Category: Government (Page 1 of 2)

Can democracy cope with climate change?

Mikael Karlsson
Daniel Lindvall

In a recently published article in Climate Policy, Daniel Lindvall and Mikael Karlsson from CCL explore the strengths and weaknesses of democracy in mitigating climate change.

Democracy put in question by greenhouse gas emissions

Democratic governments worldwide fail to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. As a result, a discussion has emerged on the capacity of democracies to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some argue that democracies are unfit to tackle challenges of climate change as democratic decision-making is restricted in time and space by the election cycles and the geographic constraints of the nation state. Interest groups and so-called ‘veto players’ have captured the policy process, while the electorate lacks scientific literacy. These claims have led a few climate scientists to suggest that democracy should be restricted or even put on hold. Others counter that the problem is not democracy as such, but rather the incapacity of existing liberal democratic institutions to channel the interests of citizens. Hence, there is a need to deepen and advance democracy.

To bring clarity to these issues, Lindvall and Karlsson reviewed 72 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters published over the last two decades. The chosen articles reported correlation analyses between indicators of democracy and climate policy performances. Their review confirms that democracies tend to generate better climate policy outputs than autocracies, in terms of adoption of policies, laws and regulations. However, they find weak empirical evidence for an association between democratic development and CO2 emission reductions.

Corruption and income inequalities foster carbon intense economic growth

A reason for the unconvincing performance of democracies is the correlation between economic growth and democratization. Most studies suggest that citizens can use democracy to alleviate the carbon impact of growth. However, this conclusion is only significant in high-income countries with low-corruption. In developing countries with rapid growth, democratic qualities do not seem to have any noteworthy effect on the reduction of growth-generated emissions. A major quest for humanity is thus to find solutions to combat poverty and in parallel advance and sustain human freedom, without carbon-intensive economic development.

Income inequality is another factor that can generate both higher emissions and undermine the capacity of democracy to deliver effective climate polices. Citizens in countries with high levels of income inequality tend to oppose emission reduction policies. They believe that costs for such measures will be unfairly distributed. Furthermore, high income earners have extremely carbon-intensive lifestyles and may be unwilling to support policies that would restrain their lifestyle.

Fossil fuel interests can weaken climate policy performance

A third factor explaining the underperformance of democracies is institutional capacity and corruption. Democracies suffering from corruption and weak state institutions can present ambitious climate policies. However, they tend to implement such policies poorly. The article highlights in this context that corruption and policy capture are often caused by fossil fuel interests, symptoms associated with the so-called ‘rentier effects’. Fossil fuel extraction tend accordingly to negatively influence both institutional capacity, democratic qualities and climate policy performance.

Synergy of renewable technologies and democracy has potential

Lindvall and Karlsson conclude accordingly that with deployment of renewable energy solutions, economic activities can increasingly be disconnected from fossil fuel dependence. This reduces the political influence of the fossil fuel industry. This process could also enhance the capacity of democracies to accelerate the energy transition and reduce emission levels. Policies aiming at combating corruption and accomplishing a fairer wealth distribution, could also help to unleash the transformative capacity of democracy towards a low-carbon future.

Shop in Burkina Faso selling photovoltaic panels. Picture by Wegmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

None of the studies identified in the review provides any evidence that would suggest that autocratic regimes perform better than democracies. To conclude, the insufficient climate policy performance of present democracies should rather be seen as an argument to vitalize and strengthen democracy than to restrict it.

The article was developed as a part of the Formas funded research project Wicked Problem Governance and the Formas and Mistra funded research project Fairtrans.

Read the full article here:

Lindvall D and Karlsson M  Exploring the democracy-climate nexus: a review of correlations between democracy and climate policy performance. Climate Policy 2023

Klimatledarskap för klimatmål

Alla behöver vara med på tåget för att klimatmålen ska kunna nås i tid. Men fortfarande debatterar världens länder om hur ansvaret för klimatlösningarna bör fördelas. Forskare delaktiga i nätverket Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives (UUSI), menar dock att det finns en nyckel till framgång: klimatledarskap, skriver Uppsala universitet i en nyhetsartikel.

COP26 and the importance of frontrunners

COP26 has been flooded by joint group frontrunner initiatives, trying to move beyond the painstakingly slow process of raising ambitions by consensus, from new alliances to tackle methane emissions and deforestation to a number of initiatives to phase out coal and the launch today of a new alliance to phase out oil and gas. From one perspective most of these initiatives only make a small dent to the emission gap to meet the Paris goals. From another perspective group frontrunner initiatives are key to accelerate climate action and push overall ambitions.

The first perspective was highlighted today when scientists and experts in the Climate Action Tracker collaboration presented an assessment on how much the new frontrunner initiatives at COP26 would effect the emission gap until 2030. According to the calculations the new initiatives would close the 2030 emission gap for the 1.5°C target by around 9%. This could be compared to the updated NDC:s themselves, which according to Climate Action Tracker close the gap by 15-17%, arriving at a total number around 24-25%.

