Why do Georgian politicians not talk about the climate crisis?

Updated: Apr 2

Authors: Gvantsa Gverdtsiteli, Nino Janashia


While in some countries the climate crisis has become a major topic of discussion among politicians, in other countries, the issue is largely ignored. The relevance and urgency of this issue in a particular country may depend on how large its share in total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is and on how vulnerable the country is to climate change.

It is a well-known fact that Georgian politicians rarely talk about the climate crisis and, as a result, climate change is not a subject of political debate or discussions in Georgia. However, it is interesting to ask: what do representatives of the Georgian political elite think about climate change policy and politics, and how do the leaders of Georgian political parties, the members of the 10th Convocation of the Parliament of Georgia, with different ideologies, position themselves on urgent issues related to climate change?

In this article, which is an excerpt from a comprehensive study [1] based on qualitative interviews, we will try to briefly summarize the main narratives and discourses of 15 leading politicians of the parliamentary parties on climate change.

© Photo: Nino Janashia


Political parties and climate change

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. In recent decades, the world's leading scientists have unanimously called on countries to immediately reduce their GHG emissions (IPCC, 2014, 2018, 2021). The 2015 Paris Agreement, in which all signatory parties (states) voluntarily commit to undertake common but differentiated commitments, aims in the same direction.

Many stakeholders are involved in solving the problem of climate change caused by human economic activities. The role and responsibilities of the political elite play an extremely important part in solving this problem for at least the following two reasons: (1) Their perception, articulation, interests, and vision for resolving the issue have a great impact on the conceptualization of official state policies (Willis, 2018). Political parties, and especially party leaders, are key actors in the process of defining public policy, both nationally and internationally. Consequently, they can either pursue an ambitious climate policy or conversely, create barriers to adaptation and GHG mitigation measures (Witajewska-Baltvilka, 2018). Moreover, (2) the narratives and discourses of politicians have a significant impact on the formation of new institutional approaches by shaping and re-evaluating cultural norms and values in a country (Schmidt & Radaelli, 2004, p. 206), thus legitimizing or delegitimizing certain practices (Radaelli, 2003, p. 36). In other words, politicians can influence and affect the mood and behavior of the population and justify the measures needed to tackle the climate crisis or, conversely, declare them to be completely unjustified (Witajewska-Baltvilka, 2018).


Georgia's EU integration and climate politics

Climate politics is relevant for all countries and stakeholders. However, the planning and implementation of ambitious climate policy should be particularly important for the political elite of a country whose stated aspiration is to successfully implement the preconditions of EU membership, a country that even made amendments to the Constitution of Georgia and clearly states that it is on an irreversible path towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

© Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge


It is well known that the EU sees itself as a leader in tackling climate change. In particular, following the European Green Deal (EGD, 2019), we are witnessing the full mobilization of various EU mechanisms to not only make the EU the first continent in the world to reach a net-zero emissions balance by 2050, but also to promote and strengthen international engagement on climate, and shape global action by setting an example of green, low-carbon growth for the rest of the world. This is especially the case in EU-neighboring countries, which are also signatories of the EU Association Agreement and members of the Energy Community. The “greening” process of the so-called Association Trio (Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine) has already begun and will further strengthen in the coming years. Therefore, in the context of Georgia's European integration, if the EU’s political goals and values regarding climate leadership, the EGD ideology and long-term vision, climate policies, and legislation transforming all major economic sectors are not considered and shared by Georgian politicians, it is unlikely that Georgia’s political association and economic integration with the EU will further deepen with any success.


Georgian members of parliament on climate change

At the end of 2018, as a result of constitutional changes, Georgia moved to a new system of government and was established as a parliamentary republic. This historic change has significantly strengthened the role of the Parliament of Georgia, both as a legislative and representative body and as an oversight body of the executive branches of government. Given these changes, climate change-related visions, actions, and narratives of the parliamentary parties and MPs will play a crucial role in the successful implementation of climate action policy and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Recent studies show that looking at the landscape of current parliamentary parties, Georgian parties are mainly distributed along a two-dimensional ideological plane: diagonally from the lower left to the upper right corner (EECMD, n.d.; Kakhishvili et al., 2021; Krouwel et al., 2021).

Three major economic ideologies emerge: Economically Center-Left/Left (focused on social issues), Center (balanced, pragmatic approaches), and Economically Center-Right/Right (liberal or libertarian, focused on rapid economic growth and deregulation).

As for the socio-cultural aspects, there are two main directions: Socio-culturally Conservative and Socio-culturally Liberal.

It should be noted that this division can not be strict, since in Georgian politics there is often an interweaving of the approaches of different ideological blocs. Nevertheless, there are still ideological differences between the parties when discussing climate change.

The following section presents the results of an analysis of interviews conducted with parliamentary party leaders (party chairpersons, parliamentary committee chairpersons, political council members, and mayoral candidates in the 2021 municipal elections).


