Ingrid Hoven « Debatte

Ingrid Hoven

28. April 2010,

In order to mitigate climate change so that it remains manageable for mankind and keeps the basis for a decent life intact, requires an enormous social and economic change that is only comparable to the Industrial Revolution or the transformation that took place after the Second World War. Scientists have long called for an “Apollo project” – a visionary plan to guide the transformation of our civilisation within a limited timeframe. Since the negotiations in Copenhagen failed, the question of whether or not the constitutionality of western political systems will allow this tremendous reform to come underway remains an even more pressing issue at hand. Or to paraphrase Anthony Giddens, “How do we move forward with the environmental transformation of our society, given a parliamentary system that thrives on disputes between the parties?” Peter Burnell has pursued not only this issue and re-evaluated the present and usually limited evidence from development policy practice and research, but he has also posed the logical question of whether the necessary climate policy changes (climate protection and co-ordinated or unavoidable mitigation) will strengthen or weaken the fragile democratisation processes in developing countries and emerging economies, and what lessons can be drawn for the practice of development policy. Basically, he confirms the usual assumptions: For a growing number of fragile and weak states that can barely protect their citizens from climate change impacts, conflict supporting risks are expected and additional destabilising effects at the national and international levels will ensue. The increasing climate change-induced risks to existential human rights, such as access to water and nutrition, or the growing migration crisis, represent crisis inducing factors, which will inflict additional burdens on young developing democracies. (see also Global Trends 2010, 267 ff.).

What does Burnell’s analysis mean for practical action? Democracies and reforming political systems towards liberal democracies cannot per se guarantee a responsible approach to the climate challenge. And vice versa: Climate change impacts and the necessary CO2 reductions constitute political risks that can undermine legitimate, democratic and constitutional systems, and in addition increase pressure on authoritarian regimes. The degree of political risk varies from country to country and depends – as in dealing with other, although less complex crises – on the state and society’s ability to adapt. The compatibility between the objectives of “free and stabile democratic systems” and “protection of natural resources essential for the survival of mankind” is more likely, the stronger the state institutional capacity (including strategic planning capacity) is, the better the quality of political management is, the more space there is for discursive processes to develop new options, and the more extensive awareness building and incorporation of different social groups in the decision making process is (see page 30). Without a doubt, the conditions to achieve this are, according to experience, more likely to occur in democratic systems.

Against this background, measures within the frame of development and climate policy cooperation must be implemented to strengthen the breadth and quality of state and social action. These measures inter alia include: increasing the general level of education, the expansion of education and research, the strengthening of good governance and rule of law, as well as fighting corruption.

Based on previous experiences with imposed and incomplete democratisation processes, we should heed Burnell’s recommendation that in light of the additional economic and financial costs of climate change – especially in weak state structures – the development of much-needed organisational and management infrastructure should not being jeopardised by burdensome and speculative democratisation experiments. This is not an argument against supporting democratisation processes – but it makes clear that given the cumulative risks likely to be triggered by climate change, the limitations of emerging democracies and states with weak structures to act will be quickly reached. In this context, climate change represents an additional challenge and necessitates a comprehensive approach to democracy building that includes strengthening the rule of law and good governance.

Burnell also comes to the conclusion that a holistic approach is required and that the, until now, vertical handling of “human security”, “poverty reduction”, “democracy building”, and the “protection of basic natural resources” by international and national organisations, NGOs and foundations must be overcome. Much of the still unused potential for win-win situations will emerge – but this is also not new. It remains unanswered, which mechanisms should we implement that would have a better impact than what has been tried in the past? Burnell, however, strongly emphasises that handling the “climate front” too hesitantly will make achieving the other aforementioned development objectives less likely. In this respect, the issue cannot be an “either or”, but only an “as well as”. Consequently, the central challenge for all political systems is to establish the necessary social consensus for transformation process and to provide the appropriate platforms. Development policy should place an even greater focus on supporting these processes.
Burnell neglects to address two issues in his analysis: Climate change is not gender-neutral, but Burnell’s analysis – like the general debate on climate policy – pays too little attention to the gender perspective (see B. Rodenberg, Climate change mitigation from gender perspectives, DIE Discussion Paper, 21/2009). It is precisely the climate change-democracy building link that necessitates a deeper examination of the constellation of actors and the opportunities and risks for greater gender equality.

The second issue concerns the implications of additional funds, which are expected as a result of a new climate regime, on democratic processes in developing countries. It raises the questions, whether it is possible to channel this capital flow so as to strengthen cooperation between the people, the local levels and the democratic institutions, or does it raise the risk of creating parallel structures that are beyond the reach of general accountability and societal regulation? In this case, neither climate protection nor the building of democratic systems would be addressed.

Ingrid-Gabriela Hove has been working on development policy issues for over 20 years.

This posting is also available in German.

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1 Kommentar

  1. You are absolutely right to draw attention to the neglect of gender issues in the paper and in the literature more generally. There is an assumption that climate change will harm the poor and the most vulnerable people the most. In the developing world, women and girls are in a majority among these groups. The design of climate mitigation and adaptation measures should pay particular attention to the impact on women. Not all conceivable measures will be of benefit to them; some may even worsen gender inequalities. There is a similar under-representation of gender issues in the debates on democratisation. And in many countries the processes of democratisation appear to have done little to advance the political representation of women, except at a formal level that has not brought greater prioritisation of women’s basic needs and fundamental rights. Of course there are some exceptions, where the formal representation of women in the governing institutions greatly exceeds that in some older democracies like Britain and has made a difference to society at large. Paying more attention to how women at the non-elite level can be empowered should help in addressing both the democratic deficits and gender blindness or gender bias in climate change solutions. The use of international resources to develop non-accountable institutions of climate change protection seems unlikely to address the gender dimensions of either democratisation or climate change.

    Thank you

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