These 9% might feel small and unimportant. However, as the scientists behind the new assessment emphasized, the effect of these initiatives are not restricted to the short term impacts on emissions among the current signatories. The broader potential of frontrunner alliances is both to accelerate techno-economical change and to put political pressure on other countries to join in.

“It is not surprising that the effect of the COP26 sectoral initiatives beyond national climate targets is initially small. These initiatives are designed for those that do NOT sign immediately. The pressure of being put on the spot will help to grow the membership of the initiatives and enhance the effect beyond national climate targets in the long run”, professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute stated in a press release on the assessment.

One example on this are the new and enlarged alliances to phase out coal, finance to new coal power plants, and to support a just transition away from coal. At face value the promises made by the countries only give a small dent to the emission curve up until 2030. However, all in all the countries involved represent a total coal capacity of 267 GW, more than that of US or India, and also include coal dependent countries like Indonesia. Adding promises to dry up international public funding for new coal plants – including from China – the initiatives underline a clear and definite trend: coal is dying. This is the reason why the official language in the cover text of COP26 can – and probably will – include wordings to phase out coal.

From a deeper perspective the death spiral for coal is a prime example on how frontline initiatives in a relatively small number of key countries can initiate an unstoppable global trend. Coal has been the first fossil fuel to take the hit by ever cheaper renewable energy. And the breakthrough for renewable energy, in turn, was pushed by public support for industrial scale up in countries like Germany, Denmark and China. Globally, coal consumption actually reached its maximum already in 2014. And today the death spiral for coal is enhanced by both decreasing costs for renewable energy and sharpened climate policy.

Indeed, as the scientists in the Climate Action Tracker collaboration emphasize, this is not enough. The transition away from coal needs to be speeded up significantly. In order to hold on to the 1.5°C target, coal would need to be phased out around 2040 globally, and probably around 2030 in the developed world. This is a tall order, not the least for countries like China, with a huge fleet of relatively new coal plants. The techno-economical development itself will push the process. But it will not be enough. And this is where frontrunners and new alliances are important. If the EU and US for example could lead by showing that a just transition away from coal is possible in 10-15 years, and financial support for a just transition could be expanded, the chances to close the gap would enhance significantly.

COP26 Live: US-China deal give surprise turn in Glasgow

Wednesday evening saw one of the most surprising developments during COP26, when giant emitters and political contenders US and China announced a joint agreement to enhance climate action. The deal breaks the trenches in Glasgow and could boost the odds for a positive outcome at COP26, and potentially also for climate action in the years to come.

The US-China deal was presented with short notice during two consecutive press conferences by US climate envoy and former secretary of state John Kerry and China’s climate envoy and former climate minister Xie Zhenhua.

According to Kerry and Zhenhua, US and China have worked on the agreement for ten months, during some 30 virtual meetings since the beginning of the year. The 16-point agreement covers a number of areas where the two global top emitters and major economies will cooperate in order to enhance ambitions and accelerate climate action, from deployment of renewables and electrification to CCS and slashing methane emissions.

The deal underlines the importance of rapidly closing the ambition gap in order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep the 1.5-degree target alive. The text reiterates the ambition of the Biden administration to make US electricity “100% carbon pollution-free” by 2035, while China promises to “phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five Year Plan and make best efforts to accelerate this work.” The 15th Five Year Plan means the period from 2026-2030, indicating that China seems to count on peaking coal emissions by 2025 and reduce them thereafter. The two countries also say that they intend to establish a “Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s.”

Views on the deal are split between observers, with some underlying it’s importance as a potential game changer, while others view it as a negotiating spectacle. Many of the items in the joint declaration were present already in a statement made by China and the US when Kerry and Zhenhua met in Beijing in April, while other parts, as the plan to slash methane emissions, are new and more elaborated. The deal was first handed out as a simple Google-document after the press conferences, giving the impression of an event not planned for a long time.

The deal includes several statements about the COP26 negotiations, such as to “pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C” and “taking ambitious action during this critical decade to keep the above temperature limit within reach, including as necessary communicating or updating 2030 NDCs and long-term strategies”. The two countries also state that they will “work cooperatively to complete at COP 26 the implementing arrangements (“rulebook”) for Articles 6 and 13 of the Paris Agreement, as well as common time frames for NDCs.” Both countries say that they “intend to communicate 2035 NDCs in 2025”. Nothing concrete, however, is mentioned on crucial issues such as ramping up finance for developing countries.

