Category: Scientific articles

This cateogry highlights our scientific work through summaries

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

Study exploring municipalities on the frontline of climate action

Daniel Lindvall

What motivates urban climate leaders? Daniel Lindvall, senior researcher in the Climate Change Leadership unit, provides answers to that question in a recent article published in the International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development.  

Cities are often described as frontrunners in the transition to a low-carbon society. Cities are more progressive and perceptive than national governments, and when they act together, in networks such as the C40, they can influence policymaking on both national and global levels. This notion of urban leadership contests the conventional description of the climate crises as a problem of collective action, and confirms the theories of Elinor Ostrom, and the approach of polycentric governance.

What drives urban climate policies?

While the description of urban climate leadership is attractive, it has also been criticised for being overly idealistic. Cities are often reliant on regulations or funding of national governments, and the climate ambitions of different cities differ substantially. Certain cities are progressive, prioritising climate action, but others are lagging behind. The question is thus what motivates urban climate leaders?

To identify different factors motivating urban climate policies, interviews were made with local politicians and civil servants in five Swedish municipalities that have been top-ranked in the environment policy index Miljöbarometern, and three ranked as less ambitious.

Helsingborg, ranked nr 1 on Miljöbarometern over the past 10 year.
Climate target: Net-zero by 2035
Waterfront of Karlstad
Karlstad, ranked nr 2 on Miljöbarometern over the past 10 years.
Climate target: Fossil free and climate smart by 2030

Political consensus is key for climate action

The study demonstrates that political consensus among, and willingness of, the local political leadership is a key factor for progressive climate actions. The most progressive cities have over the years been governed by both left-, liberal-, and conservative-leaning parties, often in coalition with the green party, but the political makeup of the local government was not considered to be as decisive as political consensus. In line with previous research, pioneering moves by individual ambitious politicians or civil servants have been important for initiating transformative policies, however with the adoption of national and EU policies, local climate policies are becoming increasingly institutionalised. This institutionalisation of climate policies makes municipalities less of an independent climate actor, while national and subnational policies have become more important for driving cities forward.

Barriers for citizen involvement in urban climate leadership

The pressure of local business community with high climate ambitions and concerned voters were also considered to be important. Several cities had actively tried to involve citizens; however, the study shows that there are normative, administrative, and technocratic barriers for the inclusion of citizens in the local policymaking process. Most of the interviewees stated, on the other hand, that the engagement and direct involvement of urban residents has not had any significant impact on local climate policies.

Few of the18 interviewees (eight civil servants and ten politicians) claimed that community engagement and pressure from the electorate had any decisive influence on the policymaking process.

Resources and instruments for successful urban climate action

The most important driver for local climate policies, according to several of the interviewees, was the institutional capacities of the municipalities, such as an independent local administration with adequate resources and competences to adopt strategies, action plans, and targets, as well as instruments for progress evaluations. Such instruments could ensure long-term policy stability and enable systematic emission reductions. Networks of cities, setting common emission reduction targets and sharing experience and knowledge, are also relevant to push action forward.

Read more

Lindvall, D. What motivates urban climate leaders? A study of urban climate governance in eight Swedish municipalities. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 15 (1) 2023

Att satsa på klimatet är en vinst för hela samhället

I den politiska debatten bortses ofta från att klimatåtgärder gynnar mer än bara klimatet, skriver Mikael Karlsson och Oskar Lindgren på UNT.

Bild: Istock

Klimatpolitiska beslut leder i regel till stora vinster för samhället utöver minskad klimatpåverkan. Minskad biltrafik och ökad cykling förbättrar folkhälsan till följd av minskade luftföroreningar. Förbättrad ekonomi, ökad sysselsättning och stärkt energisäkerhet är några andra exempel på dessa så kallade sidonyttor. Översätts dessa till monetära termer är vinsten enorm.

I en nyligen publicerad studie granskar vi hur sidonyttor av klimatpolitik bedömts i svensk politik. Vår genomgång av statliga utredningar och skattepolitiska beslut sedan 1990 visar att sidonyttor ofta utelämnas ur beräkningar. Detta får klimatpolitiken att framstå som dyrare än vad den egentligen är.

Att förbise sidonyttor leder till bristfälliga beslutsunderlag. Därför presenterar vi en rad förslag på hur den politiska beslutsprocessen kan förbättras för att möjliggöra att samhällsekonomiskt lönsamma beslut fattas. Sammantaget skulle dessa förslag synliggöra den ekonomiska vinsten av en mer ambitiös klimatpolitik. I en tid av ökad polarisering i klimatfrågan och turbulenta ekonomiska tider är det än mer viktigt att kommunicera och inkludera dessa sidonyttor i politiken, eftersom de skapar nyttor för gemene person här och nu.