More power for the green transformation

Research at the Institute of Political Science

2019/06/21

International treaties set the framework but the future of our planet is decided largely in the nation states. Political scientists at TU Darmstadt analyse climate protection policy in the global South.

Professor Markus Lederer. Photo: Katrin Binner

Climate change, the extinction of species and the risk to the world’s seas: the consequences of worldwide environmental destruction impact particularly on the people of the global South. But they also number among the key players deciding jointly on the success or failure of worldwide climate protection endeavours. Professor Markus Lederer, head of the international relations research group at TU Darmstadt, sees developing and emerging countries as more than just victims. For, a growing middle and upper class increasingly embedded in global consumption patterns, industrial expansion and extensive land exploitation makes them on the one hand co-responsible for the imminent ecological collapse.

On the other hand, multiple official initiatives intended to push ahead with a sustainable change in environmental policy are currently being launched in these nations. “Without these countries, we will not get climate problems under control”, Lederer stressed. Since the Paris Treaty of 2015 at the latest, they are also obliged under international law to formulate objectives for sustainable climate protection policies and monitor the attainment of these objectives on an ongoing basis. “This can however only initiate change and it would be naive to believe that a climate treaty automatically leads to better policies“, the expert warned. Even Germany will be unable to meet the climate protection objectives it set itself for 2020. “And the countries of the global South find themselves in a far more complex situation than us.” How can global climate protection policies that bring all players together succeed? Lederer and his research team are convinced: what is needed is a fundamental green transformation encompassing ecology, the economy and social welfare that works towards far-reaching changes in all sectors from energy supply via agriculture through to mobility – a radical change scientists compare to the industrial revolution.

Together with their Potsdam research partner, they have scrutinised the framework conditions and implementation strategies for such a transformation in Indonesia, India, South Africa and Brazil, whereby their aim was primarily to find out how the agreements negotiated and initiatives launched for climate protection on an international level impact on the nations and their administrations and on the interaction of different political levels. Moreover, they examined the centrally controlled climate and environmental protection policies in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

As such, two initiatives with different implementation strategies were the focus of the research of the DFG project “Global Climate Protection initiatives and the Nation State”. On the one hand, they examine the meanwhile largely established concept REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). It adopts a “top down” approach as its regulation mechanism is intended to give incentives via financial compensation measures to protect the remaining tropical forest areas. On the other hand, the international network C 40 (Cities Climate Leadership Group), an alliance of more than 80 major cities worldwide, supports climate protection rather of a “bottom up” nature as the cities can potentially influence the policies of the central state too with their projects.

No “Game changer”

The comparison between Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and India shows that mechanisms such as REDD+ can further reinforce the influence of central governments such as those of Brazil and Indonesia while the C40 network is a “catalyst” for just a few climate protection initiatives notably in the major cities but is overall no “game changer” in terms of the decentralisation or even the further development of climate policies. It is however apparent above all that neither of the two strategies is superior to the other one. “Their impact depends on national, regional and local framework conditions and, in so doing, to a large extent on the persons actively involved, their political possibilities, their normative concepts and respective self-interests”, emphasised Chris Höhne, researcher at the Institute of Political Science at TU Darmstadt.

Thus, for example, the measures for the enhanced protection of forests and peat moors via REDD+ in the Indonesian province Central Kalimantan came to an abrupt end when a new governor came into office whose family invested heavily in the cultivation of palm oil plantations. In contrast, a far-sighted governor in East Kalimantan committed to a strong increase in forest protection as a contribution to the ecological reorientation of the province at a time when Indonesia’s national government was in the process of cutting back its forest protection efforts.

How, however, do countries choosing the “top down” path implement green transformation? This issue numbers among those addressed by the research project “GreeTS”. Thus, the socialist single- party state Vietnam, which is faced with increasing environmental and climate problems as a result of enormous economic and population growth, is pushing ahead with change in the energy sector and is attempting to link this with the objectives of green growth and generally more sustainable development. “A holistic strategy has been missing so far”, observed Höhne’s research colleague Linda Wallbott. Costa Rica too, the democratic role model in Central America, has committed to climate, environmental and forest protection.

Despite initial successes with its energy policies and political leadership that rigorously supports the green agenda incorporating the economy and civil society, a “look behind the scenes” offers a more varied picture. Thus, for example, the deforestation of large areas of forest for reservoir projects was enforced against the will of the indigenous population.

Both projects show, therefore, not only the complex and heterogeneous starting position, from which the countries of the global South have to combat climate change. They also demonstrate that there is no single globally valid patent recipe for climate protection policy. “Change is possible. But its course is incremental and slow and it relies on strong player constellations”, Lederer explained. Whether it succeeds, stands and falls, the three specialists are convinced, with the political economy, an administrative structure functioning well across all levels, clear economic benefits for the countries involved and “normative change in peoples’ minds”. On a microlevel, they see many successful initiatives and purposeful partnerships between donor and recipient countries. On a macrolevel, however, the decisive drive for a truly transformative change was still missing.

Read more research stories in hoch³ FORSCHEN 2/2019