New research must integrate publics, policies and politicians

New, more integrated research is needed which considers how publics and politicians interact with one another to adopt and implement public policies to deliver the challenging long term goals of the Paris Agreement, according to a new paper published by the Tyndall Centre’s Andy Jordan.

Deep and rapid decarbonisation is needed to limit warming to below 1.5 / 2C. It requires rapid and dramatic reductions in emissions, which will be politically challenging to deliver because they will affect all sectors and aspects of modern life.

One important point of interaction between the public and politicians is the government-led policy process. Industries invest in low-carbon technologies when climate policies protect their existing investments through policies. For example, the shift from fossil fuel vehicles to electric cars rely on governments creating policies for electrification. 

The paper, which is published in the new Nature Springer journal Climate Action, suggests that new research should investigate how different types of politician (e.g. ministers, mayors, right wing vs left wing) in particular settings (e.g. presidential vs parliamentary) and countries are influenced by economic, social, or political factors. Another suggestion is to look at how fully politicians commit to act (10, 20 or 30 years into the future?), with what degree of specificity (e.g. country-wide or sector specific?), and via what forms of policy(e.g. legally binding vs  informal?).

The relationship between the public and their politicians is also important. Politicians who are able to reconcile and translate the interests of the electorate and the wider public into policies are more likely to be re-elected. A crucial step in better understanding the role of politicians in climate politics is to appreciate how their own beliefs interact with the demands of voters. New research could look at how politicians view voters, what climate politics looks like from a politician’s perspective, and what (if anything) actually changes when a politician commits to deep decarbonisation.

Most of the research on the public mainly focuses on public attitudes to climate change in general and engagement through changing consumer practices. There is a growing need to better understand how far publics are committed to acting/leading on climate change and the expectations they have of politicians and governments. New research could look at the extent to which public views and expectations of climate change are aligned with those of politicians, and how the public perceives their own agency and responsibility as well as their trust in politicians and democracy.

“Deep and rapid decarbonisation needs the active intervention of all sectors. It is a governance challenge that is affecting all areas of public and private life. It is likely to provoke political conflict centering on the relationships between publics, policies, and politicians. One way to connect the dots would be to select one of the dimensions, for example, politicians, and explore the connection with the other two,” Andy said.

“It will, of course, be challenging to integrate different disciplines, methods, data sources, and designs, but we believe there will be valuable insights by working towards a more complete view of the politics of climate change,” Andy added.

In the next 4 years Andy will be working with colleagues in the ERC funded DeepDCarb (the democratic challenges of deep decarbonisation) project to investigate these and other related questions.


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The political challenges of deep decarbonisation: towards a more integrated agenda | SpringerLink

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