Pastoralists around the world are exposed to climate change and increasing climate variability. Various downscaled regional climate models in Africa support community reports of rising temperatures as well as changes in the seasonality of rainfall and drought. In addition to climate, pastoralists have faced a second exposure to unsupportive policy environments. Dating back to the colonial period, a lack of knowledge about pastoralism and a systemic marginalization of pastoral communities influenced the size and nature of government investments in pastoral lands. National governments prioritized farming communities and failed to pay adequate attention to drylands and pastoral communities. The limited government interventions that occurred were often inconsistent with contemporary realities of pastoralism and pastoral communities. These included attempts at sedentarization and modernization, and in other ways changing the priorities and practices of pastoral communities.
The survival of pastoral communities in Africa in the context of this double exposure has been a focus for scholars, development practitioners, as well as national governments in recent years. Scholars initially drew attention to pastoralists’ drought-coping strategies, and later examined the multiple ways in which pastoralists manage risk and exploit unpredictability. It has been learned that pastoralists are rational land managers whose experience with variable climate has equipped them with the skills needed for adaptation. Pastoralists follow several identifiable adaptation paths, including diversification and modification of their herds and herding strategies; adoption of livelihood activities that did not previously play a permanent role; and a conscious decision to train the next generation for nonpastoral livelihoods. Ongoing government interventions around climate change still prioritize cropping over herding. Sometimes, such nationally supported adaptation plans can undermine community-based adaptation practices, autonomously evolving within pastoral communities. Successful adaptation hinges on recognition of the value of autonomous adaptation and careful integration of such adaptation with national plans.
Ronald D. Brunner and Amanda H. Lynch
Adaptive governance is defined by a focus on decentralized decision-making structures and procedurally rational policy, supported by intensive natural and social science. Decentralized decision-making structures allow a large, complex problem like global climate change to be factored into many smaller problems, each more tractable for policy and scientific purposes. Many smaller problems can be addressed separately and concurrently by smaller communities. Procedurally rational policy in each community is an adaptation to profound uncertainties, inherent in complex systems and cognitive constraints, that limit predictability. Hence planning to meet projected targets and timetables is secondary to continuing appraisal of incremental steps toward long-term goals: What has and hasn’t worked compared to a historical baseline, and why? Each step in such trial-and-error processes depends on politics to balance, if not integrate, the interests of multiple participants to advance their common interest—the point of governance in a free society. Intensive science recognizes that each community is unique because the interests, interactions, and environmental responses of its participants are multiple and coevolve. Hence, inquiry focuses on case studies of particular contexts considered comprehensively and in some detail.
Varieties of adaptive governance emerged in response to the limitations of scientific management, the dominant pattern of governance in the 20th century. In scientific management, central authorities sought technically rational policies supported by predictive science to rise above politics and thereby realize policy goals more efficiently from the top down. This approach was manifest in the framing of climate change as an “irreducibly global” problem in the years around 1990. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess science for the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The parties negotiated the Kyoto Protocol that attempted to prescribe legally binding targets and timetables for national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But progress under the protocol fell far short of realizing the ultimate objective in Article 1 of the UNFCCC, “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.” As concentrations continued to increase, the COP recognized the limitations of this approach in Copenhagen in 2009 and authorized nationally determined contributions to greenhouse gas reductions in the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Adaptive governance is a promising but underutilized approach to advancing common interests in response to climate impacts. The interests affected by climate, and their relative priorities, differ from one community to the next, but typically they include protecting life and limb, property and prosperity, other human artifacts, and ecosystem services, while minimizing costs. Adaptive governance is promising because some communities have made significant progress in reducing their losses and vulnerability to climate impacts in the course of advancing their common interests. In doing so, they provide field-tested models for similar communities to consider. Policies that have worked anywhere in a network tend to be diffused for possible adaptation elsewhere in that network. Policies that have worked consistently intensify and justify collective action from the bottom up to reallocate supporting resources from the top down. Researchers can help realize the potential of adaptive governance on larger scales by recognizing it as a complementary approach in climate policy—not a substitute for scientific management, the historical baseline.
