Ecological Institutionalism: Scandinavia and the Greening of Global Capitalism

By Ingebritsen, Christine | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Ecological Institutionalism: Scandinavia and the Greening of Global Capitalism


Ingebritsen, Christine, Scandinavian Studies


Scholars, policy makers, and citizens increasingly recognize the growing constraints on common resources, the effects of climate on human welfare, and the need to develop collective solutions. These issues are not new but have been gaining ideological prominence and political salience in recent decades. Even in the United States, one of the leading advanced industrial polluters measured in C[O.sub.2] emissions per capita, a dramatic redirection has been proposed.

On January 26,2009, President Barack Obama announced a policy shift in the role of the US in global climate negotiations. By creating a special envoy for climate, announcing investments in green alternatives to fossil fuels, and integrating climate into foreign policy making, the United States has been heading in a Scandinavian direction that we refer to as "ecological institutionalism." (1) This change in us policy represents a rejection of the climate skepticism associated with the Bush administration and embraces the idea of a global commons, us action (or inaction) has the potential to influence patterns of global cooperation, entrepreneurship, and governance because of its status as a leader among polluting states and its recent history of rejecting the Kyoto Protocol.

Scandinavia, often considered a peripheral zone of the world economy, comprises Karl Deutsch's conception of "security community" where the prospect of war has become unthinkable, and the levels of national cooperation across territorial boundaries are unprecedented and novel. As I have argued elsewhere, these Scandinavian societies "punch above their weight" by exporting norms articulated by prominent members of these nation-states to the international community and contribute to global agenda-setting.

As in other areas of foreign policymaking, each Scandinavian government has developed a niche in climate policymaking, and they collectively seek to shape the direction and substance of global collaboration. Scandinavia is a site of entrepreneurship, where new technologies and ideas are put into practice and exported to the world community thereby contributing to the greening of capitalism. Scandinavia, in contrast to other larger societies, has implemented climate adaptation at a faster rate and greater intensity for reasons associated with historic dependence on finite resources and national institutions that govern political economy choices.

In today's competitive global markets, new measures of state performance are emerging from the happiness of societies to environmental sustainability criteria. Ecological performance measures systematically gauge state efforts at achieving sustainability and enable recognition for states in promoting "green policies." For example, the Yale-Columbia Environmental Performance Index (EPI), in its "Summary for Policy Makers," ranks countries on twenty-five indicators tracked across six policy areas: environmental health, air pollution, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources, and climate change. The EPI compares how closely each country meets environmental performance goals and provides an independent assessment of state abatement efforts. The Scandinavians typically rank among the top five with some variation by country and year and are often referred to as "green states" by reputation. In 2010, Iceland ranked first, Sweden fourth, Norway fifth, Finland twelfth, and Denmark farther down the list in thirty-second place (Yale Center).

As is typical of this Northern European sub-region, each of the five states and associated territories offer differing patterns and strategies for how to be green. Norway, despite its economic dependence on petroleum, seeks to export "eco-policy entrepreneurs" who engage in building stronger global regimes, whereas Denmark competes in eco-entrepreneurship by creating a leading green society. Recent changes in Danish politics and spending patterns have diminished the role of the state, yet societal norms remain among the strongest in Scandinavia, and leading firms (such as Vestas, the wind turbine company) continue to play a critical role. …

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