European Unilateralism and Involuntary Burden Sharing in Global Climate Policy

Powerful political actors in the international system quite frequently adopt unilateral
policies whose effects extend beyond their respective borders. Often, they do so to avoid lowest common-denominator outcomes in areas where they desire more ambitious international rules, and to motivate or coerce other countries to shoulder a part of the burden associated with problem solving. The European Union’s attempts to enlist non-EU countries in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the international aviation sector are a typical example.

While climate policy making at the global level remains in a state of paralysis the European Union is committed to move ahead unilaterally. Public support for such unilateralism appears quite high, despite the economic crisis in Europe. However, in particular areas of climate policy, where unilateralism might result in competitive disadvantages for European industries vis-à-vis non-EU industries, debates over appropriate measures for creating a „level playing field“ have arisen. Proposals for one such measure, carbon-related border adjustments – i.e. special tariffs on imported goods, based on their embodied carbon dioxide emissions – have been met with great skepticism inside and outside the EU and have not been implemented by any country.

Attempts to enact another measure that involves a level playing field challenge have been somewhat more successful. In 2012, the EU started implementing a policy that subjects all airlines operating flights between, from and to EU member countries to its cap-and-trade Emissions Trading System (ETS), no matter whether airlines are based in the EU or not. The new rules cover emissions during the entire flight, including those occurring outside EU airspace. This means that the EU is unilaterally applying its rules for aircraft emissions not only within, but also beyond EU borders. Emissions from aircraft have grown strongly in the past decades and climate scientists agree that there is an urgent need to reverse this trend.

In late 2012, in response to strong opposition from China, India, the United States, and a few other countries, the EU suspended the application of the new rules to flights from and to destinations outside the EU (but applies and enforces the rules within the EU). It also noted, however, that the (partial) suspension was only temporary, was meant to allow for the re-opening of previously failed negotiations on a global solution through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and would be lifted if global negotiations in the ICAO did not lead to an agreement on regulating airline emissions soon. Thus far, no progress has been made in ICAO, and it remains unclear what the EU will do if no multilateral solution can be found. Notably, it is unclear whether the EU could continue to apply the policy only to EU-based airlines and permanently exempt others, particularly if currently low carbon prices in the ETS, which make compliance rather inexpensive, picked up again.

Coming back to the potential effects of unilateralism on third countries, interesting questions arise. Will the new EU policy motivate other countries to adopt similar policies, unilaterally or via a global agreement negotiated in ICAO? Or will it result in negative responses, for instance retaliatory policies by other countries against the EU that could undermine the EU initiative?

Assuming that public opinion matters in climate policy, we should be interested in how the new EU policy regulating emissions of aircraft affects public opinion in non-EU countries that are directly affected by this policy. To find out we implemented survey embedded experiments in India and the United States, the two largest democracies (where public opinion should be particularly influential) outside the EU. We were particularly interested in the extent to which the public there evaluates the new EU policy based on economic cost and sovereignty concerns. The reason is that the new EU policy will increase air transport costs for companies and individuals, and that it could also be perceived as violating third countries’ sovereignty by regulating carbon emissions within their airspace.

The results show that both considerations matter. They imply mixed news for frontrunners in climate policy, particularly in areas where their unilateral policies affect other countries. High costs imposed on individuals in other countries reduce public support for the EU’s policy there, and they increase support for sector specific retaliation (e.g., higher landing fees for EU airlines in those countries). Framing those costs with polluter pays, climate risk reduction, or economic co-benefits arguments does not mitigate the negative effect of a high cost increase. Improved framing of the EU’s unilateral climate policy is, therefore, unlikely to reduce opposition by non-EU countries. These findings are clearly undesirable from the viewpoint of those hoping that the EU’s unilateral move could motivate – via positive effects on public opinion in third countries – other governments to follow up with similar policies at national and/or international levels, or at least to refrain from trying to undermine EU climate policy for the airlines sector (as the U.S. Congress has done with a law barring U.S. based airlines from complying with the EU’s rules).

The more positive news, from the perspective of those seeking stronger measures against climate change, is that our high cost treatments in the survey experiment are at the extreme end of current expert estimates of cost implications for airlines and passengers from non-EU countries; and only the most extreme and explicit sovereignty treatment induces significant negative reactions. In addition, we observe very little support for non-sector specific retaliation, which could impose high costs on Europe if it escalated into a trade war. This means that in what we think is a more realistic scenario, with moderate cost and sovereignty implications, publics in non-EU countries are unlikely to push their respective governments toward aggressive responses that could not only prevent a reduction of emissions from aircraft in non-EU countries, but could also undermine the EU effort as such. By implication, this also means that opposition from voters and consumers in third countries against the unilateral EU policy is likely to remain rather weak unless the airline industry and governments in those countries succeed in whipping it up via extreme (and arguably unrealistic) statements about cost implications and violations of sovereignty. Overall, and particularly in view of currently low carbon prices in the ETS, which create low compliance costs, this suggests that ambitious unilateral initiatives by frontrunners are feasible.

