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Michael Howlett and Stuti Rawat

Behavioral science consists of the systematic analysis of processes underlying human behavior through experimentation and observation, drawing on knowledge, research, and methods from a variety of fields such as economics, psychology, and sociology. Because policymaking involves efforts to modify or alter the behavior of policy-takers and centers on the processes of decision-making in government, it has always been concerned with behavioral psychology. Classic studies of decision-making in the field derived their frameworks and concepts from psychology, and the founder of policy sciences, Harold Lasswell, was himself trained as a behavioral political scientist. Hence, it should not be surprising that the use of behavioral science is a feature of many policy areas, including climate change policy. This is given extra emphasis, however, because climate change policymaking and the rise of climate change as a policy issue coincides with a resurgence in behaviorally inspired policy analysis and design brought about by the development of behavioral economics. Thus efforts to deal with climate change have come into being at a time when behavioral governance has been gaining traction worldwide under the influence of works by, among others, Kahneman and Tversky, Thaler, and Sunstein. Such behavioral governance studies have focused on the psychological and cognitive behavioral processes in individuals and collectives, in order to inform, design, and implement different modes of governing. They have been promoted by policy scholars, including many economists working in the area who prefer its insights to those put forward by classical or neoclassical economics. In the context of climate change policy, behavioral science plays two key roles—through its use of behaviorally premised policy instruments as new modes of public policy being used or proposed to be used, in conjunction with traditional climate change policy tools; and as a way of understanding some of the barriers to compliance and policy design encountered by governments in combating the “super wicked problem” of climate change. Five kinds of behavioral tools have been found to be most commonly used in relation to climate change policy: provision of information, use of social norms, goal setting, default rules, and framing. A large proportion of behavioral tools has been used in the energy sector, because of its importance in the context of climate change action and the fact that energy consumption is easy to monitor, thereby facilitating impact assessment.


In South Africa, one of the world’s most carbon-intense economies and a society marked by gross social inequality, climate change is not a popular topic. As of 2018, more than half of the population had never heard of climate change and only one in five South Africans believed that human activities lead to global warming. The communication of climate change in South Africa is influenced by the notorious inequality that the country still suffers decades after the apartheid regime has ended. Few South Africans are able to live a life in prosperity and security on par with life in industrialized nations, more than half of the population are considered poor, almost a third of the population are chronically unemployed, and many work for carbon-intense industries. The country’s prevalent inequality and its economic dependency on coal influence the way climate change is communicated and interpreted. Environmental NGOs, journalists, and scientists frequently set communication cues on climate change. However, their messages are largely circulated in newspapers catering to an urban and educated readership and resonate less with people living in rural areas or those who rely on employment in the coal and mining sector. In South Africa, most people hear about climate change in mass media, but journalists frequently lack the resources and training necessary to investigate climate change stories or to interact with local scientists. Environmental NGOs, in contrast, provide easily comprehendible communication cues for unspecialized journalists and often share similar worldviews and demographic backgrounds with dedicated environmental reporters. However, because Black South Africans are underrepresented among environmental journalists and because many affordable local newspapers cannot afford to hire specialized reporters, climate change is covered mostly in high-quality English-language outlets to which most people have no access. Moreover, environmental NGOs are frequently accused of prioritizing abstract ecological concerns, like climate change, over the interests of the South Africans workers, a sentiment that is informed by the country’s history of racial injustice. Counterintuitively, living in a coal area is associated with higher climate change awareness and belief, likely because coal companies and trade unions conduct awareness-raising programs among their workers and because many residents experience the adverse impact of coal mining and combustion firsthand.


Vanesa Castán Broto, Linda Westman, and Xira Ruiz Campillo

Local governments play an increasingly important role in international climate policy. Climate action follows existing trajectories of sustainable development action at the local level. The history of climate action in cities suggests a lot of potential for learning from previous sustainability experiences. Three aspects of climate change governance are important at the local level: the motivations for responding to climate change, the different responses deployed, and the city structures and networks representing cities in the global spheres. Current interest in climate change action at the local level follows three decades of local sustainability action. Because of engagement with environmental conflicts at the local level, environmental justice activists also influenced local climate action. Cities and settlements are exciting policy arenas with great potential to enable just transitions. However, the impacts of local government’s action at both the local level and internationally are not always evident. Cities have sought to address climate change through planning, harnessing co-benefits of climate action, and finding appropriate evaluation means. Solutions have also been developed through the insertion of cities in global circuits of knowledge production via transnational municipal networks (TMNs). Local government action can only be explained with reference to the international climate change regime. International policy events influence local government action, and local government action influences international discourses of climate action. A range of actors, from local governments to businesses, communities, and civil society, also play a role in addressing climate change. Still, they require autonomy and the resources to deliver mitigation and adaptation actions that local governments can mediate.