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National Institutions and Global Public Goods: Are Democracies More Cooperative in Climate Change Policy?

  • Michèle B. Bättig (a1) and Thomas Bernauer (a2)


This article examines whether democracies contribute more to the provision of global public goods. It thus contributes to the debate on the effects of domestic institutions on international cooperation. The focus is on human-induced climate change, in Stern's words “the biggest market failure the world has ever seen.”1 Using new data on climate change cooperation we study a cross-section of 185 countries in 1990–2004. The results show that the effect of democracy on levels of political commitment to climate change mitigation (policy output) is positive. In contrast, the effect on policy outcomes, measured in terms of emission levels and trends, is ambiguous. These results demonstrate that up until now the democracy effect has not been able to override countervailing forces that emanate from the free-rider problem, discounting of future benefits of climate change mitigation, and other factors that cut against efforts to reduce emissions. Even though democracies have had a slow start in moving from political and legal commitments (policy output) to emission reductions (policy outcomes), particularly in the transportation sector, we observe some encouraging signs. The main implication of our findings for research on international politics is that greater efforts should be made to study policy output and outcome side by side. This will help in identifying whether more democratic countries experience larger “words-deeds” gaps also in other policy areas, and whether there are systematic differences of this kind between domestic and international commitments and across different policy areas.



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