Debate: The Conflict between Climate Change and Democratisation

Picture: zeitrafferin - License: CC-BY

Picture: zeitrafferin - License: CC-BY

The interrelationship between climate protection and political systems continues to gain more and more attention in the public arena.

Democratisation and climate change are two of the most important topics covered by the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Through a variety of programmes and activities, we commit ourselves to the promotion of democracy and actively participate in the fight against climate change at the local, regional and international levels.

We have asked the British scientist Peter Burnell, politics professor at the University of Warwick, to examine and trace the complex interactions between democratisation processes and climate change.

This has resulted in the policy paper “Climate Change and Democratisation” (PDF), which we will use as the beginning of an informed debate on this very complex relationship. We are particularly interested in the conclusions and policy recommendations on how to deal with the conflict between democratisation and climate change in the future.

Over the last few weeks, we have asked scientists, politicians and representatives from civil society to comment on Peter Burnell’s policy paper. We would now like to open the debate and continue the discussion here on our online platform. We invite all of our users to take part.

Peter Burnell Peter Burnell: Klima und Demokratie Nach gängiger Meinung sind Demokratien umweltbewusster als nicht-demokratische Länder. Ist das wirklich so?
Lesen hier zunächst den Beitrag von Peter Burnell auf Deutsch

Contributions from various authors

Helmut Wiesenthal Helmut Wiesenthal: Burnell cautions his readers against giving unfounded doubt too much credibility: As emerging economies and developing countries improve economically, Europe’s position as a leader in world affairs will erode to a similar degree. Europe is neither a model for other countries, nor does it have a really useful energy and climate policy. Furthermore, there is no systematic and reliable connection between the state of democracy and a county’s ability to pass preventative climate policy. more…

Thomas SaretzkiThomas Saretzki: Hard evidence – cruel choices? Rethinking Peter Burnell’s approach to the relation of climate change and democratisation. Debates about possible trade-offs between policies related to different “cornerstones” of a political party with a “multiple self” (like the greens) may turn out to have another bridge to cross if the organisation decides to bring in scientific expertise to clarify political problems and possible policy options to solve these problems. more…

Konrad Ott Konrad Ott: The strengthening of state capacity and governance could be more important for climate change adaptation and improve human security than pursuing democratisation at any price. This is the dilemma that Burnell presents to the champions of democracy and climate protection. more…

Thomas C. Hilde Thomas C. Hilde: It’s important to keep in mind the nature of the problem of climate change. The mere existence of the hydro-geo-meteorological effects of climate change is in and of itself not the problem. The basic problem is centered on the largely adverse and accelerating effects on people and ecosystems. more…

Marianne Kneuer Marianne Kneuer: Burnell shows that democracies are not necessarily in a better position to deal with the consequences of climate change than authoritarian regimes. How should it be dealt with? It would be wrong to follow the logic that democratisation = development = increased CO2 emissions and then draw the conclusion that postponing democratic development would be an option. more…

Platzalter Ingrid Hoven: Given the pressures posed by climate change, one should be careful not to jeopardise the development of organisational infrastructures by attempting speculative and overly burdensome democratisation experiments. The additional challenges posed by climate change require a broader approach to developing democracy, strengthening the rule of law and promoting good governance. Focusing on the promotion of constitutionally prescribed elections is not enough. more…

Hermann Ott Hermann Ott: Burnell’s approach is too academic and to suggest that it would be better to slow down or to stop democratisation processes in order to better fight climate change is cynical. Instead, it would be better to discuss the impacts of climate change and the looming raw material shortage on democratic societies. more…

Platzhalter Klemens van de Sand The dreadful choice between promoting democracy or supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation, as posed by Burnell, does not exist. The challenge is rather to incorporate the importance of the climate issue within democracy promotion. more…

Ulrich Brand Ulrich Brand: Peter Burnell’s scepticism about democratic development in some so-called developing countries is justified. Generally, it is worthwhile to debate whether or not limiting our understanding of democracy to democratic structures is too narrow. The social relationship with nature, or equal access to resources, should be considered as an aspect of democratisation. This could open minds towards a sustainable transformation of the global society, which is necessary to combat climate change. more…

Martin Jänicke Martin Jänicke: Climate change has a democratic potential because it can have a mobilising effect. However, climate policy must be a highly technocratic process, which can only be successful if a strong government provides the framework for a climate-friendly technology market. Because of the technocratic aspects, authoritarian states like China can be powerful actors in climate policy. The best that western democracies can offer, to promote democracy, is trust and a more efficient handling of challenges such as climate change. more…

Peter Burnell answers

Climate Change and Democratisation: a Complex Relationship?

First, let me say I am delighted that this paper has helped stimulate a lively debate. I am grateful to all who have read it and particularly indebted to those who have taken the trouble to provide written comments.

Second, although the paper was written several months before the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, December 2009, there is nothing in that conference and its outcome that leads me to think the paper is fundamentally flawed. On the contrary, announcements by governments and other developments since Copenhagen provide further evidence that the relationships highlighted in the paper continue to be complex. An attachment to this response, headed Has Copenhagen and the aftermath made a difference to the analysis, runs through some of the details.

Third, in response to the experts’ comments on the paper in English, and with apologies for being unable to read comments in German, the points made below should be seen as a contribution to furthering the debate. The responses are placed in alphabetical order of the commentators.

But before proceeding to the responses I wish to make clear that apart from being considerably longer than brief that was commissioned, the original paper pretends only to offer an exploration of the issues – including issues that have been neglected or greatly under-researched in the literaure. It is not meant to be a normative and prescriptive contribution. It is not so arrogant as to tell the Heinrich Böll Foundation what position or positions it should take. And it does not intend to give firm policy advice. The author is not as politician or a policy-maker or an ethical philosopher. Hence it is important that their – your – voices speak out and be counted, as well as welcoming the general call for a more inter-disciplinary approach.

Answers to Hermann Ott, Ingrid Hoven, Ulrich Brand, Martin Jänicke, Helmut Wiesenthal, Marianne Kneuer, Konrad Ott und Klemens van de Sand

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