While the ‘Glasgow Declaration’ to some extent is similar to previous statements issued by the two countries, it is important to not underestimate the potential impact on the negotiations this new statement may have in the coming days, says Jens Ergon, PhD student at CCL, Uppsala University. A strong US-China collaboration could boost the climate negotiations and bring further emissions reductions in the two giant economies during the coming years. That is crucial for achieving the Paris goals and keep the 1.5 degree target alive, he adds.

The first key test for the renewed cooperation between the two countries will be the final days in Glasgow. So far, the two countries have belonged to coalitions with opposing views on many make-or-break items. If the collaboration between US and China is grounded, the chances for a successful outcome increase substantially.

Some observers also hope that the deal might soften the hardened diplomatic relations between the two major powers. Zhenhua does not belong to the hardline camp around Xi Jinping, and is generally considered a progressive force in the countries’ climate efforts. Kerry and Zhenhua were heavily involved in striking the deal between the US and China in the uprunning towards the Paris Agreement. The deal turned out to be pivotal then, and could very well have large impacts this time around as well.

Nästan alla svenskar tror att människan påverkar klimatet

Klimatförnekelse har länge varit en allvarlig flaskhals för beslut i klimatfrågor. Även om stats- och regeringscheferna på COP26 i Glasgow överlag betonade både allvaret i klimatkrisen och vikten av att vidta åtgärder betyder det inte att förnekarna är utspelade, än mindre att fossilbolagens företrädare kryper tillbaka, tvärtom är den i hög grad närvarande på COP26.

Av den såvitt känt största sammanställningen av forskningen om vetenskapsförnekelse, som forskare vid CCL varit med om att genomföra, framgår att klimatförnekelsen är utbredd i en rad länder och att den inte sällan är organiserad. Nyligen påstods det på DN debatt att många svenska är klimatskeptiker, men vid närmare genomgång visar sig det påståendet vara felaktigt, säger Mikael Karlsson, docent på CCL, i en replik på DN debatt. I själva verket anser nästan alla svenskar att människan bidrar till den globala uppvärmningen.

Klimataktionerna kan motverka sitt eget syfte

Daniel Lindvall kommenterar pågående klimataktioner för SVT

English summary:

Direct action, such as those taken by climate activists at Swedish airports over the past few days, may have unintended consequences, not least regarding public sentiment. Daniel Lindvall, researcher at CCL, is interested in democracy and leadership and suggests that such strong direct action may alienate those who were otherwise sympathetic to the cause. In this case the action impacts all, even sympathisers. Daniel Lindvall points to Greta Thunberg as using a more successful method of direct action and who has mobilsed millions around the globe in her school strike for climate action.

Läs mer om COP26

Är Glasgow verkligen den bästa sista chansen för klimatet?

Daniel Lindvall skriver om betydelsen av globala avtal för klimatpolitiken i Expressen Kultur

Daniel Lindvall argues that the climate crisis is a global tragedy, but to deal with it we do not have to wait for a global consensus. If China, the United States and various oil and gas nations are not ready for action, other states, regions and cities should form a coalition of the willing and take the lead. They could introduce a common EU emissions trading scheme, while phasing out fossil fuels, banning new oil and gas exploration and setting a deadline for coal use. The best last chance for the climate is simply that each of us begins to act.

Democracies that fail to act on climate change face ‘existential’ threat

Daniel Lindvall is interviewed by Thomson Reuters News foundation. Read the full article here.

The interview is about a new paper Daniel has written with IDEA about “Democracy and the Challenges of Climate Change“.

Daniel Lindvall presented his paper at the IDEA webinar earlier this week, where the findings indicate that democratic countries’ failures to act on climate change can lead towards an existential threat to their democratic institutions. New ways to engage the public with democratic participation in climate change policy development is key to counter these risks. As Daniel Lindvall claims, scientists and scientific expertise do not hold all the answers and experiences and perspectives from the public can be used in the democratic process. You can watch the IDEA webinar here:

Klimatkrisen, omställningen och ”lömska” problem

Daniel Lindvall skriver om klimatkrisen, omställningen och lömskla problem för Mänsklig säkerhet. FN:s klimatpanel har sedan 1990 rapporterat om allvarliga konsekvenser som kan följa av global uppvärmning och framhållit vikten av minskade utsläpp. Att det idag görs för lite beror både på aktivt motstånd och att problemen är mångfacetterade och komplexa, rent av ”lömska”. Men komplexiteten får inte hindra nödvändig handling, vilket bäst säkras i öppna demokratiska system där felsteg fortlöpande kan korrigeras.

