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National environmental policies as shelter from the storm: specifying the relationship between extreme weather vulnerability and national environmental performance

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Abstract

Empirical evidence regarding what causes some nations to display better environmental performance than others is still needed. Several case-based studies exist, as do studies that focus on developed countries and OECD members, but little systematic work has compared environmental performance across a worldwide sample of nations to discern, at the domestic level, why some nations are more “green” than others. This paper uses the Environmental Performance Index (2014) to explore the association between environmental performance and “conventional wisdom” variables that scholars have used to explain performance. While the article debunks the traditional explanations of regime type and international treaty participation, it identifies more relevant determinants, namely, a nation’s vulnerability to extreme weather events. Using an ordinary least squares regression, we find that whether the country is democratic or authoritarian is not by itself significant; nor is whether the nation is a signatory to major international treaties. Instead, vulnerability measured as human and economic losses after extreme weather events impact environmental performance significantly. Future research should explore the strong possibility that the effects of political institutions on environmental performance are mitigated by other factors such vulnerability to climate change.

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Change history

  • 05 December 2018

    The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake. The name of “Todd A. Eisenstadt” is now corrected in the author group of this article. The original article has been corrected.

Notes

  1. Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias (2014) do test similar indicators of vulnerability as causes of public opinion regarding climate change and find that national measures of vulnerability do not affect national public opinion, although we measure policy performance and find that vulnerability is significant.

  2. Our own analysis did not show a strong correlation between democracy and international agreement participation, with a Pearson’s r of .3.

  3. Term that refers to “a broad coalition of actors including scientists, government and other public sector officials, and politicians, who come to share a common interpretation of the science behind an environmental problem.” See Gough and Shackley (2001), page 331.

  4. Underlying the nine issue categories are 19 indicators: child mortality, household air quality, air pollution (average), air pollution (exceedance), access to drinking water, access to sanitation, national biome protection, global biome protection, marine protected areas, critical habitat protection, agricultural subsidies, pesticide regulation, wastewater treatment, change in forest cover, coastal shelf fishing pressure, fish stocks, trend in carbon intensity, change of trend in carbon intensity, and trend in CO2 emissions. See Hsu et al. 2014.

  5. Autocracy is based on an additive 11-point scale (from 0 to − 10) operationalized by competitiveness of political participation, the regulation of participation, the openness and competitiveness of executive recruitment, and constraints on the chief executive (see Marshall and Gurr 2013).

  6. Democracy is also an additive 11-point scale, but it ranges from 0 to + 10. It is operationalized by presence of institutions and procedures of citizen free and effective expression; the existence of institutionalized constraints on the exercise of the executive’s power; and the guarantee of civil liberties (see Marshall and Gurr 2013).

  7. A compilation of the INDCs, as communicated by parties, can be found at the UNFCCC webpage: (http://www4.unfccc.int/submissions/indc/Submission%20Pages/submissions.aspx). Accessed on February 5, 2016.

  8. Given our extensive literature review, we do not have important concerns about omitted variable bias. Similarly, we do not have concerns regarding simultaneous causation since a country’s domestic environmental policies have little influence on the damage caused by extreme weather events, as the causal arrow moves in the other direction. Although climatic events are increasing in frequency and intensity, this increase can be attributable to the global intensity increase of greenhouse gas emissions, not to domestic levels of overall environmental performance.

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Correspondence to Daniela Stevens.

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The original version of this article was revised: The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake. The name of “Todd A. Eisenstadt” is now corrected in the author group of this article. The original article has been corrected.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 1 Descriptive statistics for variables used
Table 2 Glossary of variables in the models
Table 3 OLS regression of associations of vulnerability on environmental performance (using total EPI from 2014 as well as “environmental health” and “ecosystem vitality”)

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Eisenstadt, T.A., Fiorino, D.J. & Stevens, D. National environmental policies as shelter from the storm: specifying the relationship between extreme weather vulnerability and national environmental performance. J Environ Stud Sci 9, 96–107 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-018-0523-4

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