Georgian politicians on the priority of climate action and the need to raise awareness about it

Leaders of liberal center-left and centrist parties

Representatives of the liberal center-left and centrist parties share the vision that the state and the government have a special responsibility to communicate the importance of climate measures to the population. Both sides believe that this issue will become a priority in Georgia when the political elite takes the initiative. According to a representative of a newly formed centrist opposition party, this need arises from the fact that “for a large part of Georgian society/the electorate, there are far more pressing issues to contend with in daily life”. These can be described as basic needs. Ordinary citizens may not see the importance of climate measures, even though, as the respondent points out, “it may be justified for the government to take bold steps towards green growth”.

All liberal centrist politicians believe that it is critical that the ruling party use the means at its disposal to carry out an active information campaign to make the population aware of how important this issue is and also to guarantee their participation in the policy-making process. “This is because the challenge of global climate change is an urgent issue. The climate is changing faster than we are changing. And as a consequence, the government has a crucial role to play by taking strategic steps and using the resources and means at its disposal to raise awareness on the issue and its significance," noted a representative of the centrist opposition.


Leaders of liberal right and center-right parties

The liberal-right opposition parties to some extent also share the views regarding the active role of the political elite. However, they argue that the political elite only takes the initiative "when something is bothering its people." Accordingly, the problem on which the population is concerned is taken up by political parties or interest groups:"Therefore, the Georgian political elite will never take the initiative on this [climate change], unless it is some indirect incentive to join the EU."

In general, politicians representing the liberal-right categorically oppose the active role of the government in promoting climate measures, even though they also believe that the threat is real. In their opinion, the government should approach this issue pragmatically – do everything possible to avoid the negative consequences of climate change, but, most importantly, without hindering economic development by adopting unnecessary regulations. There is no need to take into account ”doomsday scenarios”, according to which “everything should have ended and been destroyed already yesterday,” says the leader of a liberal-right party.


Georgia's role in combating the climate crisis

Leaders of liberal center-left and centrist parties

According to a member of the ruling party, Georgia’s share in global climate change is insignificant, and its territory is small, so "it is easier to implement an ambitious climate policy." A representative of the centrist party also believes that the small size of the country will ease the introduction of transformative green agendas and clean technologies. In this regard, the country's innovative policy framework is perceived as a potential for attracting international investment, which, in the end, could make Georgia an interesting example for the rest of the world. Members of the center-left opposition party also emphasize the role Georgia can play as a regional leader and link green politics to the “progress” discourse: "Historically Georgia has [had the opportunity] to be the leader of the region. If in terms of green policy, we become innovators and an example of a pro-progress state, the trend will definitely extend to the region. Approaches that are less popular now can be developed in this regard, not only in the Caucasus region but also towards Asia."


Leaders of liberal right and center-right parties

Liberal-right politicians categorically oppose the aforementioned approaches and view them as being unrealistic. According to a leader of one of the parties, "it is a fairy tale that we can [be] such an exception out of two hundred countries that something happens because of us." As for the size of the country and, consequently, the simplicity of planning and implementing climate policy, liberal-right politicians see little connection between the two: "I do not think it is relevant that we are a small country and that it is a [success] determinant."

Regarding the idea of ​​multilateralism, liberal-right views focus on the fact that there are mixed interests within the international community concerning engaging in climate change governance. A large part of the world does not follow the rules of the game set by Western (European) actors: "The West cannot affect and reach an agreement with China and Russia to engage them in global climate change efforts (..) Arguing that cooperation with these countries is possible, I consider to be a very dangerous self-deception," said one of the leaders of a liberal-right party. He added that disagreements can also be found within the EU itself. As an example, the respondent cites Poland, which is a member of the EU and a coal-industry dependent country, " (…) it will be very difficult to force Poland to get involved in EU climate governance." Therefore, he thinks that it is not advantageous for Georgia, given the size of the country and the economic situation, to prioritize this issue and engage in joint efforts, especially at a time when the involvement of all states, and most importantly states with the highest emissions worldwide, in climate governance is still difficult to achieve.


Green growth and technologies

Leaders of liberal center-left and centrist parties

Representatives of the liberal center-left parties believe that pursuing climate policy, although initially associated with certain costs, will pay off for the country in the long term. The center parties also share this view. One of the politicians states: “We have missed something compared to the West [...]. Therefore, we can [...] leave out these mistakes and directly implement all areas of a green economy [...] so that we [develop] with the methods that will meet these ecological and environmental standards.”