Benjamin F. Zaitchik
Humans have understood the importance of climate to human health since ancient times. In some cases, the connections appear to be obvious: a flood can cause drownings, a drought can lead to crop failure and hunger, and temperature extremes pose a risk of exposure. In other cases, the connections are veiled by complex or unobserved processes, such that the influence of climate on a disease epidemic or a conflict can be difficult to diagnose. In reality, however, all climate impacts on health are mediated by some combination of natural and human dynamics that cause individuals or populations to be vulnerable to the effects of a variable or changing climate.
Understanding and managing negative health impacts of climate is a global challenge. The challenge is greater in regions with high poverty and weak institutions, however, and Africa is a continent where the health burden of climate is particularly acute. Observed climate variability in the modern era has been associated with widespread food insecurity, significant epidemics of infectious disease, and loss of life and livelihoods to climate extremes. Anthropogenic climate change is a further stress that has the potential to increase malnutrition, alter the distribution of diseases, and bring more frequent hydrological and temperature extremes to many regions across the continent.
Skillful early warning systems and informed climate change adaptation strategies have the potential to enhance resilience to short-term climate variability and to buffer against negative impacts of climate change. But effective warnings and projections require both scientific and institutional capacity to address complex processes that are mediated by physical, ecological, and societal systems. Here the state of understanding climate impacts on health in Africa is summarized through a selective review that focuses on food security, infectious disease, and extreme events. The potential to apply scientific understanding to early warning and climate change projection is also considered.
Kenshi Baba, Masahiro Matsuura, Taiko Kudo, Shigeru Watanabe, Shun Kawakubo, Akiko Chujo, Hiroharu Tanaka, and Mitsuru Tanaka
The latest climate change adaptation strategies adopted by local governments in Japan are discussed. A nationwide survey demonstrates several significant findings. While some prefectures and major cities have already begun to prepare adaptation strategies, most municipalities have yet to consider such strategies. This gap must be considered when studying the climate adaptation strategies of local governments in Japan, as municipal governments are crucial to the implementation of climate adaptation strategies due to high diversity in climate impacts and geographical conditions among municipalities within each prefecture in Japan. Key challenges for local governments in preparing adaptation strategies are the lack of expert knowledge and experience in the field of climate change adaptation, and compartmentalization of government bureaus. To address these issues, an interview study of six model prefectures in the SI-CAT (Social Implementation Program on Climate Change Adaptation Technology) project by the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) was conducted in order to understand the details of challenges raised by adaptation among local governments in Japan. The survey results reveal that local government officials lack information regarding impact projections and tools for evaluating policy options, even though some of them recognize some of the impacts of climate change on rice crop, vegetable, and fruit production. In addition, different bureaus, such as agriculture, public health, and disaster prevention, focus on different outcomes of climate change due to their different missions. As this is the inherent nature of bureaucratic organizations, a new approach for encouraging collaboration among them is needed. The fact that most of the local governments in Japan have not yet assessed the local impacts of climate change, an effort that would lay the groundwork for preparing adaptation strategies, suggests the importance of cyclical co-design that facilitates the relationship between climatic technology such as climate models and impact assessment and local governments’ needs so that the technology developments clarify the needs of local government, while those needs in turn nurture the seeds of technology.
Historic discussions of climate often suggested that it caused societies to have certain qualities. In the 19th-century, imperial representations of the world environment frequently “determined” the fate of peoples and places, a practice that has frequently been used to explain the largest patterns of political rivalry and the fates of empires and their struggles for dominance in world politics. In the 21st century, climate change has mostly reversed the causal logic in the reasoning about human–nature relationships and their geographies. The new thinking suggests that human decisions, at least those made by the rich and powerful with respect to the forms of energy that are used to power the global economy, are influencing future climate changes. Humans are now shaping the environment on a global scale, not the other way around. Despite the widespread acceptance of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate-change action, numerous arguments about who should act and how they should do so to deal with climate change shape international negotiations. Differing viewpoints are in part a matter of geographical location and whether an economy is dependent on fossil-fuels revenue or subject to increasingly severe storms, droughts, or rising sea levels. These differences have made climate negotiations very difficult in the last couple of decades. Partly in response to these differences, the Paris Agreement devolves primary responsibility for climate policy to individual states rather than establish any other geopolitical arrangement. Apart from the outright denial that humanity is a factor in climate change, arguments about whether climate change causes conflict and how security policies should engage climate change also partly shape contemporary geopolitical agendas. Despite climate-change deniers, in the Trump administration in particular, in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, climate change is understood increasingly as part of a planetary transformation that has been set in motion by industrial activity and the rise of a global fossil-fuel-powered economy. But this is about more than just climate change. The larger earth-system science discussion of transformation, which can be encapsulated in the use of the term “Anthropocene” for the new geological circumstances of the biosphere, is starting to shape the geopolitics of climate change just as new political actors are beginning to have an influence on climate politics.
