Globalization significantly influences climate change. Ecological modernization theory and world polity theory suggest that globalization reduces carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by facilitating economic, political, social, and cultural homogenization, whereas ecological unequal exchange theory indicates that cumulative economic and political disparities lead to an uneven distribution of emissions in developed and less developed countries. This study addresses this controversy and systematically investigates the extent to which different dimensions of globalization influence carbon emissions in developed and less developed countries by treating globalization as a dynamic historical process involving economic, political, and social/cultural dimensions in a long-term, cross-national context. Drawing on data for 137 countries from 1970 to 2014, we find that while globalization, social and cultural globalization in particular, has enabled developed countries to significantly decrease their carbon emissions, it has led to more emissions in less developed countries, lending support to the ecological unequal exchange theory. Consistent with world polity theory, international political integration has contributed to carbon reductions over time. We highlight the internal tension between environmental conservation and degradation in a globalizing world and discuss the opportunities for less developed countries to reduce emissions.
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