All current expert estimates concerning climate change are alarmist. The British Met Office, based on IPCC reports, has calculated a measly 10% probability that we will take the necessary steps to “keep the world from tipping over the [1.5 Celsius] limit by 2030”. Nothing short of a drastic turnaround from our current energy consumption pattern could save us. The problem however lays in mass individual complacency. Everyone wants their neighbour to make efforts, but no one is willing to make sacrifices, whether it be people or businesses. In political terms, this means that international conferences push for tight quotas for other countries, but no real push made by the domestic electorate.
A solution some have proposed is a “green dictatorship”, an authoritarian regime whose sole aim is to force people, businesses, and communities to adopt radically green policies. Most autocratic regimes today, such as China, have awful environmental track records, so the idea explored here only calls for authoritarianism over environmental issues. Other articles already exploring this idea point to the political science challenges of a green dictatorship, namely that dictators need to redistribute wealth and/or be repressive to force people to abide by the rules.
The novelty here, however, is to force environmental consideration directly onto governments, safekeeping general principles of democracy and granting normal liberty over non-environmental issues. The solution would be to enshrine environmental protection in the constitution, similarly to modern human rights, avoiding the need for an autocratic regime. Thus, the government could be held accountable for its actions, it could be changed through elections, people would have the ability to participate in policy building through the legislative, but environmental protection would always be guaranteed. It would also avoid abuses, such as the forceful planting of jatropha, a biofuel crop, in Burma. Brutal government repression on farmers not complying or meeting quotas has already led to 800 refugees fleeing to Thailand. The same way that constitutionalism has guaranteed fundamental freedoms to millions of citizens, environmental consideration could be protected and transformed into a paramount issue.
The main challenge to creating such a constitutional setup would naturally be the unwillingness of current governments to make this a constitutional matter, and the strong lobbying of polluting industries. One solution would be the ratifying of binding international treaties, similarly to how the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees supranational protection of human rights, through referendums to give power to the people. This would also make green dictatorships less dictatorial and more participative and consensual. The other challenge would be ensuring that the environmental constitution is followed by the sitting government. For that, a willing and independent judiciary branch that could prosecute the executive and legislative for constitutional breaches would be necessary. Naturally, engaged citizens raising constitutional issues and forcing accountability on their government is equally crucial.
That most of the world’s countries have joined the Paris Agreement is a positive sign in hoping that governments will constitutionally guarantee environmental protection. The issue however is that today, too little is being done too late, and that a green constitution remains a far dream.
Fent, Ashley. “Dreams of Eco-Dictatorship: Senegalese Democracy in the Age of Environmental Crisis.” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, escholarship.org/uc/item/7nz6p6t2.
Cassiodorus. “Why a ‘Green Dictatorship’ Will Not Solve the Global Warming Problem.” Shadow Proof, 13 Nov. 2013, shadowproof.com/2013/11/13/why-a-green-dictatorship-will-not-solve-the-global-warming-problem/.
Payne, Rodger A. “A Green Dictator?” E-International Relations, 11 Sept. 2010, www.e-ir.info/2010/09/11/4921/
Smith, Matthew. “Green by Gunpoint: The Environmental Dictatorship?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 29 June 2011, www.huffpost.com/entry/burma-earth-day_b_854755.
The Washington Times. “EDITORIAL: The Green Dictatorship.” The Washington Times, The Washington Times, 20 Dec. 2009, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/20/the-green-dictatorship/.
McGrath, Matt. “Climate Change: World Heading for Warmest Decade, Says Met Office.” BBC News, BBC, 6 Feb. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47144058.