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When is 'naming and shaming’ effective as climate enforcement? And when isn’t it?


When is ‘naming and shaming’ effective as climate enforcement? And when isn’t it?

A new study finds that the Paris Agreement informal enforcement mechanism may be least effective for countries without strong democratic institutions
October 3, 2023

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The informal enforcement mechanism of the Paris Agreement is likely to be most effective in countries that are already motivated to act against climate change, according to a new study.

The Paris Agreement includes a provision called the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF), under which nations must publicly report their progress in meeting their climate action goals. If a country doesn’t fulfill its promises, others will know—so enforcement essentially comes down to peer pressure.

The new findings counter widespread skepticism that this ‘naming and shaming’ can ever work to shift countries’ behavior. But it also highlights the challenge of achieving truly global decarbonization.

“Naming and shaming is expected to work in some countries, but not in others,” says study team member Astrid Dannenberg, an environmental and behavioral economist at the University of Kassel in Germany. “Countries need the ability (high quality political institutions) and will (citizens’ concerns about climate change) to react to naming and shaming. Naming and shaming is unlikely to work in countries that have not yet shown motivation to address climate change.”

In the new study, Dannenberg and her colleagues administered an online questionnaire to people who have participated in the Conference of the Parties (COP), the meetings that hammer out international climate policies such as the Paris Agreement. Overall they gathered input from 910 climate experts and diplomats representing more than 150 countries.


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The researchers asked participants whether the ETF is legitimate, whether it is likely to be effective both in the respondent’s home country and in general, and which institutions should be responsible for ‘naming and shaming’ in relation to climate action. They then analyzed how the responses related to the economic and political system, level of popular climate concern, and level of carbon emissions in each participant’s home country.

Two additional analyses of data from the same survey have also been separately published.

Overall, 77% of the respondents supported using the ETF’s naming and shaming mechanism to monitor efforts against climate change, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And 57% said that the approach will make a difference in their own home country.

“The very different views of the climate policy experts surprised us,” Dannenberg says. “There are many countries for which naming and shaming is expected to have no effect. And these expectations come from the people who designed the Paris Agreement.”

One tension the study revealed: the climate experts surveyed thought scientists and international organizations such as the UN and IPCC should be responsible for naming and shaming. But past studies have shown that such institutions aren’t very good at this because their function is to get countries to cooperate. Instead, NGOs and the media are more suited to calling governments out when they fail to live up to their commitments.

Those who believe naming and shaming will be effective in their home countries are more likely to hail from democracies with robust political institutions, strong concern about climate change, and ambitious pledges for climate action, the researchers found.

The fact that naming and shaming is likely to be most powerful in countries that are already committed to climate action is nevertheless meaningful, the researchers argue, because these countries also tend to have the greatest responsibility for historical carbon emissions—that is, they are most responsible for climate change.

What’s more, circumstances are bound to arise that will challenge countries’ commitments. The fact that European countries didn’t back away from decarbonization when the supply of Russian gas was interrupted and energy prices increased due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may reflect the effectiveness of naming and shaming, or even just the threat of it.

The analysis suggests that the ETF’s naming and shaming mechanism is likely to be least effective for countries without strong democratic institutions—which include some countries with high and increasing emissions such as China.

“It will probably take a combination of carrots and sticks to motivate those countries where naming and shaming is not enough,” Dannenberg says. “What exactly these incentives should look like and how carrots and sticks should be balanced are key questions for climate negotiations and related research.”

Source: Dannenberg A. et al.Naming and shaming as a strategy for enforcing the Paris Agreement: The role of political institutions and public concern.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2023.

Photo by Rodolpho Zanardo

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