The topic of climate change and migration attracts a strong following from the media and produces an increase in academic literature and reports from international governmental institutions and NGOs. It poses questions that point to the core of social and environmental developments of the 21st century, such as environmental and climate justice as well as North–South relations.
This article examines the main features of the debate and presents a genealogy of the discussion on climate change and migration since the 1980s. It presents an analysis of different framings and lines of argument, such as the securitization of climate change and connections to development studies and adaptation research. This article also presents methodological and conceptual questions, such as how to conceive interactions between migration and climate change. As legal aspects have played a crucial role since the beginning of the debate, different legal strands are considered here, including soft law and policy-oriented approaches. These approaches relate to questions of voluntary or forced migration and safeguarding the rights of environmental migrants.
This article introduces theoretical concepts that are prompted by analyzing climate change as an “imaginative resource” and by questioning power relations related to climate-change discourses, politics, and practices. This article recommends a re-politicization of the debate, questions the often victimizing, passive picture of the “drowning” climate-change migrant, and criticizes alarmist voices that can trigger perceived security interests of countries of the Global North. Decolonizing and critical perspectives analyze facets of the debate that have racist, depoliticizing, or naturalizing tendencies or exoticize the “other.”
Tim Rayner and Andrew Jordan
The European Union (EU) has long claimed, with some justification, to be a leader in international climate policy. Its policy activities in this area, dating from the early 1990s, have had enormous influence within and beyond Europe. The period since ca. 2000 in particular has witnessed the repeated emergence of policies and targets that are increasingly distinct from national ones and sometimes globally innovative. They encompass a wide array of instruments (e.g., market-based, informational, voluntary, as well as regulatory). Policy development has been motivated by a mixture of concerns: to avoid national differences in policy causing distortions of the EU’s internal market; to enhance the domestic legitimacy of the wider project of European integration; to improve energy security; and to increase economic competitiveness through “ecological modernization.” Climate policy has also offered a means to enhance the standing of the EU as a global actor. The EU has, in general, been influential in international negotiations, for example, in its promotion of the 2°C warming limit and advocacy of emission reduction “targets and timetables.” In turn, its own policy has been shaped by developments at global level, as with the surprisingly enthusiastic adoption of the “flexible mechanism” of emissions trading. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that acute challenges to policy coherence and effectiveness—applying to emerging policy on adaptation, as well as mitigation—lie ahead in a Europe that is more polarized between its more environmentally conscious Member States and those in central and eastern Europe who have extracted significant concessions to protect their fossil fuel–intensive sectors. Although the Paris Agreement of 2015 offers an important opportunity to “ratchet up” the ambition of EU policy, it is proving to be a difficult one to seize.
Philipp Pattberg and Oscar Widerberg
In 1992, when the international community agreed on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the science of climate change was under development, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were by and large produced by developed countries, and the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere had just surpassed 350 ppm. Some 25 years later, climate change is scientifically uncontested, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, and concentrations are now measured above 400 ppm. Against this background, states have successfully concluded a new global agreement under the UNFCCC, the 2015 Paris Agreement. Prior to the Paris Agreement, the climate regime focused on allocating emission reduction commitments among (a group of) countries. However, the new agreement has turned the climate regime on its feet by introducing an approach based on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Under this approach, states decide their ambition levels independently instead of engaging in negotiations about “who does what.” The result is a more flexible system that for the first time includes all countries in the quest to reduce GHG emissions to keep temperature increase below 2°C compared to preindustrial levels. Moreover, the international climate regime has transformed into a regime complex, denoting the broad activities of smaller groups of states as well as non-party actors, such as cities, regions, companies, and non-governmental organizations along with United Nations agencies.