More democratic legitimacy through civil society involvement in the UNFCCC negotiations?

This post is co-authored with Robert Gampfer.

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International climate negotiations have become almost unimaginable without the participation of civil society organizations (CSOs). In 2011, 1490 organizations were accredited as observers; most of which were environmental groups, research institutions, and business associations (see the UNFCCC page on civil society participation). Moreover, 70% of national delegations to the COPs (2011) included CSO representatives among their members.

One of the main advantages of civil society involvement is ostensibly that it improves the democratic legitimacy of global climate governance, as both activists working in these organizations and political scientists agree. Legitimacy is often thought to be low since negotiations occur on an intergovernmental level far away from most citizens, despite the potentially large consequences a global climate agreement has for individuals through its implementation in domestic energy policies, carbon taxes, etc.

Civil society involvement can improve legitimacy by affecting both the process and the outcome of negotiations. First, CSOs can increase transparency of the process thus providing citizens with better information to hold their governments accountable (e.g. through elections) for their international policy. Second, CSOs may create a more balanced representation of society’s various interests regarding climate change. And third, CSOs often have expert knowledge on environmental issues that can help achieve outcomes potentially more effective in addressing global warming.

However, the question remains whether individual citizens actually agree with this account and perceive climate governance as more legitimate if civil society is involved. After all, CSOs might simply advance narrowly-defined special interests instead of improving overall representation. Furthermore, having a multitude of different organizations, in addition to governments, at the table could hamper and impede agreement on an effective climate treaty. Even though the behavior and influence of CSOs in the UNFCCC negotiations has been examined by many scientific studies (Bernauer and Betzold 2012, Schroeder et al. 2012), their effect on legitimacy has not been investigated. We have conducted several survey experiments with a large international participant sample via Amazon Mechanical Turk to answer this question (Bernauer and Gampfer 2013). The main results are summarized below.

In a first experiment, we asked participants which organizations they would include in their national delegation to the next COP. They had to pick representatives from a diverse pool of government agencies and CSOs. Most participants included government and CSO representatives more or less evenly (two or three each in a five-post delegation). Interestingly, there was no difference between treatment groups primed either with information that negotiations should be transparent and representative, that they should yield an effective outcome, or with no information at all. This suggests that individuals think civil society should be involved in global climate governance, but not necessarily because of reasons of transparency, representation, or effectiveness.

Four thoughts on the future of #policydiffusion research

Last week I had the pleasure of being on a roundtable on “Transnational Diffusion: Concepts and Mechanisms” at the ISA conference in San Francisco, together with Etel Solingen, Zachary Elkins, Detlef Jahn, and Covadonga Meseguer. In fact, diffusion was the general theme of the conference, which pissed off some tasteless discerning people.

It was a great occasion to think freely about the future direction of diffusion research. Here is a summary of my contribution to the discussion. A more traditional review of the literature is here, and on Twitter I use #policydiffusion for tweets related to this topic.

1) Concepts are clear, worry about measures

We have reached a consensus on the definition of diffusion. Diffusion is a consequence of interdependence and is not defined exclusively (or even primarily) by the fact that something has spread. This implies that, when studying diffusion, we are interested more in the process than in the outcome. Convergence, for instance, can be a useful complement to a diffusion analysis, or it can motivate the research in the first place, but is not what we are actually studying.

Moreover, there is consensus on three broad classes of diffusion mechanisms: learning, emulation, and competition (some add coercion, but I disagree). For definitions, see this chapter.

This means that, conceptually speaking, it is pretty clear what we talk about when we talk about diffusion. There is definitely room for some improvement, but not much. Most new conceptual distinctions are hairsplitting. Where we have real problems is with operationalization. In this paper (still at draft stage), Martino Maggetti and I have done a meta-analysis of 100+ diffusion studies and have found that there is a lot of confusion on what indicators are appropriate for the different mechanisms. The same indicators are used for different mechanisms, and different indicators are used for the same mechanism. A mess. This has to improve if we want to generate more cumulative knowledge.

2) Learn about diffusion, or use diffusion to learn about something else?

There are two types of research questions that are worth asking at this point.

