The global climate change situation constitutes a “natural” (anthropogenic) experiment to answer the following questions: Why, in the face of high risk predicted by the vast majority of credible experts, has the world done so little to decrease the risk (by mitigating its causes)?  Why have international agreements been so weak?  The answer, it has become apparent, lies not so much in our failure to find the right international policy mechanisms (rules and institutions).  More deeply, the answer lies in the diverse factors driving the mitigation responses of societies.  Why have societies reacted with more or less effectiveness to the global call for mitigation?  How have their reactions affected the possibilities for international agreements?  And how, in the coming decades, will intensifying climate disasters affect these national and international processes? Regardless of one’s stance on anthropogenic GCC, it is undeniable that these momentous questions will sway our world for long to come—and are worthy subjects of objective research.

The ongoing international research project—Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks (Compon, PI Jeffrey Broadbent)—is designed to address these questions, with its focus on the causes of societal reactions to CC and how these affect international negotiations.  The project has developed a number of hypotheses about societal mitigation reactions, effectiveness in GHG emissions reductions, that it will test through cross-societal comparison using the collected data and analysis.

The initial determining cause of difference in societal mitigation efforts lies in the degree of acceptance and empowerment of the dominant scientific consensus (DSC).   The reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been the most powerful global purveyor of the DSC and provide a vital information flow network.  Tracing the flow of information from the IPCC into and through the political systems of different countries, made visible by the network survey, and seeing how different organizations, coalitions and authorities frame and treat it, will provide the central indicator of the whole project.

Some cases (nations or regions) have responded effectively and reduced GHG emissions while others have not.  Hence, analysis of the causes of these variations can also reveal the basic or structural conditions impinging on societies that promote or hinder effective responses.  The Compon project follows the best design principles of cross-national comparative social scientific research.  The Compon teams created in collaboration a common set of research protocols and instruments in order to gather more precisely comparable quantitative data.   They implemented these protocols across a wide range of cases.

Comparative analysis of different societies will indicate the causal factors causing the cross-case variation in their reception of IPCC and other scientific information and in GHG emissions reductions.  Some potential factors include: egalitarian stakeholder participation, culture of science and authority, demand profiles of strong interest groups, opportunities offered by political institutions, role of scientists as mediators, and network patterns of coalitions.  Other factors include geophysical vulnerability, fossil fuel dependency, and levels of development and prosperity.   To explain in a bit more detail, the causal hypotheses derive from both theory and observation.  Theories of societal/political power, for instance, differ in their evaluation of the relative effectiveness of conflictual versus persuasive tactics by change agents.  The latter indicates that “The more the political system provides venues for broadly representative and egalitarian stakeholder participation, the more the nation will mitigate CC.”  In contrast, a conflict-oriented hypothesis argues, “The more that national interest groups defend fossil fuel consumption, the less the nation will mitigate CC.”  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.”  A paper by the PI describes 11 hypotheses in detail (Broadbent 2010, see Compon website).   Taken together, these cases vary in factors thought to cause differences in societal mitigation reactions, policies, and outcomes, as well as in their international stances on the issue.   By comparing the factors driving the mitigation responses and trajectories of these societies, the Compon project will discern causal configurations leading to different mitigation efforts and outcomes.

To collect the needed data for cross-societal comparison and hypothesis testing, the Compon project has academic research teams for 20 societies: US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal and Czech Republic.  Other teams are in formation.  In addition, the affiliated CIFOR project has cases in eight developing forested countries where REDD+ is the target of analysis.  These case teams have garnered over $2 million in funding from the US National Science Foundation and other national science granting agencies.

In each case, the teams use identical methods to collect two main types of data: Phase One media content analysis (newspaper articles on climate change from 2007 onward for a varying number of years); and Phase Two quantitative policy network survey of (50 to 100) organizations engaged in the mitigation issue (governmental and public).  Phase One coded major newspaper articles on climate change using a 131 category list of themes.  Phase Two administers a policy network survey with respondents being organizations engaged in climate change politics.  Network analytical techniques are applied to both types of data.

Network and other analytical techniques are used to analyze both types of data.  The data cover both discourse (idea, stances, rationales) and action (coalitions, lobbying, movements, policy-engagement) in climate change politics.  The analysis of networks among organizations and ideas, including flows of scientific information, political advice, trust, collaboration, and perceived influence, greatly enhances the capacity to compare case reactions and test hypotheses.   The papers show variation in how the national media have framed and presented climate change, and contextualize these findings in national politics, economics, culture and other factors.  And beyond single case analyses, they have combined the resultant data into comparative and global analyses.

The Compon project is modular; new societal cases are always welcome.  The plan is to repeat the data collection at 5-year intervals to provide time-series data to study the third question—how will intensifying climate disasters affect societal and international efforts at mitigation?  This database will become open for use by scholars around the world, administered by national training, research, and teaching centers on the social science of climate change.  For further information, please explore our website, including a more detailed description, which can be found at www.compon.org