A sharper look behind the political scenes

With an eye on countries around the world, political scientist Marlene Kammerer researches the road from good intentions to effective climate policy.

Marlene Kammerer

Marlene Kammerer has become familiar with three countries during her years of academic travel: Germany, Switzerland and Finland. Considering how similar they are, you might think there’d be little difference in their scientific system. But that’s not true; Marlene Kammerer has certainly noticed differences. “Switzerland has a strong quantitative orientation, and statistical methods and network analyses are the main focus here. In Germany, on the other hand, qualitative studies are much more common.” And in Finland, the political scientist has observed how her colleagues conduct participatory research. For example, while studying migration issues, they attend meetings at cooperative housing estates for months. “An exciting approach,” says Marlene Kammerer, who has been at the OCCR since 2018.

In her own studies, the postdoctoral researcher focuses on climate policy and those who set the agenda and steer the political discourse. In all three countries, she’s dealt with “the usual suspects”: political parties, parliament, government and stakeholders. “There are no surprises there,” she says, unlike the Philippines, for instance. There – as a thesis at the OCCR has shown – religious communities also play an important role in the public climate discourse.

Climate Negotiations

Gap between aspiration and reality

In her latest project, Marlene Kammerer explores the promises made during international climate negotiations. Why don’t countries keep these promises at home? That’s the question she’s trying to answer via research financed by the Swiss Network for International Studies. In a first step, her interdisciplinary project team is determining the size of the gap between aspiration and reality in the individual countries – using a measuring method developed specifically for the purpose. “With the help of this index, we hope to better understand why the performance of states in climate policy is not as good as it should be,” explains Marlene Kammerer. “It is of no use to anyone if generous promises made at climate conferences cannot be implemented at all.”

The project “What international negotiators promise and domestic policymakers adopt: Policy and politics in the multi-level climate change regime” uses a variety of approaches to develop a theory to explain which factors favour the fulfilment of negotiation promises and their implementation within the framework of national regulations. Among other things, the project will analyse policy networks and produce econometric analyses. And at COP 26 in Glasgow next autumn, team members plan to interview as many delegates as possible.

Climate Negotiations

The “word vs. deeds gap”

Even if the research project doesn’t really get underway until 2021, Marlene Kammerer is at no loss for hypotheses as to why promises and reality often diverge in climate policy. There are many reasons that could help explain the difference, says the political scientist – such as a country’s vulnerability to climate change, the influence of its interest groups, and the composition of its negotiating delegation. Incidentally, the researchers also expect to find states whose parliaments have adopted national climate targets that go beyond the promises made internationally – especially in Scandinavia.

The “words vs. deeds gap” project is working with various partners, including those from outside the academic world, such as WWF Switzerland and the International Energy Agency (IEA). “We expect this cooperation to be a reality check,” says Marlene Kammerer, “and from our partners we want to learn which aspects of our research are actually relevant to practice.” Finally, one of the project goals is to provide concrete guidance to promote ambitious climate protection. For example, they plan to create guidelines on training negotiators from the global South.

Friday for Future demonstration

As a scientist, Marlene Kammerer has been working on climate protection for years. Against this background, how optimistic is her personal view of the future? “It depends very much on how you feel on the day,” she says tellingly. “In the context of the coronavirus problem, I fear that climate and environmental aspects will be neglected.” Although: the political will to protect the climate is in fact there, and successes can be seen bit by bit. The pressure from the streets is also having an effect, as the post-doctoral researcher points out. “The fact that the Swiss parliament has surpassed a lax precedent and passed a relatively strict version of the CO2 law is undoubtedly related to the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement.”

(November 2020)