Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fiddling While the World Burns: The Double Representation of Carbon Polluters in Comparative Climate Policymaking
by Mildenberger, Matto, Ph.D., Yale University, 2015, 516; 10012999
Abstract (Summary)

Despite the absence of a binding global climate agreement, many advanced economies have enacted or attempted major national climate reforms over the past two decades. What accounts for variation between countries in the timing and ambition of these national climate policies? In this dissertation, I draw on literatures from comparative political economy, public policy and environmental politics to develop a new theory of climate policy conflict that explains national climate policymaking trajectories across advanced economies.

My argument proceeds in two parts. First, I detail a recurrent pattern of climate policy conflict that I describe as the logic of double representation. When the climate threat emerged in the late 1980s, this new issue exposed latent differences in the material interests of otherwise similar economic stakeholders, particularly labor and business actors. As a result, climate policy opponents became embedded in both left-leaning and right-leaning political coalitions. In political systems where organized labor was allied with the largest left-wing party and emissions-intensive businesses were allied with the largest right-wing party, a `double representation' of emissions-intensive economic interests resulted. In these cases, parties on both sides of the ideological spectrum had factions representing the interests of carbon-intensive constituencies within climate policy debates. This dynamic privileged carbon polluters' voice in climate policymaking.

Second, I argue there is an interaction between these cross-cutting climate policy preferences and domestic political institutions. Domestic political institutions can either strongly or weakly reinforce the logic of double representation, depending on carbon-dependent economic actors' access to climate policy design. This access is shaped by policymaking institutions, for instance through corporatist links between economic stakeholders and policymakers. Access is also a function of political organizations, for instance through historically contingent links between labor or business associations and political parties. I show how carbon-dependent economic actors' differential access to climate policy design creates two distinct causal pathways that can both lead to climate policy enactment. The first pathway occurs when carbon polluters control climate policy design. In this pathway, producer-friendly climate policies are enacted with little political conflict. The second pathway occurs when carbon polluters have more limited influence on climate policy design. This pathway leads to less producer-friendly policies and greater political conflict. I then show how institutional differences between countries condition the prevalence of these two pathways, helping to explain cross-national differences in national climate policies' timing and content.

I develop and test this account of national climate policy conflict using detailed qualitative analysis of climate politics in three advanced economies: Norway, the United States and Australia. In each case, I process-trace the dynamics of political decisionmaking on national climate reforms from the emergence of climate change as a political threat in the 1980s to the present. This analysis draws from 101 semi-structured interviews across all three countries conducted between 2013 and 2015, including conversations with former heads of state, party leaders, cabinet ministers, elected officials, senior bureaucrats, business executives, labor leaders, and environmental advocates. The analysis also draws from government documents, stakeholder publications, media reports and archival records. Finally, I probe the generalizability of my analysis by testing whether the causal processes identified within the dissertation's three primary cases extend to two shadow cases: Germany and Canada.

To date, many climate policy proponents have focused on international institutions to facilitate climate policy cooperation. However, my distributive-institutional account of national climate policymaking suggests that climate policy inaction is less rooted in the absence of a binding global agreement and instead results from domestic distributive conflict over climate policymaking. The presence of a global climate agreement will not automatically bridge domestic divisions. Instead, efforts to manage the global climate crisis should recognize that climate policymaking requires a fundamental renegotiation of the economic institutions that structure advanced economies. Understanding the conditions under which climate policy advocates can win in distributive climate conflict will involve moving beyond economic frames in evaluating the efficacy of climate reforms, rethinking the importance of collective action institutions to climate risk mitigation, and tailoring policy instruments to strategically address carbon polluters' differentiated influence on climate policy design.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cashore, Benjamin
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 77/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Climate Change, Political science, Public policy
Keywords: Carbon Pricing, Climate Policy, Comparative Politics
Publication Number: 10012999
ISBN: 978-1-339-47828-9
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