The inability of governments around the world to address climate change, even as technical, scientific and financial remedies have been identified, is both frustrating and alarming. In some low-income countries, like Nepal, politicians are striving to implement poorly understood sustainable development policies amidst a lack of awareness of the underlying problems. In others, like Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), leaders lack the knowledge and institutional capacity to act. If democracies are going to maintain their legitimacy in the long run, they must demonstrate their ability to deliver on climate mitigation and adaptation.
In both Nepal and BiH, NDI is working with political parties, local NGOs and academics to educate both citizens and politicians about the risks of the climate crisis to improve governance and garner support for adaptive policies. NDI is also supporting the development of structured policy feedback loops: experts can elevate environmental priorities; political parties can educate their members on the issues; and constituents can shape the discourse by communicating their preferences.
While creating political demand for climate action is a crucial first step, inclusive, citizen-centric and evidence-based policy solutions are imperative to achieving sustainable progress. Political parties have an important role too. They are the institutions that can reframe economic development models to incorporate environmental protections, ensuring the long-term well-being of citizens. Political parties can also educate, activate and engage citizens on climate, creating a popular demand that will, in turn, sustain their political legitimacy.
Nepal: Raising Political Awareness
Nepal produces only 0.027 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is considered by some experts to be the fourth most vulnerable country on the planet to the harmful effects of climate change. Although Nepal is one of the world’s least developed countries, there is nevertheless an entrenched interest within the country to keep the pace of economic growth – particularly sand and stone mining – rolling forward. As the global community considers bold climate action, many leaders in Nepal are left wondering how to balance sustainability with economic development.
In response to this fundamental question, NDI is working to strengthen democratic and political processes that further deliver more citizen-centric policy. Here’s how:
- NDI brought together five well-known Nepali writers, including former government ministers, MPs and the editor of a national weekly newspaper, to produce a 60-page policy pamphlet on climate change designed to grab the attention of Nepali political leaders as well as those in civil society, media and academia.
- NDI is beginning to work with a local theater group called Shilpee to stage educational performances in all seven provinces and collect feedback from attendees on the climate issues that most affect them. These productions raise civic awareness of environmental issues, activate voters and create political demand for sustainable development at the very root of the democratic process: the people. NDI will then create avenues to elevate citizen demands on climate and funnel this energy into Nepal’s provincial and federal elections scheduled for later this year.
- NDI will support the government of Nepal, through the Ministry of Forests and Environment and a local media group, to launch an information campaign on key climate issues identified by the Shilpee Theatre Group.
- In June, NDI plans to convene a roundtable with senior political leaders and representatives from local NGOs and academia to engage in debate on some of the key themes raised in the pamphlet with the goal of developing recommendations for government policy.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Increasing Political Competence
BiH is similarly one of the countries worst hit by the climate crisis. According to the European Environmental Agency, BiH faces the most significant impact from air pollution of any country in Europe. On average, 44,000 people in BiH die from air pollution each year. In 2019, in an attempt to understand the scope of the problem, NDI engaged members of parliament (MPs) in the three cantons, or administrative regions, that were most affected by air pollution: Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica-Doboj.
NDI administered a survey to MPs on the basics of the climate crisis and the state institutions responsible for environmental issues. The results were eye-opening. Respondents (63 total) were unable to answer even the most basic questions on the root causes of the air pollution that plagued so many of their constituents. They were not able to identify past environmental legislation that their bodies had passed.
Working with a professor and an environmental policy expert, NDI created a guidebook to educate MPs on, and activate a political demand for, climate action. Starting with a summary of past legislation, the guidebook explains the science behind BiH’s environmental problems, includes a glossary of acronyms and outlines potential policy proposals. The guidebooks were distributed to every MP in the three cantons. Next, NDI will provide similar educational materials to municipal and city leaders to improve responsive governance.
Taken together, the two cases in Nepal and Bosnia and Herzegovina exhibit a programmatic framework of how to educate and engage both citizens and politicians to create a demand for action on the climate crisis.
Author: Jake Schwartz, Project Assistant, Election and Political Processes
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.