting goal conflicts have on international negotiations? And again: What is idea and what interest in the foreign policy strategies? Taking into account that democracy promotion also is part of foreign policy: How will climate – and again: energy security should be included in this consideration – impact on democracy promotion priorities and strategies?

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1 Kommentar

  1. You are absolutely right to point to the existence of multiple and intersecting goal conflicts that go beyond those highlighted in the paper, and to their significance for the negotiating positions of different states. In answer to your question about the dichotomy of democratization and climate change mitigation, I would say that both of these speak both to ideas and to interests. And whether ideas tend to prevail over interests, or vice versa, is an eternal question in social science. It is not obvious to me that decision-making processes in democracies always give precedence to ideas over interests when the two come into conflict, even in circumstances where the ideas look good in terms of the common good and the interests are narrow and particularistic. How this compares with non-democracies is a matter for conjecture.

    I agree with your observation that a key question is over which kinds of political system or regime are best equipped to make an effective response to the challenges posed by climate change, and that there may be no simple and obvious and indisputable answer. Future studies should indeed investigate the patters and think hard about the reasons behind any correlations, including discrepancies between different models of democracy and their institutional architectures as well as discrepancies with political systems that do not qualify as stable liberal democracies and the discrepancies among different authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes. I agree that this is a research agenda that should be pursued more than it has been so far. I also agree that the countries in political transition may be at a disadvantage in addressing climate change, that governance capacity and democracy are not the same thing (and do not always co-vary) and that this is relevant both to addressing climate change and to international efforts to change the way some countries govern themselves.

    In regard to the idea of ‘autocracy promotion’ that you mention, a recent discussion can be found in Working Paper 96 (March 2010) titled ‘Is there a new autocracy promotion?, published electronically and in paper form by FRIDE, Madrid. Further material on this is awaiting publication but can be shared sooner on demand. The question you raise about the possibility of a triple gain from international cooperation involving mutually-reinforcing progress on democracy, governance and climate mitigation and adaptation together is enormously important and worthy of careful consideration. I suspect you are right, however, to raise the possibility of ‘overload’ in the portfolio of emerging democracies, and I would add that the likelihood of ‘overload’ – or bureaucratic resistance – in the portfolio of the international development cooperation and other international agencies could be just as great.

    Finally, because the debate on climate change has up until now been dominated by the international dimensions the paper quite deliberately chose to concentrate mainly on the national level. One point that has come out of the disappointments widely expressed over Copenhagen (see my attachment Has Copenhagen and the aftermath made a difference?) is that perhaps binding international agreements do not offer the way forward. The suggestion is that we should look more closely at what states and bodies like the EU are actually doing, or not doing. Put differently, maybe China is now taking considerable steps in practice – and much more so than India – even if neither country is prepared to sign up to a binding international agreement on targets to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions. So perhaps all is not lost, or not yet! But how climate change and energy security will impact on democracy promotion priorities and strategies can only speculated; and whether and how they should impact is a matter for organisations like the Foundation to determine for themselves.

    Thank you.

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