Climate Change A Challenge to Multilevel Democratic Governance

Climate is a collective good affected by both natural and human influences. Even if the importance of human influences relative to natural cycles of change is a matter for debate, scientific evidence is gradually making it clear that human-induced climate change impacts have now begun to show in natural ecosystems. Political debate increasingly deals with how to change individual human behaviour and socio-economic processes and activities in order to avoid climate change reaching magnitudes beyond the resilience of ecological systems and the stability of societal systems. At the same time, the durability of historical, present and projected emissions of greenhouse gases into the biosphere makes it clear that 'climate stability' is not a realistic objective for climate policy. A more realistic view of climate politics is one of multilevel action aimed at keeping the impact of human activities on climate variations within limits of ecological, social and economic resilience.

We regard the recent science-based consensual reports that climate change is, to a large extent, caused by human activities that emit greenhouse gases as tenable. Such activities range from air traffic, with a global reach over industrial belts and urban conglomerations, to local small-scale energy use for heating homes and mowing lawns. This means that effective climate strategies inevitably also require action all the way from global to local levels. Since the majority of these activities originate at the local level and involve individual action, however, climate strategies must literally begin 'at home' to 'hit home'.

Measures directed towards individuals to change habits and lifestyles, and pressures on local governments to take action, must gain legitimacy in order to become effective.

The auspices for effective and legitimate multilevel governance to combat climate change are at the core of this book on Sweden's national climate strategy. But how good are they? To begin with, it would seem as if the activities just mentioned - and their consequences - can be analysed along a continuum ranging from concentrated to dispersed. When both origin and consequences are local, this would seem to favour a local handling of the problem and its solutions. Consequences that reach across and beyond local jurisdictions call for decisions and policies at higher administrative levels (see Naustdalslid, 1994).

Simple as this analytical distinction is, however, it becomes less tenable as a principle for policy recommendations when confronted with the realities of climate change. The very commonness of the atmosphere implies that even geographically limited activities causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may eventually have much wider and long-term consequences. Indeed, climate change challenges the traditional allocation of political and administrative authority. Traditional jurisdictions are organized around 'territories and communities'. They have a limited number of hierarchical levels with broad and 'bundled' competences, expected to last for a long time. The character of the climate issue rather points to a need for reorganization:

• around climate change as a 'problem';

• across traditional levels;

• with task-specific missions and competences; and

• with flexibility to allow for change with increasing knowledge of causes and cures.

Viewing climate governance as such a dynamic system of 'spheres of authority' across different scales may better capture the forces that make - and, perhaps, break - climate change policy than do existing hierarchical models (Hooghe and Marks, 2003).

To begin with, international commitments and national actions create dynamics in multilevel governance. Nation states commit themselves to internationally agreed policies and measures. This means that they agree to supranational control and possible sanctions if they do not fulfil their commitment under the Kyoto Protocol or the European Union (EU) Climate Policy, and that they thus relinquish some of their political authority upward. But once democratic nation states are committed to implement globally decided climate strategy objectives and measures, strategies of 'domestication' are called for. National governments must find ways of making lower governmental levels, as well as private firms and individuals within their territories, take appropriate action to heed the nation's commitments. In so doing, democratic governments will have to observe legitimate claims for local and individual self-government (see Plattner, 2002).

The transformation of international commitments into national policy and further into locally implemented measures provides actors with different, sometimes even contradictory, signals concerning appropriate action. Local decision-makers and individual citizens soon find themselves raising questions such as: 'Why should we act, when our contribution/non-action is hardly discernible?' or 'Should we really engage ourselves in actions to combat climate change when non-participants might benefit without contributing time and resources?' Such questions reveal that climate change brings to the fore the basic tenets of social dilemmas. Viewed as a public good, climate challenges individuals or groups to decide whether to contribute or not to that good. Seen as a common pool resource, climate forces individuals or groups to choose whether to harvest as much as they want from a shared resource or whether to limit their use of the resource. Both types of dilemmas are characterized by free access to the resource and by the fact that cooperative behaviour is voluntary. An example of relevance here is the choice situation facing urban commuters: 'Should I use my own car or opt for public transportation' (see Messick and Brewer, 1983; Dawes and Messick, 2000).

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