Climate Change and Democratisation: A complex relationship
The science of climate change and human responsibility, the economics of addressing the problem and technical solutions, and the aspect of “climate justice” in regard to North-South (developed-developing world) relations in particular have all received substantial exposure in public debate and specialised technical, policy, and academic literatures. We also hear about the imperative to “climate-proof” society, the poor, and even the state. Confident answers to big questions about climate change problems are widely circulated, for example the claim that climate mitigation requires nothing less than a dramatic change in economic lifestyles and aspirations, or the idea that better governance is essential to meet the pressing needs of climate adaptation in poor countries. Occasionally, we are also told the “right political framework” is needed, usually meaning, on the international level, an improvement on the Kyoto Protocol and, at the national level, the right mix of regulatory policies and other legislation for moving toward a low-carbon future.
A surprising omission is the balanced inquiry into what climate change and its effects mean for democratisation, and what democratization could mean for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate adaptation. This paper draws attention to the little explored relationships between climate change and democratisation. It is framed by four key questions of immense importance:
- Do global warming and its effects make democratic transition and consolidation easier or more difficult?
- Does democratisation make it easier or more difficult for countries, especially in the developing world, to engage with climate change mitigation, compared to countries with authoritarian or semi-authoritarian political regimes?
- Does democratisation mean that climate change adaptation, especially when it is intended to protect the most vulnerable social groups, becomes more likely?
- Can adaptation to climate change and the means to secure people from its harmful effects help countries that want to democratise, or will it get in the way of democratic reform and boost other forms of rule instead?
Peter Burnell studied at the University of Bristol for a Bachelor of Arts degree (1st class honors) in Economics and Politics before going on to complete a Master of Arts degree in Politics and a PhD on “The Political and Social Thought of Thomas Paine, 1737-1809,” both at the University of Warwick. In 2007 he was awarded a Doctor of Letters by the University of Warwick. Professor Burnell has authored and edited many books and articles and is the founding joint editor of the international refereed journal Democratization and the accompanying book series Democratization Studies, published by Routledge. He is an invited member of the founding Executive Committee of the journal Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft.
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