European Union funds €2.4m DeepDCarb governance project

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research have been awarded more than €2 million to help improve understanding of the ‘traps’ holding back society’s attempts at climate change mitigation.

The money is part of €450 million of new funding announced by the European Research Council (ERC) for Europe’s most innovative research in physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, and social sciences and humanities.

Only 185 scientists across all EU member states and countries have won funding as part of this year’s annual Advanced Grant competition.

At UEA, Tyndall Centre researchers will lead the €2.4million project ‘DeepDCarb – Deep Decarbonisation: The Democratic Challenge of Navigating Governance Traps’, which will contribute to understanding the scope for unlocking the impasse in society’s struggle to deliver deep decarbonisation.

Principal investigator Prof Andy Jordan, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre, said: “This project aims to significantly advance society’s understanding of what is holding back deep, society-wide decarbonisation by examining the relationship between politicians, citizens/voters and other actors in a uniquely detailed and comparative manner.

“Existing studies generally take a brief snap shot of events in a single country. Our project will examine all countries of the world over a 30 year period, paying particular attention to the 41 biggest emitters in the world and using an unconventional combination of different methods and unrivalled new data sets.”

The standard advice to politicians confronting long-term challenges such as climate change mitigation is to adopt binding policies. Yet politicians appear unable to do this, greatly jeopardising the achievement of the 1.5 oC aspiration in the landmark Paris Agreement.

State-of-the art research struggles to explain the causes, and therefore the solutions, to this deadlock. Political scientists argue that politicians fear retribution at the next election; psychologists claim that citizens understand what is at stake, but expect politicians to lead. The untested assumption is that both are locked into a ‘governance trap’, which greatly reduces the political feasibility of rapid change.

To address this, DeepDCarb will:

• Explore the policies that all states in the world have adopted, via 13 new datasets and time-sensitive statistical techniques;

• Open up the ‘black box’ of societal commitment formation in a sample of very large emitters, including all the EU member states, from 1990 to 2020;

• Investigate the scope for unlocking traps by bringing stakeholders together in deliberative settings such as citizens’ assemblies, therefore confronting the question of whether it may be more effective to unlock decarbonisation by openly discussing it in public than leaving politicians and experts to decide on society’s behalf.

The project is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Co-investigator Prof Jale Tosun, from its Institute of Political Science, said: “This research will understand how policies for climate change mitigation are formulated around the world with a specific focus on the world’s largest emitters.”

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European organisation funding excellent research. Each year it selects and funds the very best researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe.

Applicants for Advanced Grants are expected to be exceptional leaders in terms of the originality and significance of their research contributions. Of the 1,881 research proposals submitted to this year’s competition, only 185 (10%) were selected for funding.

The funding is part of the EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. The new grantees will carry out their projects across 20 EU Member States and associated countries with Germany (35), UK (34) and France (21) hosting the most grants.

Researchers: Andrew Jordan, Irene Lorenzoni, John Kenny, Lucas Geese

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