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Why Do Some Countries Adopt International Protocols and Scientific Recommendations Quicker than Others?

Published: February 9, 2010, Author: AngelSupport

An article in Resilience Science asks the question “Why do some countries adopt the Kyoto Protocol and IPCC recommendations earlier than others?” The COMPON project (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) developed cross-national surveys to try to explain this seemingly elusive inconsistency. The article details their methods (which include great generalizations and dividing up countries according to their level of democracy). Their conclusion is that democratic countries adopt these international recommendations and protocols more quickly. An excerpt from their report as to why this may be:

Why do we find this impressively consistent pattern? Why do democratic countries ratify the protocols faster than the others? We find four theories about this in the literature:

1. Corruption: In countries with high levels of corruption, industry lobbying can more easily assert national policies against climate protection or similar “threats”.

2. Accountability: Democratic countries have a better capacity to foresee upcoming long-term risks because science, policy-makers and the media engage in an open, public discourse.

3. Collective goods and public choice: Climate protection is a collective good, and countries have an incentive to be freeriders regarding international agreements. But only autocratic countries can afford to do so because they do not have to face punishment by the voters.

4. Capacity: Non-democratic countries usually have a lower level of development, less money and more other competing problems, so they assign a low priority to climate protection.

I disagree with the methods and conclusions of the survey because they omit the indigenous nations that reside in some of these States’ territories. And I am very curious about the democratic/undemocratic distinction. Also of interest is the statement on their website: “Therefore, effective [climate] policy response depends on building an “epistemic community” that accepts the problem as serious and worthy of action.” I hope they can see the merits of a diverse global knowledge base, and that their hint of advancing a system of epistemological homogeneity is a false observation on my part.Societies have different information structures, actors and conflicts among them. As such, they will not process and respond to information in a standardized fashion. This is a blow to those who wish a global approach to mitigation and adapt to the world’s changing ecology. It supports what we are beginning to see with international climate policy: while we do need global cooperation, the real adaptation models will need to be developed on the ground level by the peoples that know the place.

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