Skip to main content


Log in

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

  • Published:
Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences Aims and scope Submit manuscript

A Correction to this article was published on 05 December 2018

This article has been updated


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

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.


  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: ( 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.


  • Adger N (2006) Vulnerability. Glob Environ Chang 16(3):268–281

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Atici C (2009) Pollution without subsidy? What is the environmental performance index overlooking? Ecol Econ 68:1903–1907

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barrett S, Graddy K (2000) Freedom, growth, and the environment. Environ Dev Econ 5(4):433–456

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bättig MB, Bernauer T (2009) National institutions and global public goods: are democracies more cooperative in climate change policy? Int Organ 63(2):281–308

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernauer T, Koubi V (2009) Effects of political institutions on air quality. Ecol Econ 68(5):1355–1365

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Binder S, Neumayer E (2005) Environmental pressure group strength and air pollution: an empirical analysis. Ecol Econ 55(4):527–538

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Böhringer C, Jochemc PEP (2007) Measuring the immeasurable. A survey of sustainability indices. Ecol Econ 63(1):1–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cleary MR (2010) The sources of democratic responsiveness in Mexico. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame

    Google Scholar 

  • Crepaz M (1995) Explaining national variations of air pollution levels: political institutions and their impact on environmental policy-making. Environmental Politics 4(3):391–414

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dasgupta S, Hamilton K, Pandey KD, Wheeler D (2006) Environment during growth: accounting for governance and vulnerability. World Dev 34(9):1597–1611

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duwel A (2010) Democracy and the environment: the visibility factor, U.C., Davis, Working Paper. Retrieved from: Accessed 17 Nov 2014

  • Eisenstadt TA, West KJ (2017a) Opinion, vulnerability, and living with extraction on Ecuador’s oil frontier: where the debate between development and environmentalism gets personal. Comp Polit 49(1):231–251

  • Eisenstadt TA, West KJ (2017b) Indigenous belief systems, science, and resource extraction: climate change attitudes in Ecuador and the Global South. Global Environmental Politics 17(1):40–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eisenstadt, Todd A. and Karleen Jones West Who speaks for nature? Indigenous rights movements, public opinion, and the Petro-State in Ecuador. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019 forthcoming

  • Emerson JW, Hsu A, Levy MA et al. (2012) Environmental performance index and pilot trend environmental performance index. New Haven: Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

  • Equatorial Guinea ON Line. Equatorial Guinea: ministries of mines and environment work together for sustainable energy. Retrieved from: Accessed 5 June 2015

  • Esty DC, Porter M (2005) National environmental performance: an empirical analysis of policy results and determinants. Environ Dev Econ 10(04):381–389

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Esty DC, Levy MA, Srebotnjak T, de Sherbinin A, Kim CH, Anderson B (2006) Pilot Environmental Performance Index. Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  • Fiorino D (2011) Explaining national environmental performance: approaches, evidence, and implications. Policy Sci 44(4):367–389

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredriksson PG, Wollscheid JR (2007) Democratic institutions versus autocratic regimes: the case of environmental policy. Public Choice 130(3–4):381–393

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredriksson PG, List JA, Millimet DL (2004) Chasing the smokestack: strategic policymaking with multiple instruments. Reg Sci Urban Econ, Elsevier 34(4):387–410

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Füssel H-M (2007) Vulnerability: a generally applicable conceptual framework for climate change research. Glob Environ Chang 17(2):155–167

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gallagher M, Hanson JK (2009) Coalitions, carrots, and sticks: economic inequality and authoritarian states. Polit Sci Polit 42(4):667–672

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gallagher KP and Thacker SC (2008) Democracy, income, and environmental quality, Political Economy Research Institute, Working Paper Number 164, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

  • Gallego-Álvarez I, Vicente-Galindo MP, Galindo-Villardón MP, Rodríguez-Rosa M (2014) Environmental performance in countries worldwide: determinant factors and multivariate analysis. Sustainability 6:7807–7832

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gandhi J, Lust-Okar E (2009) Elections under authoritarianism. Annu Rev Polit Sci 12:403–422

  • Gandhi J, Przeworski A (2006) Cooperation, cooptation, and rebellion under dictatorships. Econ Polit 18(1):1–26

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gates S, Gleditsch P, Neumayer E (2002) Environmental commitment, democracy and inequality. A background paper to World Development Report 2003. London School of Economics, The World Bank

  • Gobierno de la República de Honduras (2015) Contribución Prevista y Determinada a Nivel Nacional de la República de Honduras. Retrieved from: Accessed 2 Feb 2016

  • Gough C, Shackley S (2001) The respectable politics of climate change: the epistemic communities and NGOs. Int Aff 77(2):329–345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grafton Q, Knowles S (2004) Social capital and national environmental performance: a cross-sectional analysis. J Environ Dev 13(4):336–370

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haas P (1992) Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination. Int Organ 46(1):1–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hale H (2011) Hybrid regimes: when democracy and autocracy mix. In: Brown N (ed) The dynamics of democratization: dictatorship, development, and diffusion. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, Kathryn, and Lisa Sundstrom, Introduction: global commons, domestic decisions. in Harrison and Sundstrom (eds.), Global commons, domestic decisions, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010, pp. 1–22

  • Hochstetler K (2012) Democracy and the environment in Latin America and Eastern Europe. In: Steinberg PF, VanDeveer SD (eds) Comparative environmental politics: theory, practice, and prospects. The MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Hochstetler K, Viola E (2012) Brazil and the politics of climate change: beyond the global commons. Environmental Politics 21(5):753–771

