Climate change is a contemporary buzzword which has been widely debated by politicians, scholars, and activists all over the world. What we may be certain of, however, is that global warming and climate disruption undoubtedly put life on Earth at risk. This is particularly true of the Global South, where populations are adversely affected by extreme weather events and are in dire need of reliable public policies in order to minimize environmental challenges and secure future social and political stability. The role of institutions and “good governance” are vital for easing current and future issues regarding the management of natural resources and climate change in the Global South. New institutionalism is a theory which contends that “institutions matter” as they influence norms, beliefs, and actions and therefore shape outcomes. Institutions are also “endogenous” in that their form and function depend on the conditions under which they emerge and endure (Adam Przeworski, “Institutions Matter?” Government and Opposition 39, no. 4 (2004): 527-540). At most, political institutions can organize power that lies in the relations of military force, the economy, and in the control over mass media. Furthermore, democracies tend to be “very rare” in poorer countries since studies have demonstrated that the lowest per capita incomes are functions of dictatorships in the developing world (Przeworski, “Institutions Matter?”). Hence, as Przeworski states, democracies “died” when they came into contact with poor economic conditions and became dictatorships capable of surviving under such conditions.
Relatedly, higher levels of petroleum income lead to more durable authoritarian rulers and regimes. It also leads to the likelihood of government corruption and conflict in regions across the Global South which are dominated by colonial legacies, marginalized ethnic groups, and economic inequalities (Michael L. Ross, “What Have We Learned about the Resource Curse?” Annual Review of Political Science 18, (2015): 239-259). Thus the need for us to pay more attention to both the historical experiences of countries in the Global South who have “faced up” to governance deficits and climate crises (Merilee S. Grindle, “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries,” Governance: an International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 17, no. 4 (2004): 525-528), and evidence-based policy advice on resource management and the financing of renewable energies and technologies is more urgent than ever. Many scholars and politicians have developed “ideas” about policy interventions, greater transparency, community participation, and alternative tax and royalty systems (Ross, “What Have We Learned about the Resource Curse?”). In this way, the Global South may benefit from operationalizing the actual conditions under which institutions have been successful elsewhere in stimulating sustainable political and economic reform, the redistribution of resource wealth, the maintenance of extraction processes, empirically supported alternatives to “good enough” governance practices, and growing census on climate change concerns (Przeworski, “Institutions Matter?”).
In the Global South, major setbacks to political stability are reflected in the notion that institutions are weak, vulnerable, and imperfect. Decision-making spaces are constrained by the presence of international actors with multiple priorities and agendas. Public organizations lack resources and are usually badly managed, the legitimacy of governments is questionable, and civil societies may be deeply divided and unprepared to participate effectively in politics (Grindle, “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). Countries in need of good governance must undertake a great deal to get it, and the longer they wait, the lengthier the criteria they need to meet in order to obtain it. Moreover, the good governance agenda is explicitly demanding of states that are poor, disorganized, vulnerable to political disruption, and lacking in legitimacy (Grindle, “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). The question then, is not just how to make good governance and development in countries belonging to the Global South more “resilient” in the face of climate change, but how to pursue growth and prosperity without causing “dangerous” climate change (World Bank, World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development,” World Bank (2010): 1-35). Developing countries are adversely affected by extreme weather events, and so they must strengthen their institutional capacities and make adjustments to their implementation of policy design in order to both mitigate and manage environmental challenges and secure future political stability (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). They might do this by adopting the World Bank’s principles of inertia, equity, and ingenuity, which represent the need to “act now,” the trust required to find efficient resolutions as a unified “we,” and the ability to be progressive in acting politically and scientifically different than we have in the past. Even though climate change is inevitably capable of creating devastation all over the world, it will ultimately increase the lacuna between developed and developing countries (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). While economic growth is an essential element in increasing resilience to climate change in developing countries (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”), substantial priorities need to be set in facilitating strategies for improving governance and institutional capacities in pursuit of political stability and must be determined on a country-by-country basis (Grindle,“Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). Consequently, a “today’s actions will determine tomorrow’s options” (World Bank,“Overview: Changing Climate for Development”) approach reminds us to be skeptical toward our belief in the power of institutions, “prudent” in our actions as a result (Przeworski, “Institutions Matter?”), and rigorous and robust in our emphasis on the political nature of policy and institutional reform (Grindle,“Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”).
