Institutional Design and Elite Support for Climate Policies: Evidence from Latin American Countries

Danilo Freire, Umberto Mignozzetti, and David Skarbek

Climate change poses a serious threat to humankind, yet international agreements have often fallen short of their goals. The 2016 Paris Agreement has brought renewed hope to climate activists, as it has tried to increase compliance by allowing each country should set their own efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, climate coordination issues remain hard to overcome. With the US de- fection in 2017 and with many countries underachieving their reduction targets, we see that national governments and private actors continue to neglect their commitments.

Academics have thus taken on the task of investigating how to make international treaties more effective. We believe the answer lies in catering agreements to groups that can make a difference in the implementation of climate policies. In our paper, we ask elite members in 10 Latin American countries which climate treaty they would be willing to support. The stakes of climate change are high for them, as the region is under severe risk of extreme weather events. Most importantly, their influence on policy making and public opinion make them the ideal population for our purposes of study.

We gathered a sample of 654 academics, members of the executive power, legislators, business- people, and members of non-governmental organizations across Latin America and presented each respondent with five pairs of hypothetical climate treaties, all varying randomly within six dimensions. We employed a conjoint experiment to measure respondents’ opinions on: 1) which organizations should define the treaty rules; 2) how should conflicts be resolved; 3) what punishment should be applied to rule-breakers; 4) how should repeated violations be sanctioned; 5) which countries should bear the costs of the agreement; and 6) how often should the agreement be renegotiated.

We find that interviewees prefer international organizations to design local climate policies, imposing increasing fines on violators, and renegotiating agreements every 5 years. They also want both international institutions and local courts to mediate conflicts, distrust NGOs, and consistently reject informal norms as an instrument to solve disputes.

However, Latin American elites do not agree on which institutions should make the rules. While in some countries elites prefer international organizations to be responsible, in others, they favor central or local governments. Unsurprisingly, academics and members of the civil society are more skeptical about the role of federal government, but members of the government favor being in charge of climate affairs. Additionally, members of the legislative branch prefer rich countries to bear the larger part of agreement costs, which might indicate disinterest in pursuing domestic climate policy.

These procedural disagreements are the very root of coordination problems, as they incur costs to signatories and lower the likelihood or reaching consensus. As a response to these issues, elites are interested in incorporating different political actors and in strengthening the role of international organizations in climate governance. They do not strictly favor top-down, nor bottom-up approaches in climate governance. In turn, they see this global issue non-hierarchically and under the rule of overlapping institutions. Treaties aiming at truly engaging signatories towards sustained sustainable policy must take this into consideration, which may be key in increasing compliance.

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