First, we can try to make a contribution to the diffusion literature itself. It is becoming harder and harder to pull this off successfully. The n-th study showing that a unit is more likely to adopt a policy if its neighbors/competitors/etc. have done so is not going to cut it. What is required is better, more focused questions, which themselves require better, more focused theory. As the building blocks of diffusion are fairly clear, theoretical advances should aim to explain more precisely how they operate in different contexts. For instance, Susan Hyde has been working on how practices diffuse and become norms in virtue of the signals they send. For instance, refusing to invite observers to monitor elections has become an unambiguous sign that a country is not democratic, which is why even clearly non-democratic states do it. In a panel at last week’s ISA conference, Hyde suggested that many other phenomena may fit this argument, such as sovereign credit ratings. In my own work I have tried to move theory forward by, for instance, arguing that different policy makers learn from different policy outcomes (including implications for their re-election) and that socialization attenuates tax competition.

Second, we can try to use the insights of diffusion research to learn something new about other phenomena. Diffusion often gives an original angle to do this. For instance, traditional work on competition focuses on, well, competition, but diffusion research tells us that this is just one type of interdependence among others: there is more to competition than just competition. Or, the literature on women’s representation has identified many types of spillovers, but it turns out that, until women’s participation in politics becomes a well-established norm, the number of women candidates in one unit increases with the number of women elected in other units.

3) We need better research designs

Standard research designs have almost fulfilled their potential. Adoption in one country = f(adoption in other countries, controls) has been done to death. Mostly for good reasons: it is a good approach to show that something diffuses. But if we want to push things forward, at this point we need something new (and better).

First, we need better data. Often this means moving away from cross-national analysis, which is also a trend in political science in general. In many cases sub-national units offer data of higher quality, are more comparable, and are closer to the level at which the action is really going on. We should also think creatively about data sources. Automated text analysis seems an especially promising avenue in this respect.

Second, research designs should be tailored to the specific questions asked. This is a truism that applies to any area, of course, but the problem seems particularly acute in diffusion research. There is a clear template with which we can study almost anything, so there is the temptation to actually do it. Which is fine, except that we cannot expect significant new insights to follow.

Third, we should take causal inference more seriously. This is a big fad trend in political science right now, but one needs not be an identification Taleban to say that very, very few diffusion studies in political science pay any attention at all to this issue. Although in our context the problem is even thornier than usual (some say there is no hope), the status quo is not OK and we should do our best to improve on this front.

4) So what? Enter the “diffusion multiplier”

If you are into diffusion, you cannot get enough of it. But why should others care?

Well, assume that you are an advocate of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage has already spread a good deal, but it is still by no means the norm. Would it not be useful to know which states or countries one should persuade in order to accelerate the process? We can call this the “diffusion multiplier” (by analogy with the “social multiplier”): if the “right” units adopts a policy, others will be more likely to do the same. Thus, by influencing one unit directly, many more are reached indirectly.

This works also the other way round: if you want to prevent the spread of a policy, it would be useful to know on which units you should concentrate the efforts. For instance, not all states are equally effective as firewalls against the spread of soda bans.

Of course, we first need to know which units are influential and why, which is where diffusion research has something to say. We are nowhere near being able to make such specific recommendations, but this is certainly one of the potential practical payoffs of this literature.

“Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks!” – Exploring Public Opinion Towards International Financial Bailouts

Priding itself on openly saying what “the man on the street” thinks, the German tabloid Bild suggested a seemingly simple strategy to deal with Greece’s debt problems: rather than relying on other countries’ financial assistance, Greece should instead sell some of its islands and, if necessary, the Acropolis as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, European finance ministers ignored this recommendation and instead set up an EU bailout fund of €800 billion. Although the IMF, the European Commission, and others demanded an increase of the fund upward of €1 trillion, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble opposed further expansion, deeming it unacceptable to the German public. Indeed, several snap polls reported that about two thirds of the German citizens oppose such bailouts for over-indebted Euro countries.

Although public opinion is widely regarded as a major constraint on governments’ actions in the ongoing debate over the bailouts, scholars know very little about the factors that underlie voters’ attitudes towards such international transfers. In particular, it is unclear whether voters’ opinions reflect their assessments of how the bailouts would affect their own well-being, that of their country, or perhaps that of their fellow Europeans. In a new paper, Jens Hainmueller, Yotam Margalit, and I begin addressing this question. We conducted two large-scale surveys in Germany, the country shouldering the largest share of the EU’s financial rescue fund. Our results show that while the economic features of the bailout package itself strongly affect voters’ willingness to support the bailouts, individuals’ own economic standing has limited explanatory power in accounting for their position on the issue. In contrast, social dispositions such as altruism and cosmopolitanism are robustly associated with support for the bailouts. This suggests that the current divide in public opinion towards the bailouts is generally not along distributive lines between domestic winners and losers. Instead, the divide is better understood as a foreign policy issue that pits economic nationalist sentiments versus greater cosmopolitan affinity and other-regarding preferences.