Eduardo Viola and Joana Castro Pereira
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 signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by 154 nations at the Rio “Earth Summit” in 1992 marked the beginning of multilateral climate negotiations. Aiming for the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” the Convention divided parties according to different commitments (developed countries with heavier mitigation and financing responsibilities on one side, and developing nations with fewer commitments on the other) and established the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle. In 1997, parties to the Convention adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005; the Protocol set internationally binding emission reduction targets based on a rigid interpretation of the CBDR principle. Different perceptions on a fair distribution of climate change mitigation costs hindered multilateral efforts to tackle the problem; climate change proved a “super wicked” challenge (intricately linked to security, development, trade, water, energy, food, land use, transportation, etc.) and this fact led to a lack of consensus on the distribution of rights and responsibilities among countries. Indeed, since 1992, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased every year, and the Kyoto Protocol did not reverse the trend. In 2009, a new political framework, the Copenhagen Accord, was signed; although parties recognized the need to limit global warming to < 2 °C to prevent dangerous climate change, they did not agree on a clear path toward a legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period would end in 2012. A consensus would only be reached in 2015, when a new, legally binding treaty—the Paris Climate Agreement—committing all parties to limit global warming to “well below 2 °C,” was finally signed; it came into force in November 2016. Described in many political, public, and academic contexts as a diplomatic success, the agreement suffers, however, from several limitations to its effectiveness: the voluntary nature of the commitments on curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (the Nationally Determined Contributions [NDC]), the weakness of the system established for monitoring the implementation of NDCs, the absence of established dates by which parties must achieve their GHG emissions peaks, the very small size of the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts, and the fact that many developing countries have made their NDCs dependent on international financial and technological support. NDCs presented thus far have a > 50% chance of exceeding 3 °C by 2100, placing the Earth at a potentially catastrophic level of climate change. The recent carbon dioxide emissions trajectory and foreseeable future emissions of major climate powers demonstrate the low level of climate commitment in the international system; forces that resist the profound transformations necessary to stabilize the Earth’s climate dominate climate change governance. Climate multilateralism under the UNFCCC has failed thus far—throughout 25 years of international negotiations, global carbon emissions have increased substantially and at a rapid pace, and climate change has worsened significantly.
Opha Pauline Dube
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.
Africa, a continent with the largest number of countries falling under the category of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), remains highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture that suffers from low intake of water, exacerbating the vulnerability to climate variability and anthropogenic climate change. The increasing frequency and severity of climate extremes impose major strains on the economies of these countries. The loss of livelihoods due to interaction of climate change with existing stressors is elevating internal and cross-border migration. The continent is experiencing rapid urbanization, and its cities represent the most vulnerable locations to climate change due in part to incapacitated local governance. Overall, the institutional capacity to coordinate, regulate, and facilitate development in Africa is weak. The general public is less empowered to hold government accountable. The rule of law, media, and other watchdog organizations, and systems of checks and balances are constrained in different ways, contributing to poor governance and resulting in low capacity to respond to climate risks.
As a result, climate policy and governance are inseparable in Africa, and capacitating the government is as essential as establishing climate policy. With the highest level of vulnerability to climate change compared with the rest of the world, governance in Africa is pivotal in crafting and implementing viable climate policies.
It is indisputable that African climate policy should focus first and foremost on adaptation to climate change. It is pertinent, therefore, to assess Africa’s governance ability to identify and address the continent’s needs for adaptation. One key aspect of effective climate policy is access to up-to-date and contextually relevant information that encompasses indigenous knowledge. African countries have endeavored to meet international requirements for reports such as the National Communications on Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerabilities and the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs). However, the capacity to deliver on-time quality reports is lacking; also the implementation, in particular integration of adaptation plans into the overall development agenda, remains a challenge. There are a few successes, but overall adaptation operates mainly at project level. Furthermore, the capacity to access and effectively utilize availed international resources, such as extra funding or technology transfer, is limited in Africa.
While the continent is an insignificant source of emissions on a global scale, a more forward looking climate policy would require integrating adaptation with mitigation to put in place a foundation for transformation of the development agenda, towards a low carbon driven economy. Such a futuristic approach calls for a comprehensive and robust climate policy governance that goes beyond climate to embrace the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030. Both governance and climate policy in Africa will need to be viewed broadly, encompassing the process of globalization, which has paved the way to a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. The question is, what should be the focus of climate policy and governance across Africa under the Anthropocene era?
