Oil, gas, and coal. Electric vehicles, carbon pricing, renewable energy. You don’t often see these words on the same line, let alone in the same sentence. Are they mutually exclusive? Can a country develop its fossil fuel resources and have ambitious and effective climate policies? I’m fascinated by this apparent contradiction, which is the subject of my doctoral research.
In Canada, and certainly in Alberta, common sense (and history) suggests that the fossil fuel industry has seen ambitious climate change policy as antithetical to their core business. This industry has a particular ability, not only in Canada, to see its interests reflected in government policy. Indeed, most countries that have booming oil, gas or coal industries often have dismal climate policies. It hardly comes as a surprise to see Canada consistently rank near the bottom, compared to peer countries, when it comes to its climate policies.
From my time working as an analyst for the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental and energy policy think tank, Norway has been held up—at least by hopeful climate policy wonks—as a fellow northern, wealthy, oil and gas producing nation that had liberated Excalibur and managed to actually implement world-leading climate policies.
Critics of this comparison coined the term “Norwailing” to describe the plaintive cries of those who lament what could have been. In my dissertation, I’d like to suspend derision for a moment and engage in some counterfactual analysis. Under what conditions would other countries be able to implement Norway-esque climate policies? In the parlance of political science, if we take Norway as a ‘deviant case,’ can we usefully compare it with somewhat similar countries? Is it the exception that proves the ostensible rule that fossil fuel development inhibits effective climate policy development? I’m interested in Canada (obviously), but also Australia, with its considerable coal and natural gas exports.
Canada and Australia have struggled for decades to have effective climate policies, regardless of the party in power, yet Norway, at least at first blush, has not. This small Scandinavian country has the world’s first and highest carbon tax, the highest number of electric vehicles per person in the world, and has had supersized impacts on advancing climate policy at the international level. To boot, Norway did this while capturing and saving US$ 850 billion from developing its offshore oil and gas fields. I’m curious how did they managed this feat.
So how am I going to conduct such analysis?
I’ll use a mixed-methods approach that combines statistics and process tracing. My quantitative analysis will use a large-N regression analysis that will compare countries based on climate policies, fossil fuel production, and a number of political, social, and economic variables (e.g., GDP per capita, level of democracy, federal or unitary government, size of country, voting system, dominant settler vs. indigenous culture, etc.). Are there similarities or differences with other countries—beyond my three cases—that are germane to my dissertation? This statistical analysis will provide evidence that could support or refute the claim that Norway is different or the assumption that countries with significant fossil fuel industries tend to have poor climate policies. The qualitative analysis will hone in on Australia, Canada, and Norway and be based on interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders, archival research, and a literature review. Much of the research on Norway intended for a Canadian audience has been written by journalists or policy analysts who have spent a week or two in the country and who did not have the time, budget, or column inches to go into much detail. Thanks to the substantial timelines of social science PhDs in Canada, relative to most journalists and analysts, and thanks to generous support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, I will be able to have extended research stays in Norway and Australia. This will allow me to dig far deeper than previous analyses and to repackage my work into country-specific policy briefs.
At this point in my research, I’ve finished all my coursework, comprehensive exams, and have had my research proposal approved. I’m now based in Ottawa and am learning how to use the statistical programming language R, and the various software I’ll be using over the next few years. I’ll be blogging along the way and will be keen to get your feedback—especially if you disagree with me! Feel free post a comment or send me an email.