More generally, high-income countries in the Global North have an undeniable part to play in ensuring that developing countries have timely access to necessary resources when environmental shocks hit, whether by supporting such facilities or through the direct provision of emergency funding (World Bank,“Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). Similarly, “exogenous shocks” hold the potential to lower conflict risks and political instability (Ross, “What Have We Learned about the Resource Curse?”), and so foreign donors often help to underscore the efficient management of public resources and clarity about the uses of such resources. Much of the good governance agenda has, in fact, surfaced from the research, experience, and advocacy of international financial institutions, multilateral and bilateral donors, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (Grindle,“Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). This means that wealthy, organized, democratic, and institutionally disciplined (Przeworski, “Institutions Matter?”) countries in the Global North have an influential role in strengthening the institutional capacities of countries in the Global South. Grappling with environmental challenges and formulating social policies (“safety nets”) will become vital in helping people cope with more frequent and persistent threats to their livelihoods (World Bank,“Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). Additionally, since social policies reduce economic and social vulnerability and increase resilience to climate change, they need to be jointly developed by active agents in both developing countries and developed countries where they are lacking and designed so that they can be dispensed quickly after a “shock” (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). Thus immediate and comprehensive action against environmental challenges is futile unless it speaks to the needs and limitations of civilian populations in developing countries. It must entail a form of global cooperation which demands a resolution observed as equitable by all parties – this means high-income countries, middle-income countries, and low-income countries (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”).
Individually and collectively, many have and continue to look favourably on the impact of good governance as a prerequisite for effective resource management, political stability, institutional capacity, and climate change mitigation (Grindle, “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). We need to realize, however, that it is vital that the drive to integrate climate and development does not shift responsibility for the management of climate change onto the developing world alone. In developing countries fragmented by anomie, civil disorder, and where it is difficult to challenge let alone change things, violence and abuse transpire and threaten the freedoms and security of the most vulnerable populations first and foremost. In this way we need to draw lessons from history, as the scholars Adam Przeworski and Merilee S. Grindle both suggest, in learning how to protect the basic human rights of developing populations and promoting the evolution of conditions that reflect good governance and political stability (Grindle, “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries”). Likewise, fractionalization and polarization resulting from an overload of commitments only serve to weaken the capacity of our institutions to actively work toward the prevention of climate change.
The devastating effects of climate change which can be felt today also threaten to compromise the human rights and endanger the futures of people worldwide. It is due to this that many environmentalists and activists have mobilized their concern for the environment by protesting socioeconomic bandage solutions to climate change proposed by powerful states, corporations, and figures in the Global North. Instead, they are pushing for institutional change which recognizes and offers efficient solutions. It is the youth of both today and tomorrow who will have to live and contend daily with the life-threatening consequences of environmental degradation. As an ever-expanding international community, we need be accountable and collectively join hands to innovatively construct climate-smart development and political policies that deliver desirable adaptation and mitigation results (World Bank, “Overview: Changing Climate for Development”). In so doing, we can maximize the management of detrimental impacts not only on human societies, but also on marine life, plant life, and animal life. In the end, the Earth upon which we all live is our home, our responsibility, and our future.
Irteqa Khan is a Muslim-Canadian poet of color. She holds an Honours degree in History and an MA in Political Studies from the University of Saskatchewan. Irteqa writes primarily about the psychospiritual, cultural, and linguistic gradations of diasporic living. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appears in L’Éphémère Review, The Brown Orient, Spring Magazine, Homology Lit, and Anomaly among others, and is forthcoming in Honey Literary and Brown Sugar Lit. Irteqa’s debut chapbook, rēza rēza, was published with Gap Riot Press in 2020.
Grindle, Merilee S. “Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries.” Governance: an International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 17, no. 4 (2004): 525-528.
Przeworski, Adam. “Institutions Matter?” Government and Opposition 39, no. 4 (2004): 527-540.
Ross, Michael L. “What Have We Learned about the Resource Curse? Annual Review of Political Science 18, (2015): 239-259.
World Bank. World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, “Overview: Changing the Climate for Development,” World Bank (2010): 1-35.