Mikko Rask and Richard Worthington
The term public engagement (PE) refers to processes that provide a distinct role for citizens or stakeholder groups in policymaking. Such engagement is distinctive because it aims to create opportunities for mutual learning among policymakers, scientists, stakeholders, and members of the public. In so doing, PE involves a particular type of voice in public debate and policymaking that is different from more established discourses, such as those expressed through official policymaking channels, scientific institutions, civil society activists, or the public media. By the early 1970s, PE had emerged in the context of an overall democratization movement in Western societies through such innovations as the “citizen jury” in the United States and “planning cells” in Germany. Today, it is often more pragmatically motivated, such as in the European Commission, where PE is seen as a tool for responsible research and innovation that helps to anticipate and assess potential implications and societal expectations of research and innovation, as well as to design more inclusive and sustainable research policies.
The first global PE processes in history were created to incorporate citizen voices into United Nations (UN) conventions on biodiversity and climate change. Building on theories of deliberative democracy and tested PE practices, a new World Wide Views process was developed to provide informed and considered input from ordinary citizens to the 2009 UN climate summit. This and subsequent World Wide Views (WWViews) deliberations have demonstrated that PE may potentially open up policy discourses that are constricted and obfuscated by organized interests. A telling example is provided by the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy deliberation held on June 5, 2015, where nearly 10,000 ordinary citizens gathered in 76 countries to consider and express their views on the issues to be addressed at the UN climate summit in Paris later that year. In a noteworthy departure from prevailing media and policy discourses, two-thirds of the participating citizens saw measures to fight climate change as “mostly an opportunity to improve our quality of life,” while only a quarter saw them as “mostly a threat to our quality of life,” a result that was consistent across high-, middle-, and low-income countries.
Recent research on PE has indicated that when effectively implemented, such processes can increase the legitimacy, quality, and capacity of decision-making. Earlier aspirations for broader impacts, such as the democratization of policymaking at all levels, are now less prominent but arguably indispensable for achieving both immediate and longer-range goals. The relatively new concept of a deliberative system captures this complexity by moving beyond the narrow focus on single PE events encountered in much research to date, recognizing that single events rarely affect the course of policymaking. The evolving prospects for PE in biodiversity and climate change policy, therefore, can be seen as requiring ongoing improvements in the capacities of the deliberative system.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potential strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point source emitters, such as coal-fired power plants. The CO2 is transported to a storage location, where it is isolated from the atmosphere in stable underground reservoirs. CCS technology has been particularly intriguing to countries that utilize fossil fuels for energy production and are seeking ways to reduce their GHG emissions. While there has been an increase in technological development and research in CCS, some members of the public, industry, and policymakers regard the technology as controversial. Some proponents see CCS as a climate change mitigation technology that will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions. Others view CCS as an environmentally risky, complex, and expensive technology that is resource-intensive, promotes the continued extraction of fossil fuels, and competes with renewable energy investments.
Effective communication about CCS begins with understanding the perceptions of the general public and individuals living in the communities where CCS projects are sited or proposed. Most people may never live near a CCS site, but may be concerned about risks, such as the cost of development, environmental impacts, and competition with renewable energy sources. Those who live near proposed or operational projects are likely to have a strong impact on the development and deployment of CCS. Individuals in locally affected communities may be more concerned about disruptions to sense of place, impact on jobs or economy, or effect on local health and environment. Effective communication about the risks and benefits of CCS has been recognized as a critical factor in the deployment of this technology.
In debates surrounding policy options for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, economists of various political stripes are near unanimous in their advocacy of putting a price on carbon, whether through a tax or emissions trading program. Due to the visible costs imposed on industry and consumers, however, these policies have been resisted by carbon-intensive industries and by an ideologically divided public, producing incentives for vote-seeking politicians to avoid implementing comprehensive and stringent carbon prices within their own borders. In this highly politicized environment, and considering the more recent diffusion of market-based instruments across political jurisdictions around the world, researchers have sought to identify the conditions most favorable to implementing carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs, the correlates of public support for these policies, and the extent to which different communication strategies may help build public support. How do experts, political leaders, and members of the public understand these policy instruments, and what specific approaches have been most successful in persuading policy makers and the public to support a price on carbon? In places that have yet to implement a carbon price, what can communication strategists learn from existing research and the experience of other jurisdictions where such policies have been successfully implemented? In places where carbon taxes or carbon cap-and-trade programs exist, how are the benefits of these policies best communicated to ensure the durability of carbon pricing policies over time?
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.