The effect of financial crisis and global recession on climate change policy as explained by ecopolitical theory

Author: Lorraine MacIntosh

MacIntosh, Lorraine, 2015 The effect of financial crisis and global recession on climate change policy as explained by ecopolitical theory, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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My research concerns the effect of the 2008 global financial crisis on climate change policy decisions. The objective is to discover how the crisis influenced elite discourses as the ideas and thinking behind the discourses would have been influential on decisions taken at this time. The research includes three case country studies and uses three ecopolitical theories to provide a focus for the analysis of the data.

The global financial crisis occurred at the same time as concern about global warming was peaking around the world. The dominance of market economics in the world provides a challenge for introducing effective measures to prevent global warming and highlights the need to understand how action can be incorporated into national governments’ policy decisions. The severity of the crisis brought into sharp focus the difference between stated government intentions on climate change action and actual policy decisions taken. To discover the discourses that developed during this period elites were interviewed in three countries: Australia, New Zealand, and Spain. The comparative design used was complemented by the examination of a media event in each country and data from public opinion surveys. Including the three ecopolitical theories (ecological modernisation, postmaterialism, and consumer and citizen preferences) in the research design strengthened the comparative approach by reducing the effect of too many intervening variables.

Ecopolitical theory is relatively new so there have been limited opportunities for empirical study. The speed with which climate change is occurring and the seriousness of the consequences create urgency to understand how effective decision-making can be incorporated in the political arena. This study contributes to such research by examining what happens under adverse economic conditions. The findings showed that although progress has been made in introducing policy to counter climate change, the economic imperative of governments during the global financial crisis dominated government attention. Climate change policy was regarded as just another issue on the agenda that has to be dealt with as pressure, money and time permit. Consistent with this most saw the crisis as having little effect on climate change decision-making and regarded other factors as having a greater impact on outcomes.

Keywords: climate change policy, ecopolitical theory, global financial crisis, elite discourses, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, public opinion, public policy

Subject: Policy and Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr Cassandra Star