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Democracy, electoral systems and emissions: explaining when and why democratization promotes mitigation

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Clulow, Z 


Does democratization help countries mitigate climate change? On the one hand, by increasing the value placed on life quality, creating more opportunity for environmental actors to influence policymaking and holding elected politicians accountable, an increase in democratic institution and process should promote emissions reduction. On the other hand, the desire to safeguard individual freedom presumably brings with it an aversion to intervene in lifestyle and market decisions, thereby raising the risk of climate inaction. This outcome is further encouraged by the political need to balance (conflicting) environmental and energy interests.

This article evaluates the thesis that democratization promotes mitigation in light of national emissions levels from 1990 to 2012. Using data from the Freedom House, Polity IV and V-Dem indices, World Bank World Development Indicators and World Resources Institute Climate Data Explorer it conducts a large-N investigation of the emissions behaviour of 147 countries. Although several quantitative studies have found that domestic political regimes affect emissions levels, this article goes beyond existing research by building a more sophisticated – multilevel- research design to determine whether democracy: (a) continues to be an important driver of emissions when country-level clustering is accounted for and (b) has uniform effects across countries. The results indicate that, even after controlling for country-level clustering and holding constant the other confounding factors, democracy is indeed a significant driver. More strikingly, they reveal that while democracies tend to have lower emissions than non-democracies, democratization spells within the same country do not have the same kind of inhibitory effects as they do between countries. This article also finds tentative evidence that the type of electoral system plays a critical role in shaping the effect of democratization on individual countries.



4408 Political Science, 44 Human Society, 13 Climate Action

Journal Title

Climate Policy

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Informa UK Limited