The European Union and climate change: Is globalization actually good for the environment?
Historically, ecological politics and environmental activism have generally pitted themselves against the forces of economic and political globalization. Consequently, the Green parties of the world have often found themselves on the other side of supranational organizations such as the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. This cleavage between Green politics and what can be considered globalist organizations has its roots in issues like grassroots or direct democracy, the traditional alignment of Greens with indigenous peoples and the favoring of social justice over corporate or economic interests.
But recent years have seen a shift towards participation by Greens in either supranational or intergovernmental institutions, or by ‘cross-national policy learning’ between countries outside the mechanisms of these institutions. This shift also signifies an increased inclusion of Green policies within the framework of national governments. Of course, the progressively ‘global’ nature of the world, in terms of communication, cooperation and travel – particularly in Europe – has seen a growth in the collaboration of environmentalists from around the world. So as government has become more globalized, so have NGOs – and Green issues have made headway in both areas. Some Green parties in Europe remain (in varying degrees) ‘Eurosceptic’, or opposed to the EU. These tendencies in the past may have weakened the strength of the Greens in a European context, at least within the framework of the EU, but much of the Euroscepticism of some Greens has softened and several Green parties have adopted pro European positions.
An article in the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences by Christoph Knill and Katharina Holzinger examines something called ‘environmental policy convergence’ – the phenomenon wherein policies have become stricter and more similar due to cross-national communication.
‘Simply put, instead of a race to the bottom due to regulatory competition–the lowering of national environmental standards as a consequence of participation in international competitive markets–the exact opposite has taken place. Environmental regulation has grown stricter over time in countries that have participated in globalization.’
–Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences
According to a 2006 article from eubusiness.com, also based on studies by Knill and Holzinger’s ENVIPOLCON project, policy convergence can be crystallized into three types of occurrences: 1) international cooperation between countries and harmonization of environmental law; 2) trans-national communication within international institutions; 3) regulatory competition in increasingly integrated markets.
So certain aspects of globalization have shown that they can in fact be good for the environment, especially when it comes to political cooperation on policies against climate change, and of course the fact that organizations like the UNFCCC even exist. But there are well-known (and lesser-known) facets of globalization that have contributed to environmental ruin, not to mention ethnic conflict and a growing gap between the rich and poor. Overseas military presence, shipping, trade and hyper-development contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Many environmental activists remain skeptical and highly critical of supranational government organizations for being corrupt, doing too little or pandering to wealthy interests. Nevertheless, it seems there is some hope within and outside of Europe. To quote Knill and Holzinger, ‘Thus, regional and international environmental policies indirectly might help improve the environmental regulations in developing countries such as China and India.’
By Graham Land