The center-left and center parties largely agree that an economic model based on the extraction and consumption of more and more fossil fuels is not sustainable. That is why, in the talks, they stress the importance of taking into account new technologies and trends. Therefore, according to one centrist opposition politician, “it is natural” that “we must use resources that are renewable so that the sustainability component comes into play.” These parties point out that the transition to a green economy will initially be a burden for an already impoverished population. In the long run, however, it will have a positive impact on their well-being. A representative of the ruling party points out that environmental regulations to bring forward the green agenda are necessary. The deregulation process brings only one-time prosperity to the country, although the losses, in the long run, are large: In the period 2002-2012 [...] the consequences of deregulation cost the country a lot. These figures are estimated by the World Bank and other international organizations. Due to the loss of ecosystem services, Georgia has suffered great economic damage.”

Almost all respondents stated that the development and introduction of new technologies will be important in solving the climate crisis. At the same time - in the view of the ruling and centrist parties - the encouragement of the state and thus the right incentives and green investment policy can play an important role.


Leaders of liberal right and center-right parties

The topic of green growth is less popular with the liberal-right parties. For them, this issue is associated with additional regulations and taxes. Consequently, they reject interventionist policies and the assumption that “the government in a poor country like Georgia” will interfere in the activities of the population and businesses, even under a “noble” pretext. Regulations related to climate change are perceived as an obstacle to economic growth. There was only one instance where one of the leaders of a liberal-right party spoke about the benefits of decarbonizing the economy, in particular noting that reducing Europe's dependence on Russian fossil fuels and consequently reducing Russian influence in the region would be beneficial for Georgia. Further, liberal-right parties believe that the role of technology in reducing all potential climate-related risks is extremely important. However, they add that the free market economy and accumulation of economic wealth in the country are crucial factors for the development of these technologies:“The development of a capitalist, bourgeois, and free society is a prerequisite for the creation of technologies that lead to independence or reduced dependence on fossil fuels and allow us to do little or no harm to the environment.” As an example, he talks about “top gear electric cars”, which have been “developed as the products of the capitalist system and free enterprises, not from coercion and regulation.”

Because the issue is politically sensitive, all respondents were very general about the development of the energy sector. Politicians hardly talked about the potential for developing the solar, wind, and green hydrogen sectors, with only one center-left politician mentioning that their election program emphasizes solar energy.

© Photo: EU NEIGHBOURS east


Post-pandemic green recovery

The parties’ views differ greatly on how to overcome the post-pandemic crisis and on the issue of the green recovery.


Leaders of liberal center-left and centrist parties

Center-left and centrist politicians share the view that solving the short-term crisis should not conflict with the goals needed to solve the long-term crisis. According to a representative of a center party, “the green recovery” policy should use the “advantages” of Georgia. In particular, the development of renewable energy sources and the introduction of new technologies in the agricultural sector, so that the country can produce more healthy products and “so that in the future we can survive in such a crisis.”


Leaders of liberal right and center-right parties

The opinion of the leaders of the liberal-right parties on this issue is radically different, they believe that the integration of green/climate issues in post-pandemic recovery management will exacerbate the crisis: “If people are dying now, every day, and you think about the crisis that will come in 50 years, which you don't even know for sure is coming, that's inhumane.”


Let’s return to the question of why Georgian politicians do not talk about climate change

It can be assumed that Georgian politicians agree that climate change is a real challenge for the world and that they do not doubt the legitimacy of the science that supports this view. Nor do they deny that climate change is caused by human activities. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Georgian political elite, climate policy has little to do with major economic or social issues. Most Georgian politicians state that the climate is not relevant for today's Georgia, as it has no relation to the so-called “basic needs” of the Georgian population. Consequently, unlike in EU member states, the climate crisis is not a mainstream issue for Georgian political parties. In general, the supporters of a relatively ambitious climate policy are the liberal center-left and center parties, especially if the EU will show interest, provide sufficient technical support, and financial assistance. On the other hand, the liberal-right parties see climate regulations as an obstacle to Georgia's economic development.

Overall, it can be said that the Georgian political elite is less aware of the specific risks the country faces as a result of climate change and the opportunities that an ambitious climate policy and timely transition to a green economy can offer. Against this backdrop, it is important to consider that the depoliticization of the climate crisis poses problems, such as:

  • Large parts of society and interested groups cannot be involved in the planning of national climate change policy. Consequently, the process cannot be described as democratic or representative.

  • As a result of depoliticization, issues such as social justice, fair transition, human rights, the needs of minorities and vulnerable groups, inequalities, etc. are not considered in climate policy planning.

  • If the political elite is less involved in climate policy planning and planning only takes place within the narrow technical expert groups, there is a risk that ambitious climate policies will not be accepted by them. There is also the risk that policies will lack legitimacy, and that the necessary changes will be delayed or not be made at the legislative level.

  • The country’s economic development is also at risk. For example, Georgia is already lagging far behind in training/retraining personnel for green jobs and in policy planning in this area, which harms the country's long-term social and economic well-being (see Chitanava et al., 2021).

Disclaimer

The study was conducted as part of the Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBS) Green Academy Small Grants Program. This short summary does not necessarily represent the views of either the HBS or NNLE Climate Basics. It is published under the responsibility of the authors.


Bibliography


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