Ethno-Nationalist Conflict in Iran?

A guest post by Nils-Christian Bormann.

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On a recent Daily Show episode, former FBI special agent Ali Soufan discussed Iranian internal politics with regard to its ethno-nationalist minorities and their linkages in the wider Middle Eastern & Caucasian region. Manuel Vogt, Lars-Erik Cederman and I have discussed the challenge of ethno-nationalism in the context of the Arab Spring in a new NCCR working paper. Our analysis of ethnic group conflict risk takes into consideration factors such as government inclusion of ethnic elites, a recent downgrade in power status, ethnic group size, a prior history of conflict, GDP and population size. Our model predicts that most groups in Iran have a conflict probability that is above the sample median (the sample average of all conflict probabilities is heavily influenced by actual conflicts – our model predicts an almost 100% Probability of insurgency for the Kurds within the decade from 2010-2019 – and Kurdish rebels were actually fighting the Iranian government in 2010). Interestingly enough, the Azeris – the Turkic group that Soufan is talking about the most have a much smaller conflict probability than most of Iran’s minorities (about a third). This is due to fact that in our data set Azerian elites are coded as having access to executive power in Iran and the Azeris have never experienced a civil war with the Iranian government. However, if Azeri elites were denied to the Iranian government in, for example, 2014 their 10-year cumulative probability of civil war onset would rise to 34% – a rather high probability in civil war studies. The probabilities underline that it is not ethno-nationalism per se that increase the likelihood of civil war but its meaning in the political system. Put differently, when a government can accommodate ethnic elites by offering them de facto access to executive positions, civil war risk is greatly reduced.

Soufan, however, refers explicitly to regional dynamics and ethno-national linkages of Turkic groups in the Middle East, the Caucusus and all the way to China. I therefore estimated a new model with a different sample (including the Middle East and the Caucasus but no Northern African countries) and three new dummy variables that indicate whether an ethnic group has any kin group in a neighboring country that has access to governmental power, that is excluded from executive power, or that is currently fighting a war (these data were just collected by Seraina Ruegger at ETH Zurich but are not yet published). The model (figure below) again underlines the importance of ethnic politics and its dynamic changes in explaining civil war onset. Moreover, having a kin group that is excluded from government power in the region is likely to increase conflict risk while having a kin group that is included does not (at least not significantly). Having a kin group that is involved in conflict raises the risk of civil war as well. The cases doing most of the work here will be the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Indeed, if the Kurds are dropped from the sample, the excluded kin and conflict parameters turn out to be insignificant and the included kin variable raises the risk of conflict as Soufan suggested they would for Turkish kin groups.

However, neither model 1 nor 2 predict a higher risk of civil war in Iran. Arabs and Baloch along with the Kurds are still quite likely to be involved in a civil war in the next decade but Azeris and other Iranian minorities actually have a lower risk of conflict onset in these models. Model 2 does not change the dynamics in Iran very much. Indeed, the Turkish Kin connection hardly affects the conflict risk for Azeris in Iran. Even in the counterfactual case of a domestic war in which one of the Turkish kin groups of the Azeri were involved, conflict risk would not rise to levels that the Iranian leadership would have to worry about much according to the model.

All of these results have to be taken with a grain of salt. The current coding of the kin connection is solely based on ethnic affinity (shared language or religious adherence would result in a kin link) and does not capture Turkey’s geo-strategic interests. Moreover, it is also not geared towards prediction. However, it is suggestive of the fact that domestic ethnic power relations seem to play a bigger role than international linkages. Very different dynamics could open up if Iran’s army was involved in a costly conflict with Israel and opportunities for rebellion would open up. However, as long as Iranian Azeri elites have de facto executive access, a domestic uprising seems unlikely.

WikiLeaks and Small-n Research

I couldn’t get access to WikiLeaks this afternoon. “The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy.” Unsurprisingly, the announcement of the publication of classified State Department documents has triggered an enormous media resonance, inviting many people to check ‘what’s up(loaded)’. From a professional perspective, I wonder whether WikiLeaks has the potential of becoming an important data source for political scientists providing them with background information about domestic and foreign politics around the globe. Of course, we can ask whether the diplomatic reports reveal more information about the world or about the authors’ perceptions of the world. The data, is subjective, but that is the case for most information that we collect in expert interviews. The good news is that this whistle-blower data is primary data. But as always, before relying on one source in small-n research (assuming that one does not mind using such sources for ethical reasons), such data should be triangulated with other sources.

