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Theses and Dissertations

Europe going green? The European Union's promotion of a global mitigation norm on climate change Open Access


Other title
green economy
European Union
climate change
foreign policy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
De Cock, Geert
Supervisor and department
Abu-Laban, Yasmeen (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Bernstein, Steven (Political Science, University of Toronto Mississauga)
Keating, Tom (Political Science)
Thorlakson, Lori (Political Science)
Hughes, Elaine (Law)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet, emissions are rising, particularly in emerging economies like China. A global agreement on curbing emissions, which includes all major emitters, is urgently needed. Has the European Union (EU) contributed to the emergence of a global mitigation norm and if so, how? This dissertation analyses the EU’s domestic leadership on climate change and assesses European diplomatic efforts in multilateral settings such as the 2009 Copenhagen summit and the EU’s bilateral efforts vis-à-vis China. For its theoretical framework, this dissertation draws on the Constructivist literature on norm diffusion and norm leaders and engages with the critiques that Constructivist research has neglected the political-economic context in which norms operate and the importance of domestic structures. In the empirical analysis, the dissertation reveals that both environmental concerns, as well as ideas about the economic benefits for the EU of a ‘first-mover advantage’ of transitioning to a low-carbon economy, motivated the EU’s self-proclaimed leadership on climate change. Yet, environmentalist organizations and the EU’s negotiating partners do not perceive the EU as a climate leader, because they find that the EU’s domestic climate policies lack ambition. The EU has not demonstrated how economic growth can be combined with reduced emissions, which contributed to the inability of EU foreign policy to promote an ambitious outcome during the Copenhagen summit and bridge divisions between the US and China. This multilateral failure did not prevent the EU from bilaterally helping Chinese policy-makers understand that limiting emissions increases in China is compatible with economic growth in China. This research relied on qualitative methods, which included 22 semi-structured interviews with both EU and non-EU policy-makers, observation as a delegate during the Copenhagen summit and an analysis of EU policy documents. Media coverage of climate-related policy developments supplemented my analysis of primary sources. This thesis advocates a research strategy that combines analytic elements from different theories to explore how long-standing dichotomous categories like normative vs. material factors or the environment vs. the economy obfuscate rather than help our analysis of contemporary world politics.
License granted by Geert De Cock ( on 2011-09-08T09:46:52Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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