Friday, 4 July 2008

Measuring international collaboration

My scenarios for climate change – really for the social and political consequences of climate change – vary according to the degree to which nations will co-operate, long-term, to avoid and ameliorate the change.

I had given no thought to how we might measure that co-operation until I saw research by Michèle Bättig and others at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Battig’s group has created a co-operation index which combines five factors:
  • Speed of ratification of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Speed of ratification of the Kyoto protocol,
  • Frequency of payments to the UNFCCC
  • Timeliness in submitting emissions reports
  • Reductions in CO2 emissions relative to per capita GDP.

Inevitably, being a first attempt at something quite difficult, this index is imperfect. For instance, it is largely blind to actions, even relevant collaborative actions, taken below the level of the national government. That’s unfortunate since such actions may be precursors to a change in national policy – as appears to be happening in the USA.

More worryingly it does not seem to have been validated, ie shown to predict behaviour not used to calculate it. Therefore the authors’ findings about the causes of co-operative behaviour (though weak) are suspect.

Changes over time

An online summary of the work says “…co-operative behavior of countries within the climate change regime … is only little influenced by the results from climate change research,...”. However, since the study looked at variations between countries rather than changes over time it would not reveal changes due to climate change research that affects all or most countries. It seems almost certain that the increasing confidence that the IPCC has attached to its warnings has affected some governments – and has prompted some electorates, eg Australia, to change their governments.

A study of variations over time could look at whether changes in the severity and confidence level of IPCC warnings, both local and global, have influenced national and international policies. If they have, and if other drivers can be found, we would have a useful contribution to forecasting changes in willingness to co-operate in the future.

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