Research Portfolio Post #7: Qualitative Data Sources

My research question is “what explains variation in implementation of global climate initiatives?” In a small-n neopositivist analysis of my research topic, my dependent variable would be the success or failure of the Kyoto Protocol. I have chosen the Kyoto Protocol over other global climate initiatives as it sets binding greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets, rather than other UN climate initiatives such as the Paris Agreement which also aims to reduce emissions, but is not legally binding.[1]

One source I will consult to decide whether the Kyoto Protocol succeeded or failed in certain countries is the World Development Indicators dataset from the World Bank.[2] From this dataset, I would look at the percentage change in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990. The reason for the year 1990 is that it is around that time that climate change became a significant issue on the international level, specifically within the United Nations.[3] The way I will operationalize my variable in accordance with this data source to decide whether or not the Kyoto Protocol was a success in a certain country is if they met their set emissions targets. For example, Croatia’s 2008 goal was a five percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, and according to the World Development Indicators dataset, they reduced their emissions by 7.4%.[4] Because of this, I would consider that Kyoto Protocol to be a success in Croatia. This measure of success gauges more than just efficacy of the initiative itself, but also shows how much, if any, a country is implementing global climate policy.

Another mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that allows developed countries to develop emission-reduction projects in developing countries.[5] Through an analysis of these projects, I can see how developed countries are making efforts not just domestically, but also collective international efforts to combat climate change, thus playing a role into whether implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is a success or failure. I also plan to incorporate discourse analysis of statements submitted by member countries of the UN during UNFCC meetings in my research, to assess support or opposition to climate policy. Through usage of both quantitative and qualitative sources, I hope to develop a more complex and multi-faceted dependent variable suitable for small-n neopositivist research.

[1]“Climate Change,” United Nations January 11, 2016, <https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/> (Accessed: 26 October 2019).

[2]“World Development Indicators DataBank,” <https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=world-development-indicators> (Accessed: 26 October 2019).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Kyoto Protocol – Targets for the First Commitment Period | UNFCCC,” <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-kyoto-protocol/what-is-the-kyoto-protocol/kyoto-protocol-targets-for-the-first-commitment-period.> (Accessed: 27 October 2019). See Also: “World Development Indicators Databank.”

[5] “The Clean Development Mechanism | UNFCCC,” <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-kyoto-protocol/mechanisms-under-the-kyoto-protocol/the-clean-development-mechanism> (Accessed: 27 October 2019).

3 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #7: Qualitative Data Sources”

  1. I think this is such an interesting topic! Addressing the always-present problem of what constitutes an international norm becoming “legally binding” is something that institutions such as the UN are constantly dealing with- I would imagine- particularly on an issue that remains at odds with such large interests such as climate accords. That is where my question arises- will the level of corporate oversight by the government be held constant in all of the cases? Though the success may be hard to ascertain even in a blind study, I would imagine that differences in domestic policy makes the case studies even more complicated, particularly with developed nations that the Kyoto Accords targets. I also think the “level of state control within the economy” (always a fun variable to try and measure) is an interesting aspect that may or may not change the value of success of climate actions.

  2. Hi Carly! Funnily enough, I am also looking at Kyoto (and the two other main climate agreements) for my small N project, but in a totally different way from you! You’ve done a great job thinking about how to operationalize your dependent variable! The issue with Kyoto and case selection is different nations (primarily developed vs. developing) have different binding requirements within the agreement. Many developed nations have binding targets within the agreement, but most developing nations do not have binding targets. Also, the US never agreed to the Kyoto Protocol and Canada notably pulled out of the agreement. You are likely aware of all of this, but I would just be sure to consider how that may affect your dependent variable and therefore case selection. Are you only going to consider states that had binding targets? Are you going to treat the failure (or success) of a state with a non-binding target differently? Are you going to look at Canada or the US as failures or exclude them entirely? If you choose to look at nations with binding agreements and nations with non-binding agreements, I would consider thinking of that as an independent variable!

  3. Carly — you discuss primary sources that are very relevant for you project, and that is important. You’ll want to take another look at some of the material on small-n neopositivst research, though. Remember that in this methodology a “what explains variation in…?” question no longer makes sense. The question should focus on the specific cases and the known outcomes that you are proposing to explain (e.g. “why did Kennedy pursue a transformative strategy and Johnson a non-transformative strategy in Vietnam?” to use the Saunders article as an example.) We also need to know the value of the DV in each case now, so the data that you are discussing should help you decide what that value is (in your case, that would mean stating here whether the Kyoto protocol was a success or a failure based on your data). Sometimes the “success/failure” idea gets in the way of clearly stating what it is that the case study / case comparison aims to explain. What is it about the implementation of the Kyoto protocol that you want to explain?

    Think, as well, about the comparative context. We can only explain successes/failures if we compare at least one case of success against one case of failure. What would the other case here be? A single case study is an option as we saw in the Atzili article, but a single case study can’t answer a success/failure question (it needs to focus even more on explaining how and why specific events happened the way they did as Atzili does). Keep these things in mind as you continue your research along with the good feedback that you’ve received from

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