Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks (COMPON):
An international and cross-national research project
PI: Jeffrey Broadbent, Dept of Sociology, University of Minnesota
Global climate change threatens all nations of the world with immediate and increasing risk of significant adverse environmental consequences, according to dominant scientific assessments. Minimizing these consequences requires rapidly reducing the cause of climate change: the increasing concentration of greenhouse gasses in the global atmosphere. Science has identified the mechanisms of the problem, and proponents argue that we have the technical and economic capacity to radically reduce these concentrations over the coming decades. However, human societies, as collectivities, currently lack the political will to take these audacious measures. The needed socio-economic reorganization for the sake of such an unprecedented global goal arouses strong social resistance from many quarters – especially from the many sectors in different countries who fear short-term economic loss. Solving climate change will require considerable social and cultural transformation in our habits of government, business, work, production, consumption, settlement and transport, as well as in our values of cooperation, respect for science and gender-equality. The weakness of international agreements to elicit the needed responses has turned the spotlight of inquiry upon the dynamics of national socio-political response to global climate change. The solution must be global, but to craft workable global agreements, there exists a critical need to understand the societal and cultural bases of national responses to global climate change.
The project on Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks (COMPON) establishes an international effort to address these challenging questions. The long-term scientific goal is to explain the variation in national response to global climate change under the emerging international regime. Examining the causes of this variation from the perspective of networks of discourse and policy-making interaction among relevant organizations and knowledge brokers, the project collects empirical data for rigorous comparative analysis. COMPON has established research teams in 19 countries to conduct this project, with more teams in formation (and more welcome). Acceptance of the dominant climate change scientific consensus—that climate change is anthropogenic, dangerous and intensifying-- is the sine qua non for taking action on GCC. Accordingly, our primary hypotheses address conditions under which that scientific consensus (for one prominent source, from the IPCC) is accepted or rejected in national (or area) cases at the popular and political levels, and how it becomes empowered or weakened in its effect upon practical measures to reduce GHG outputs and protect GHG sinks (forests). The ultimate outcome variable per case is the trend in net national GHG outputs.
Two opposing theories on the political process, persuasion theory versus conflict theory, give rise to different hypotheses about how the scientific information is framed and processed. Persuasion theory implies that societies can learn to adopt the necessary new ways through discussion and education. In contrast, conflict theory indicates that the scientific consensus will provoke intense political, and possibly violent, conflicts over the required social reforms that can only be resolved through imposed regulation. In the former, venues for egalitarian stakeholder participation and dialogue will be crucial interaction nodes for networks of the acceptance of climate change science and its political empowerment. This view gives rise to the hypothesis that: "The more the political system provides venues for broadly representative and egalitarian stakeholder participation, the more the nation will mitigate CC." But under the assumptions of conflict theory, change will require the formation of opposed coalitions advocating different interpretations of and solutions for the issue. A conflict-oriented hypothesis argues, "The more that national interest groups defend fossil fuel consumption, the less the nation will mitigate CC." Social conditions, including cultural values, existing institutions, distribution of power, orientation of political parties, dominant ideologies, will affect both these processes. Bringing in cultural theory, a resultant hypothesis states that "The more implicit the cultural acceptance of a rational-scientific worldview, the more the nation will mitigate CC." Combining cultural and persuasion theory yields "The more centrality CC scientists have in policy communications networks, the more the nation will mitigate CC." In more authoritarian societies, such participatory venues will not exist. Even in more democratic societies, consensual circles may need to toughen into advocacy coalitions and engage in political contention to attain effective outcomes. Other background conditions include vulnerability to climate change disaster, political institutions, economic system, dominant interest groups, existing network patterns, authority of national science establishment, levels of development and prosperity, intensity of nationalism, culture of science and patriarchy. Understanding the social and cultural logics of response to climate change is central to the COMPON project. A paper by the PI describes 11 hypotheses in detail (available from author).
