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The Politics of Climate Change Legislation

Paper Reviewed
Fankhauser, S., Gennaioli, C. and Collins, M. 2015. The political economy of passing climate change legislation: Evidence from a survey. Global Environmental Change 35: 52-61.

Given that election year has begun in earnest in the United States, a paper on the political economy of passing climate change legislation recently caught our eye. Published in the scientific journal Global Environmental Change, this new work by Fankhauser et al. (2015) investigated some widely-held beliefs about climate policy by examining a unique dataset on climate legislation, which dataset encapsulates nearly 500 climate change laws that have been implemented in 63 countries over a span of 23 years (1990-2012). To their knowledge, their analysis represented the first "global econometric assessment of the domestic drivers of climate change legislation." So what did their study reveal?

"Contrary to widespread belief," Fankhauser et al. report that "political orientation is not a decisive factor" in passing climate laws, noting that "we found no significant difference in the number of laws passed by left-wing and right-wing governments." They also found "no evidence" for the oft-repeated claim that the recent economic crisis has slowed the number of climate change laws, although they state "left-wing governments are more inclined than right-wing governments to pass climate legislation in difficult economic times."

Other findings revealed that governments holding a majority of legislative chambers are more likely to pass climate laws, as are governments with a strong executive structure, than are politically-divided governments. And, they report that governments in well-developed democratic systems are less likely to pass climate legislation during the year preceding an election, which finding "implies that climate legislation is not generally seen as a vote winner."

The results of Fankhauser et al.'s study are likely to be somewhat surprising to many climate skeptics who have long held the belief that political party control is a major driver of climate policy on the national level. Rather, the data presented by Fankhauser et al. "paint a picture of increasingly widespread national action on climate change" regardless of whether or not a left-wing or right-wing party has governmental control, and that that action is independent of the state of the economy. This being the case, climate skeptics must do a much better job of educating government leaders of all political persuasions if they ever hope to stem the tide of irrationality on this most important issue of our time.

Posted 1 March 2016