Talking about triangulation, in a recent – so far unpublished – paper, Susumu Shikano, Stefanie Walter and I analyzed different data aggregation strategies commonly used in small-n research. In the paper, we are interested in how best to aggregate different sources under different conditions in triangulation. Using computer simulations we so far tested a set of five very simple aggregation strategies, namely, a random selection of sources, a simple average, a weighted average, the mode and a winner-takes-it all strategy.

In our simulations we a-priori define a uni-dimensional continuous scale for a concept whose true value is assumed to be 50 without loss of generality. We further assume that every expert is uncertain about this true value to some degree. That is, every expert recognizes the true value with certain cognition error. For the errors, we assume a normal distribution whose expected value equals zero. That is, the probability of small errors is higher than that of large errors. We differentiate this probability of errors between experts with different information levels (technically, this is reached by varying the standard deviation).

Once we define the number of experts holding different information levels, we randomly draw information from the corresponding normal distributions independently for each expert. We repeat this random draw and aggregation a 1000 times and thereby obtain 1000 measures for each aggregation rule. These results are, in turn, evaluated in terms of the ‘true’ value. For this purpose, we utilize the mean absolute error (MAE).

The left panel of the figure below (please follow the link) highlights our simulation results with one well-informed source (stdev of 2) and an increasing number of worse informed sources (stdev of 20). In the right panel we increase the number of well-informed sources.

When assuming that small-n researchers commonly only use up to six sources we find that a weighted average is to be recommended. Assuming unsystematic errors, the simple average in our simulations only reach a similar performance when using six or more sources. The winner-takes-it-all strategy displays a satisfactory performance. The winner-takes-it-all and the weighted average, however, demand a qualification of the sources. But how would you, for instance, classify the documents released by WikiLeaks?

Adventures in international election monitoring

Switzerland regrets the conditions in which the elections in Myanmar were held, but isn’t the Swiss government being hypercritical considering that, after all, the elections were monitored by North Korean diplomats? (h/t James Vreeland)

By the way, here is a recent working paper on why even autocracies invite international monitors, with an interesting argument on how this practice can develop into a well-established norm endogenously, that is, without norm entrepreneurs playing a significant role.

The second WTO

The World Toilet Day of the WTO is in 10 days. Why do we have a World Toilet Day? It is nothing to celebrate. It is a reminder that more effort is needed to provide 2.6 billion people without access to sanitation with a toilet. Whereas a lot of progress has been made in the last decades to supply people around the world with access to safe drinking water, little or no progress has been made to provide them with adequate sanitation. But if we belief the health literature, adequate sanitation is as (if not more) effective to reduce child morbidity and mortality as safe water access (a recent literature review can be found on the website of 3ie). A recent Lancet’s editorial even argued that “adequate sanitation is the most effective public health intervention the international community has at its disposal” (The Lancet Editorial, 2007).

If the health impacts of improved sanitation are as large, why are still so many without it?  There are several economic reasons I can think of, why this might be the case: first, the direct health benefits of improved sanitation – involving invisible bacteria and parasites – are hard to understand and internalize, especially for populations with little or no formal education. Improved water access – in contrast – has in addition to health benefits often direct economic benefits in form of large time savings to collect water. Second, with high initial costs of sanitation facilities and (uncertain) health benefits that might only occur in the far future, individuals with limited access to credit and/or high discounting rates will generally under-invest in precautionary health care measures. Third, with disposal of human feces in public areas as a natural alternative to sanitation facilities, the social benefits of proper sanitation are likely to exceed the private ones: positive externalities of sanitation might lead to underinvestment.

But despite possible sub-optimal market outcomes, public investments remain low. Most donors focus their water and sanitation policies on water supply at the expense of sanitation and investments in adequate sanitation are usually not high on the policy agenda of domestic governments. The cynical observer might argue that sanitation, or the disposal of human waste, is an unpopular subject, which might not be appealing for both international aid agencies and national governments. But I can also think of two other closely linked reasons. First, there is still a lack of clearly defined solution strategies – not from an engineering but from a social science point of view – and second, and directly linked to the first point, the lack of research in social sciences on sanitation is striking. Being an economist, I did a quick economic literature review. Research on sanitation barely exists beyond cost-benefit analysis. Between 1970 and 2009 only ten articles with a focus on sanitation were published in 100 of the top economic journals. And the situation is probably not much different in political science…