To permit a more powerful comparative analysis of these hypotheses, the COMPON project employs powerful methods of discourse analysis and policy network analysis. To collect comparable data, the research team in each national case will administer a common research protocol involving collection of three types of data: media and legislative content analysis, open-ended interviews, and a network survey of organizations engaged in national climate change politics. The discourse analysis phase involves the coding of mass media and legislative records for frames of interpretation around common themes, such as the importance of climate change and the authority of science. The survey gathers quantitative data on networks of relationship and exchange among the national and international organizations and agencies (often about 100) engaged in the national climate change issue field. The survey distinguishes relationships by content, for example scientific information exchange, political information, collaboration, and long-term reciprocity. The information network from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to national receiving organizations and thence into secondary organizations will be the golden thread of the analysis. By comparing the reactions of these diverse societies, we plan to isolate the major factors that, to use a metaphor from electronics, impede or enhance the signal transmission from the IPCC to national policy and performance (GHG reductions). How societies receive, frame, diffuse and form political advocacy coalitions around the IPCC information is a critical test of their climate change response capacities. Under some conditions, participatory venues, as noted above, may be crucial to this spread. The two methods of content analysis and network survey respectively extract and focus on the cultural field of discourse versus the social relational field of influence relations among engaged organizations. These are two sides of the same coin of national climate change politics. Through this common methodology, the case teams produce data and analysis that can be compared across nations, making comparative analysis and hypothesis testing possible.
The US National Science Foundation is funding the COMPON project’s (~$720,000 over October 2008 to April 2014) research teams in India, China, the US, Germany and the UK, with startup support for the Japan team, as well as RA and summer support for the Principal Investigator (Broadbent) (PI Jeffrey Broadbent, co-PI Dana Fisher). Research teams in Brazil, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Canada and Switzerland have received funding from their own national science agencies. In total, the grants have amounted to over $2 million, signifying strong international support for the project. Teams in New Zealand, Mexico, Greece and Peru are also in operation. In addition, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) with funding from the Norwegian government has been implementing the Compon media analysis protocol focusing on the 'REDD+ (Reductions in Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) issue in developing countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and others.
The COMPON projects funded by the NSF grant have been following a five year time table (with some variation by case). The first six months, from October 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009, involved logistical and financial setup and collective determination of common themes for coding. During Year One, from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, teams conducted collected and analyzed media articles and legislative records, coded these by common research themes, began writing a report, and collaborated to finalize the network survey instrument. Year Two, from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011, began the implementation of the network survey. Ensuing years to the present have involved creating the combined data set, writing and editing the Compon media analysis papers from the many teams and carrying out the network survey. After the Compon media papers are published as a collected set in a special journal issue in 2013, the Compon project will turn to writing and editing the network survey analysis papers.
The COMPON project will provide needed scientific research on the critical topic of the social and cultural bases of national responses to global climate change. The project is modular; new national cases are always welcome and we seek more inclusive representation especially among developing countries. The principal investigators intend to repeat the survey at 5 to 7 year intervals, so as to provide a time-series data on the changing pattern of national and international reactions as the effects of climate change intensify over the coming decades. This data will be put into the public domain for use by scholars around the world. At the same time, the affiliated research teams will be encouraged to establish research centers to continue the social scientific investigation of climate change. The teams and centers will establish a continuing network of pedagogy and opportunities for students and researchers as well as the circulation of their projects and publications. They will be encouraged to follow a norm of gender-equity, already achieved, and the incorporation of national minorities.
Jeffrey Broadbent is the organizer and coordinator of the COMPON project. The Coordinator harmonizes and guides the many diverse cases in the project, synthesizing their contributions into the central framework, setting up the schedule of work, disbursing funds from the NSF grant, and coordinating the activities of all the teams world-wide. Broadbent has specialized in the environmental politics of Japan starting with his PhD thesis (Harvard Sociology, 1982) and has numerous publications and honors in this field. He has also collaborated on the first cross-national comparative policy network study (Germany, the US and Japan). An Abe Fellowship (Social Science Research Council), plus sabbatical leave and CLA Research Fellowship Supplement, allowed him to start the Compon project, write the initial grants (with inputs from many members) and conduct the climate change interviews in Japan during 2006 to 2008 period.