Artikel om framtida generationers rättigheter

Daniel Lindvall, forskare i Klimatledarskap, har skrivit artikeln Demokratin inför klimatkrisen. Kan framtida generationers fri- och rättigheter säkras?, för kommitten Demokratin 100 års framåtblickande antologi om Sveriges demokrati och dess olika aspekter. Läs artikeln här

Artikeln beskriver hur demokratins fortlevnad är nära förbunden med dess förmåga att snabbt få ner utsläppen av växthusgaser och att han[1]tera olika klimatkonsekvenser. Att värna demokratin är också att värna om klimatet och framtiden. Vi har redan fått känna på jordens reaktioner på människans utsläpp av växthusgaser – värmeböljor, skogsbränder och översvämningar. Detta i kombination med stigande havsnivåer och förlusten av biolo[1]gisk mångfald kommer att påverka hela vårt samhällssystem och vår existens. Det handlar bland annat om en generations[1]överskridande orättvisa, men också om hur demokratin kan användas för ett långsiktigt beslutsfattande.

Democracy and the Challenges of Climate Change

Daniel Lindvall, researcher at Climate Change Leadership, is today publishing the Discussion paper Democracy and the Challenges of Climate Change, for International IDEA. You can read the full paper here.

The paper discussed correlation between climate change and democratic development. Certain climate consequences, as for example scarcity of food or rising food prices, are known to lead to social unrest and political instability and may lead to democratic breakdown, particularly in fragile democracies with weak state institutions. Other climate related emergency situations may have positive effects for democracy, bringing people together and providing opportunities for regime change, but they could also be used as an excuse for autocratic or hybrid regimes to curtail democratic freedoms. 

The paper also present research on the weaknesses and strengths of democracy in dealing with the climate crisis. It argues that democratic states are generally performing better on environment protection policies and climate action than autocratic states. However, factors such as the level of corruption and the size of the fossil fuel industry are affecting the climate performance negatively.

Generally speaking, the outcome of the climate crisis will depend on whether democracies can drastically reduce their carbon footprints in the coming years. Climate change poses a challenging test for democracies’ ability to cooperate and confront highly complex global challenges. In conclusion, democracies need to formulate adequate and ambitious policy responses to climate change for democracy to remain a legitimate and credible political system for young people and future generations.

The report will be discussed at a webinar on 26 October, at which Dr Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General, International IDEA, Jan Wahlberg, the Finnish Climate Change Ambassador, Dr Julia Leininger, German Development Institute, & Member of International IDEA’s Board of Advisers, and Ms Elizabeth Wathuti, Founder of Green Generation Initiative and sustainability analyst at Sustainable Square, Kenya, will participate. Register for the webinar here

Mikael Karlsson comments on IPCC Report

For original news post on Geo (på svenska) read here.

On the 9th of August, the UN Climate Panel released the first part of its new climate report. The report is a comprehensive compilation of the current scientific state of knowledge regarding climate change, including climate models and scenarios.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the report should be considered a red flag for humanity. The risk is clear: within ten years we will pass the Paris Agreement’s goal of a 1.5 degree temperature rise. As before, it is stated that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is the main cause and that sea levels are rising. More clearly than ever, the IPCC points out that the increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves and droughts is primarily due to humanity’s impact on the climate.

Mikael Karlsson, associate professor of environmental science and senior lecturer in climate change leadership comments on the report.

Does the report contain anything surprising?

– We have been sure since at least the 1990s that humans affect the climate and that it has serious consequences so the main features are well known. Since then research has become considerably clearer on what is happening, where it is happening and how fast it is happening. What is perhaps most surprising is how clear the climate panel is now about the increase in extreme weather. It moves what many thought were future consequences to the here and now, says Mikael Karlsson, associate professor of environmental science at Uppsala University.

Which areas of the world are most vulnerable?

– Probably the biggest problem with climate change is that it is getting drier in the world where drought is already a big problem and where many people live in deep poverty. This will be developed in the second part of the report in February next year. But today’s report shows extensive climate impact in our part of the world as well. In the far north of the globe the warming will be greater than average and we will see more extreme weather in the future. This may be in the form of fires and floods that can cause great damage, says Mikael Karlsson, associate professor of environmental science at Uppsala University.

Is it too late to reverse the trend?

– Absolutely not. Admittedly some trends, such as sea level rise, will continue for centuries, but the pace can be slowed down considerably and many other catastrophic scenarios can be avoided altogether. It is still quite possible to meet the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. The third part of the report, which will be published in March next year, shows how this can be done. But we already know today that many solutions are available and our research shows that even in the short term it can be profitable to change direction, says Mikael Karlsson, associate professor of environmental science at Uppsala University.

What happens now? How should society act, how do we get there and how can I as an individual act?

– The solution catalog is thick and more and more politicians, business leaders and individuals are taking responsibility and trying to reduce emissions. By all accounts, that work will accelerate in the near future. Within the EU a number of measures were proposed this summer and later this autumn there will be a global climate summit in Glasgow. Climate work is also intensifying in Sweden, although much remains to be done. As an individual you can do a lot – eat a little more green, cycle and walk a little more often, opting first for a train and bus are simple measures. The best part is that many measures also give us better health and finances, says Mikael Karlsson, associate professor of environmental science at Uppsala University.

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