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hsu A, Emerson J, Levy M, de Sherbinin A, Johnson L, Malik O, Schwartz J, Jaiteh M (2014) The 2014 Environmental Performance Index. Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  • International Environmental Agreements (IEA) (2014a) Membership information for: Convention On Biological Diversity. Database Project, IEA. Retrieved from: Accessed 17 Oct 2014

  • International Environmental Agreements (IEA) (2014b) Membership information for: Montreal Protocol On Substances That Deplete The Ozone Layer. Database Project, IEA. Retrieved from: Accessed 15 Oct 2014

  • International Environmental Agreements (IEA) (2014c) Membership information for: United Nations Convention On The Law Of The Sea. Database Project, IEA. Retrieved from: Accessed 18 Oct 2014

  • Jahn D (1998) Environmental performance and policy regimes: explaining variations in 18 OECD-countries. Policy Sci 31(2):107–131

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaufman D et al The worldwide governance indicators. Methodology and analytical issues, Policy Research Working Paper 5430, The World Bank Development Research Group, Macroeconomics and Growth Team, September 2010. Retrieved from Accessed 18 June 2015

  • Kerret D, Shvartzvald R (2012) Explaining differences in the environmental performance of countries: a comparative study. Environ Sci Technol 46(22):12329–12336

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kilburn HW (2014) Religion and foundations of American public opinion towards global climate change. Env Polit 23(3):473–489

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kim SY, Wolinsky-Nahmias Y (2014) Cross-national public opinion on climate change: the effects of affluence and vulnerability. Global Environ Polit 14(1):79–106

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Konisky DM, Milyo J, Richardson LE (2008) Environmental policy attitudes: issues, geographical scale, and political trust. Soc Sci Q 89(5):1066–1085

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kreft S and Eckstein D (2013) Global Climate Risk Index 2014, who suffers most from extreme weather events? Weather-related loss events in 2012 and 1993 to 2012. Germanwatch Organization. Retrieved from: 13 Oct 2014

  • Kreft S and D Eckstein (2014) Global Climate Risk Index 2015. Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Weather-related Loss Events in 2013 and 1994 to 2012

  • LeVan AC, Fashagba JO, McMahon ER (eds) (2015) African State Governance. Subnational Politics and National Power. Palgrave Macmillan, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Li Q, Reuveny R (2006) Democracy and environmental degradation. Int Stud Q 50:935–956

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liefferink D, Arts B, Kamstra J, Ooijevaar J (2009) Leaders and laggards in environmental policy: a quantitative analysis of domestic policy outputs. Journal of European Public Policy 16(5):677–700

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marshall MG, Gurr TR (2013) Polity IV Project. Political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800-2012, Center for Systemic Peace. Retrieved from: Accessed 23 Aug 2014

  • Martínez-Alier J (2002) The environmentalism of the poor: a study of ecological conflicts and valuation. Edward Elgar

  • Matthews M (2001) Cleaning up their acts: shifts of environment and energy policies in pluralist and corporatist state. Policy Stud J 29(3):478–498

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy JJ, Canziani OF, Leary NA, Dokken DJ, White KS (eds) (2001) Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2011) The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming 2001–2010. Sociol Q 52(2):155–194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Midlarsky MI (1998) Democracy and the environment: an empirical assessment. J Peace Res 35(3):341–361

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Minamb. Misiones y Proyectos. Retrieved from: Accessed 29 Oct 2014

  • Moef. Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Intended nationally determined contributions, September 2015. Retrieved from: Accessed 20 Jan 2016

  • Neumayer E (2002) Do democracies exhibit stronger international environmental commitment? A cross-country analysis. J Peace Res 39(2):139–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ozymy J, Rey D (2013) Wild spaces or polluted places: contentious policies, consensus institutions, and environmental performance in industrialized democracies. Global Environmental Politics 13(4):81–100

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Payne RA (1995) Freedom and the environment. J Democr 6(3):41–55

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Putnam R (1988) Diplomacy and domestic politics: the logic of two-level games. Int Organ, Summer 42:427–460

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Recchia SP (2002) International environmental treaty engagement in 19 democracies. Policy Stud J 30:470–494

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scruggs L (2003) Sustaining abundance: environmental performance in industrial democracies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Sprinz D, Vaahtoranta T (1994) The interest-based explanation of international environmental policy. Int Organ 48(1 (winter):77–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • SOPAC (2005) Building resilience in SIDS. The environmental vulnerability index (EVI), Technical report, South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, Suva

  • UNFCCC, INDCs as communicated by parties, 2016. Retrieved from: Accessed 5 Feb 2016

  • United Nations (2012) Overview of needs and assistance. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Retrieved from; Accessed 28 Aug 2014

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2014) Status of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Retrieved from: Accessed 10 Oct 2014

  • United Nations Treaty Collection (2014) Basel convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal. Retrieved from: Accessed 11 Oct 2014

  • Vasquez P (2014) Oil sparks in the Amazon: local conflicts, indigenous populations, and natural resources. University of Georgia Press, Athens

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees, Unser ökologischer Fußabdruck. in Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 1997

  • Weidner H (2002) Capacity building for ecological modernization: lessons from cross-national research. Am Behav Sci 45:1340–1368

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • World Bank 2012. Worldwide Governance Indicators. Retreived from: ( Accessed October 1, 2018

  • World Bank (2012a) GDP per capita, US current dollars, 2012, The World Bank Data. Retrieved from: Accessed 12 Oct 2014

  • World Bank (2012b) Population, density, The World Bank Data. Retrieved from: Accessed 3 Aug 2014

  • World Bank (2012c) GINI index (World Bank estimate), The World Bank Data. Retrieved from: Accessed 7 Aug 2014

  • World Bank (2013) Fossil fuel energy consumption (% of total). Retrieved from: Accessed 13 Nov 2014

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniela Stevens.

Additional information

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.



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”)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: