Ishani Mukherjee and Michael Howlett
Policy communication and the resulting influence that information has on policy decision-makers is an especially pertinent topic when it comes to problems of climate change. Notorious for its complexity, uncertainty, and divergence of viewpoints, climate change has earned the title of being the major “wicked” or “super-wicked” problem of our times. A proliferation of expertise, interests, and capacities mark the climate change policymaking landscape and this density of players warrants an advanced framework to understand the ways in which the variety of climate-pertinent knowledge is communicated to policymakers. Moving beyond undifferentiated “two-communities” models of knowledge utilization in policymaking which limit the discussion to the bilateral interactions between knowledge experts or “producers” and information “consumers” of the public sector, this article explores the concept of a policy advisory system, which embodies the different sets of influence that various policy actors can have during policy decision-making and how communication between and among actors is a significant aspect of climate change policymaking. The concept of policy advisory systems is an important new development in the policy studies literature and one that is analytically very applicable to climate policy contexts. Suitably generalizable across representative policy settings, policy advisory systems are comprised of distinct groups of actors who are engaged in the definition of policy problems, the articulation of policy solutions, or the matching of policy problems to solutions. We explore how individual members of these separate sets of actors—namely the epistemic community, which is occupied in discourses about policy problems; the instrument constituencies which define policy instruments; and the advocacy coalitions which compete to have their choice of policy alternatives adopted—interact and communicate with policymakers across climate change policy activities.
Emma Lundberg, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke, Bridie McGreavy, Sara Randall, Tyler Quiring, Alison Fisher, Francesca Soluri, Hannah Dallas, David Hart, and Kevin Gardner
As the global imperative for sustainable energy builds and with hydroelectricity proposed as one aspect of a sustainable energy profile, public discourse reflects the complex and competing discourses and social-ecological trade-offs surrounding hydropower and dams. Is hydropower “green”? Is it “sustainable”? Is it “renewable”? Does hydropower provide a necessary alternative to fossil fuel dependence? Can the ecological consequences of hydropower be mitigated? Is this the end of the hydropower era, or is it simply the beginning of a new chapter? These pressing questions circulate through discussions about hydropower in a time of changing climate, globally declining fisheries, and aging infrastructure, lending a sense of urgency to the many decisions to be made about the future of dams.
The United States and European Union (EU) saw an enduring trend of dam building from the Industrial Revolution through the mid-1970s. In these countries, contemporary media discussions about hydropower are largely focused on removing existing hydropower dams and retrofitting existing dams that offer hydropower potential. Outside of these contexts, increasing numbers of countries are debating the merits of building new large-scale hydropower dams that, in many developing countries, may have disproportionate impacts on indigenous communities that hold little political or economic power. As a result, news and social media attention to hydropower outside the United States/EU often focus on activist efforts to oppose hydropower and on its complex consequences for ecosystems and communities alike.
Despite hydropower’s wide range of ecological, economic, and social trade-offs, and the increasing urgency of global conversations about hydropower, relatively little work in communication studies explores news media, social media, or public debate in the context of hydropower and dam removal. In an effort to expand the scope of communication studies, after reviewing existing work the attention here shifts to research focused more broadly on human dimensions of hydropower. These dual bodies of work focus on small and large dams from Europe to the Americas to Asia and have applied a range of methods for analyzing media coverage of the hydropower debate. Those studies are reviewed here, with an emphasis on the key themes that emerge across studies—including trust, communication, local engagement, and a call to action for interdisciplinary approaches, intertwined with conflict, conflict resolution, and social and ecological resistance. The conclusion offers an original case brief that elucidates emerging themes from our ongoing research about hydropower and dam removal in the United States, and suggests future directions for research.
Hartmut Wessler, Julia Lück, and Antal Wozniak
The annual United Nations Climate Change Conferences, officially called Conferences of the Parties (COPs), are the main drivers of media attention to climate change around the world. Even more so than the Rio and Rio+20 “Earth Summits” (1992 and 2012) and the meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the COPs offer multiple access points for the communicative engagement of all kinds of stakeholders. COPs convene up to 20,000 people in one place for two weeks, including national delegations, civil society and business representatives, scientific organizations, representatives from other international organizations, as well as journalists from around the world. While intergovernmental negotiation under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) constitutes the core of COP business, these multifunctional events also offer arenas for civil society mobilization, economic lobbying, as well as expert communication and knowledge transfer.
The media image of the COPs emerges as a product of distinct networks of coproduction constituted by journalists, professional communicators from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and national delegations. Production structures at the COPs are relatively globalized with uniform access rules for journalists from all over the world, a few transnational news agencies dominating distribution of both basic information and news visuals, and dense localized interaction between public relations (PR) professionals and journalists. Photo opportunities created by globally coordinated environmental NGOs meet the selection of journalists much better than the visual strategies pursued by delegation spokespeople. This gives NGOs the upper hand in the visual framing contest, whereas in textual framing NGOs are sidelined and national politicians clearly dominate media coverage. The globalized production environment leads to relatively similar patterns of basic news framing in national media coverage of the COPs that reflect overarching ways of approaching the topic: through a focus on problems and victims; a perspective on civil society demands and solutions; an emphasis on conflict in negotiations; or a focus on the benefits of clean energy production. News narratives, on the other hand, give journalists from different countries more leeway in adapting COP news to national audiences’ presumed interests and preoccupations.
Even after the adoption of a new global treaty at COP21 in Paris in 2015 that specifies emission reduction targets for all participating countries, the annual UN Climate Change Conferences are likely to remain in the media spotlight. Future research could look more systematically at the impact of global civil society and media in monitoring the national contributions to climate change mitigation introduced in the Paris Agreement and shoring up even more ambitious commitments needed to reach the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels.
Environmental organizations have been critically important in publicizing and supplying arguments about climate change, just as with the other environmental issues facing contemporary societies. In their campaigns and activism, environmental groups need to be able to make influential and widely circulated claims about the state of the natural world or the ecological impact of human activities. To do this, they have to “manage” their relationship to science. Environmentalists (in contrast to many other campaigners) are obliged to be science communicators because the convincingness of their message depends on the underlying presumption that their claims have a basis in factual, scientific accuracy.
Facing the science and communication challenges of climate change, environmentalists have often found their role to be an unusual one. Unlike in most other ecological campaign areas, they have been committed to defending or bolstering mainstream scientific opinion about the nature and causes of climate change. Nonetheless, they have sought ways of distancing themselves from some of the policy and technological options apparently favored by leading scientific figures. And they have pioneered approaches based more on long-term investment strategies and normative values which, to some degree, allow them to sidestep difficulties associated with the adoption of a subordinate role in the science communication arena.
Community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change is an approach to adaptation that aims to include vulnerable people in the design and implementation of adaptation measures. The most obvious forms of CBA include simple, but accessible, technologies such as storing freshwater during flooding or raising the level of houses near the sea. It can also include more complex forms of social and economic resilience such as increasing access to a wider range of livelihoods or reducing the vulnerability of social groups that are especially exposed to climate risks. CBA has been promoted by some development nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies as a means of demonstrating the importance of participatory and deliberative methods within adaptation to climate change, and the role of longer-term development and social empowerment as ways of reducing vulnerability to climate change. Critics, however, have argued that focusing on “community” initiatives can often be romantic and can give the mistaken impression that communities are homogeneous when in fact they contain many inequalities and social exclusions. Accordingly, many analysts see CBA as an important, but insufficient, step toward the representation of vulnerable local people in climate change policy, but that it also offers useful lessons for a broader transformation to socially inclusive forms of climate change policy, and towards seeing resilience to climate change as lying within socio-economic organization rather than in infrastructure and technology alone.
Scientific agreement on climate change has strengthened over the past few decades, with around 97% of publishing climate scientists agreeing that human activity is causing global warming. While scientific understanding has strengthened, a small but persistent proportion of the public actively opposes the mainstream scientific position. A number of factors contribute to this rejection of scientific evidence, with political ideology playing a key role. Conservative think tanks, supported with funding from vested interests, have been and continue to be a prolific source of misinformation about climate change. A major strategy by opponents of climate mitigation policies has been to cast doubt on the level of scientific agreement on climate change, contributing to the gap between public perception of scientific agreement and the 97% expert consensus. This “consensus gap” decreases public support for mitigation policies, demonstrating that misconceptions can have significant societal consequences. While scientists need to communicate the consensus, they also need to be aware of the fact that misinformation can interfere with the communication of accurate scientific information. As a consequence, neutralizing the influence of misinformation is necessary. Two approaches to neutralize misinformation involve refuting myths after they have been received by recipients (debunking) or preemptively inoculating people before they receive misinformation (prebunking). Research indicates preemptive refutation or “prebunking” is more effective than debunking in reducing the influence of misinformation. Guidelines to practically implement responses (both preemptive and reactive) can be found in educational research, cognitive psychology, and a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. Synthesizing these separate lines of research yields a coherent set of recommendations for educators and communicators. Clearly communicating scientific concepts, such as the scientific consensus, is important, but scientific explanations should be coupled with inoculating explanations of how that science can be distorted.
The 2°C target for global warming had been under severe scrutiny in the run-up to the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015 (COP21). Clearly, with a remaining carbon budget of 470–1,020 GtCO2eq from 2015 onwards for a 66% probability of stabilizing at concentration levels consistent with remaining below 2°C warming at the end of the 21st century and yearly emissions of about 40 GtCO2 per year, not much room is left for further postponing action. Many of the low stabilization pathways actually resort to the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere (known as negative emissions or Carbon Dioxide Removal [CDR]), mostly by means of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): if the biomass feedstock is produced sustainably, the emissions would be low or even carbon-neutral, as the additional planting of biomass would sequester about as much CO2 as is generated during energy generation. If additionally carbon capture and storage is applied, then the emissions balance would be negative. Large BECCS deployment thus facilitates reaching the 2°C target, also allowing for some flexibility in other sectors that are difficult to decarbonize rapidly, such as the agricultural sector. However, the large reliance on BECCS has raised uneasiness among policymakers, the public, and even scientists, with risks to sustainability being voiced as the prime concern. For example, the large-scale deployment of BECCS would require vast areas of land to be set aside for the cultivation of biomass, which is feared to conflict with conservation of ecosystem services and with ensuring food security in the face of a still growing population.
While the progress that has been made in Paris leading to an agreement on stabilizing “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C” was mainly motivated by the extent of the impacts, which are perceived to be unacceptably high for some regions already at lower temperature increases, it has to be taken with a grain of salt: moving to 1.5°C will further shrink the time frame to act and BECCS will play an even bigger role. In fact, aiming at 1.5°C will substantially reduce the remaining carbon budget previously indicated for reaching 2°C. Recent research on the biophysical limits to BECCS and also other negative emissions options such as Direct Air Capture indicates that they all run into their respective bottlenecks—BECCS with respect to land requirements, but on the upside producing bioenergy as a side product, while Direct Air Capture does not need much land, but is more energy-intensive. In order to provide for the negative emissions needed for achieving the 1.5°C target in a sustainable way, a portfolio of negative emissions options needs to minimize unwanted effects on non–climate policy goals.
John A. Alic
Stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases will require very large reductions in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved only through continuous innovation, aggressive and ongoing. Fast-paced innovation, in turn, depends on rapid and widespread diffusion, adoption, adaptation—in short, on technological learning. These processes are integrally linked, as virtuous circles, through feedback loops embedded in economic markets. The overall dynamics are fundamentally incremental.
Pundits and policymakers, nonetheless, sometimes seem to hope that “breakthroughs” will emerge to sweep existing energy technologies aside. Such hopes are misplaced, for two reasons. If breakthroughs are construed as something “new under the sun,” they are rare and unpredictable, and policymakers have few tools to foster them. Energy technologies, after all, have been intensively explored over the past two centuries: the physical constraints are well understood and there are few reasons to expect research to lead to anything fundamentally new. Infant technologies, second, tend to perform poorly, and to be quite costly. Improvements come over time though technological learning. Inputs to this sort of learning range from field service experience to “just-in-time” research. Economic competition provides much of the driving force.
The dynamics just sketched are broadly representative of the evolutionary paths traced by past energy technologies—wind and steam power, gas turbines, nuclear power, and solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and systems. Similar paths will be followed if prospective innovations such as carbon capture and storage, small nuclear reactors, or schemes for tapping the energy of the world’s oceans begin to mature and diffuse. Over the next several decades, the world should expect to work with existing technologies in various stages of maturation that can and will—because this is inherent in the process of innovation—advance on technical measures of performance (e.g., energy conversion efficiency) and come down in costs (in most cases) through continuous improvement.
This sort of innovation is first and foremost the work of profit-seeking businesses, enterprises that conceive, develop, introduce, and market new technologies. These firms exploit publically funded R&D; just as important historically, government procurements have created initial markets, including the first PV cells and also the gas turbines that many utilities now buy for electric power generation, the early versions of which were based on designs for military aircraft. A major task for energy-climate policy is to create similarly viable market segments in which new and emerging technologies can gain a foothold, as a number of governments have done for battery-electric vehicles. Direct and indirect subsidies—financial preferences as provided in some countries for battery-electric vehicles, and market set-asides, as for biofuels in Europe, Brazil, and the United States—insulate firms from potential competition, creating opportunities to push forward technologically, overcoming early handicaps, such as high costs and poor performance, associated with emerging technologies. The implication: Effective innovation policies must provide powerful incentives for profit-seeking businesses. This is true worldwide, although mechanisms will differ from country to country.
Margaret M. Skutsch
The clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol did not cover projects to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries. The reasons were in part technical (the difficulty of accounting for leakage) but mainly the result of fears of many Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that this was a soft (and cheap) option that would discourage interventions for mitigation of emissions from fossil fuels. The alternative idea of a national, performance-based approach to reduced emissions from deforestation (RED) was first developed by research institutes in Brazil and proposed to the UNFCCC in a submission by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica with technical support from the Environmental Defense Fund in 2005/2006. The idea was to reward countries financially for any decreases in annual rates of deforestation at a national level compared to a baseline that reflected historical rates of loss, through the sale of carbon credits, which as in the case of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) would be used as offsets by developed countries to meet their international obligations for emission reduction.
REDD+ as it is now included in the Paris Agreement of 2015 (Article 5) has evolved from this rather simple concept into something much more complex and far-reaching. Degradation was added early on in the negotiation process (REDD) and very soon conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks were also included, hence the “+” in REDD+. The idea of “safeguards” (social, environmental) is now also firmly embedded, and the importance of non-carbon benefits is being underlined in official policy. In the absence of legally binding emission reduction targets in developed countries, the notion of a market approach and offsets is no longer the only or even the main route envisaged. Instead, countries are being encouraged to coordinate financial support from a range of public, private, bilateral, and multilateral sources. The mechanism is still, however, seen as a results-based instrument, although this may not be so clear in alternative policy approaches, such as “joint mitigation and adaptation,” also included in the Paris Agreement.
Outside of the official policy negotiations, there has been a move away from operationalizing REDD+ as a purely forest-based mechanism toward developing a more holistic, landscape-based approach, given that many of the drivers of deforestation and degradation lie outside the forest itself. Countries in the vanguard of REDD+ implementation, such as Mexico, as well as several CGIAR organizations are visualizing REDD+ essentially as sustainable rural development. The central role of communities in the implementation of REDD+, and the importance of secure land tenure in this, have to a large extent been incorporated through the adoption of safeguards, but there remain a few lobbies of indigenous groups that are opposed to the whole nature of REDD+. The challenge of measurability, of both carbon and of non-carbon benefits, is addressed in this article.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The human impact on Earth is altering the hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere in unprecedented ways. Since the late 1980s, a range of geoscience disciplines (such as climatology and ecology) has shown humans to be a “planetary force.” The scale, scope, and magnitude of peoples’ combined activities threatens to take the planet’s environmental systems out of their Holocene state. This raises new research questions for the academic community (such as, “what is the best way for a low income, low-lying country to adapt to sea level rise?”). It also invites the community to rethink its role in relation to the societies that fund its research and will be affected by the profound effects of global environmental change. In recent years, some global change researchers have called for a “new social contract.” These calls challenge the old social contract, wherein academic independence was assured by governments so long as universities produced a succession of benefits to society on the basis of fundamental research. The new social contract involves global change researchers actively seeking to produce knowledge that is “decision relevant” for governments and stakeholders. This means that global change research will become less dominated by geoscience and will include more social science and even humanities content; after all, it is human activities that are both the cause of, and solution to, our planetary maladies. A more applied and people-focused global change research community promises to deliver many benefits in the years ahead. However, there are problems with the way a new social contract is currently being conceived. Unless these problems are addressed, the global change research community will serve societies worldwide far less well than it could and should do.