What explains cross-national variation in efforts to address climate change?

Essay, 2018
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Research design

3. Analysis

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This essay will analyse one possible cause for addressing climate change with varying efforts that is often neglected in the climate policy literature: countries’ vulnerability to climate-related risks (e.g. floods, droughts, tropical storms). Under the most important factors that influence the degree to which a country is vulnerable are its geographical location and level of economic development. Hence, exacerbated by their dependency on especially vulnerable economic sectors such as agriculture, low income countries face the biggest climate-related risks (Kreft et al. 2017).

Generally, two ways of addressing climate change can be differentiated: adaptation and mitigation. While most of the adaptation literature to the minimization of climate-related risks is about strategies of developing countries, literature about their mitigation efforts – understood here as policy decisions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – is still rare. A similar picture can be drawn for emerging economies – countries that are not recognised as industrialised countries, despite the high growth rates of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and newly emerging middle classes (Khanna and Palepu 2010). Thus, the question can be raised to what extent vulnerability is a reason for them to address climate change.

To explore this topic, I will firstly lay out a research design (Most Similar Systems) that enables us to compare the vulnerability and mitigation efforts of Brazil, India and South Africa. I will focus on these countries and their mitigation efforts since they are among the biggest emerging economies which are, in general, expected to be “by far the most important source of future emission growth” (Urpelainen and van de Graaf 2017: 6). Based on my findings in the subsequent analysis, it can be said thata country’s vulnerability to climate-related risks plays no significant role for mitigating GHG emissions and consequently addressing climate change. This main argument will be critically discussed in the conclusion and research gaps identified.

2. Research design

In this essay, the dependent variable will be the strength of mitigation efforts of Brazil, India and South Africa to reduce their GHG emissions. As one of the two components of climate policy, the strength of mitigation efforts can be understood as the “extent to which the statutory provisions of climate policies are likely to restrict GHG emissions if implemented as intended” (Compston and Bailey 2016: 145). Suitable indicators to measure this extent are policy outputs (levels of political commitment to mitigation) and policy outcomes (emission levels and trends) (Bättig and Bernauer 2009: 281). These indicators will be compared by drawing to country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s), the trajectory of their GHG emissions, and an index measuring their climate change performance.

The independent variable, a country’s vulnerability to climate-related risks, can be defined as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes […] (International Panel on Climate Change 2007). This variable will be operationalized by assessing the three countries’ self-perceived degree of concern and another index measuring their experience with climate-related risks. Hence, the following hypothesis can be derived:

The higher a country’s vulnerability to climate-related risks, the stronger are its efforts to mitigate GHG emissions, and vice versa.

This hypothesis will be tested with three emerging economies (Brazil, India and South Africa) since they fulfil many criteria of a valid Most Similar Systems Design. Other emerging economies such as Mexico or China could not be considered, mainly because of limited space but also due to deviations such as their regime types (The Economist Intelligence Unit 2017). The three chosen countries do not only achieve similar results in rankings to the state of their democracy (Ibid.: 6) and are repeatedly listed under the world’s biggest GHG emitters (Olivier et al. 2017), they are also frequently classified as large middle-income countries which have experienced increasing pressure to shoulder their own part of the mitigation burden (e.g. Jaeger and Michaelowa 2016: 940; Michaelowa and Michaelowa 2012).

3. Analysis

A first indicator measuring the three countries’ varying degrees of vulnerability to climate-related risks is their self-assessment as illustrated in Table 1.1

Table 1

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Sources: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2015a, UNFCCC 2015b, UNFCCC 2015c; own illustration

In quantifying countries’ vulnerability to climate-related risks, the Climate Risk Index (CRI) is frequently used. The CRI, compiled by the think tank Germanwatch, considers the indicators a) absolute number of deaths, b) number of deaths per 100.000 inhabitants, c) sum of losses in US$ in purchasing power parity and d) losses per unit of GDP (Kreft et al. 2017).

Table 2

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

*based on own calculations

Sources: Kreft et al. 2017, Kreft et al. 2016, Kreft et al. 2015; own illustration

Drawing on the CRI, it becomes clear that the three emerging economies show different degrees of vulnerability to climate-related risks (Table 2). The internal ranking is identical with the one in Table 1, for both the current CRI Rank and the average of the years 2013-2015. This finding validates that India is the most vulnerable country, followed by South Africa and then Brazil. Both for India and South Africa a trend can be surmised that these countries will be more vulnerable to climate-related risks in the future. This thesis, however, must not be seen as empirically valid but rather as one possible trend among others since the CRI is based on past data and is explicitly not designed for linear protections of future climate impacts (Kreft et al. 2017: 3).

Having briefly assessed to which degree the three states are vulnerable, in the next step light must be shed on their self-imposed Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as a form of policy-output. INDC’s are short and longer-term national targets to reduce GHG emissions, adopted by the responsible Conference of the Parties (COP) with a view to COP 21 in Paris in 2015.


1 The author is aware that this only represents a subjective assessment. Nevertheless, a qualitative analysis may come to a similar ranking.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


What explains cross-national variation in efforts to address climate change?
University of Edinburgh  (School of Social and Political Sciences)
Comparative Politics in a Globalized World
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Climate Policy, Climate Change, variation, vulnerability, climate-related risks, adaptation, mitigation, South Africa, Brazil, India, mitigation effort, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions
Quote paper
Max Schmidt (Author), 2018, What explains cross-national variation in efforts to address climate change?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/502807


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