Tag Archives: IHDP

A global assessment of social science understanding of global environmental change

IHDP recently conducted a large-scale global survey of 1,276 scholars from the social sciences and humanities involved in human dimensions of global change research (the full survey report here is UNU-IHDP Survey Results 09 2011.pdf), which calls for a  “global assessment and synthesis of social sciences and humanities findings of relevance to global environmental change”, which is something that ecologists and earth system scientists have been requesting for years (see here and here).  This sounds like a great initiative and I hope it will be able to attract funding.  It would be a shame if it only includes social scientists, because global change research should be trying to understand the planet as an integrated system not reinforce disciplinary divisions.

The survey identified the highest priority areas for research as:

  1. equity/equality and wealth/resource distribution;
  2. policy, political systems/governance, and political economy;
  3. economic systems, economic costs and incentives;
  4. globalization, social and cultural transitions.

The report  concludes:

There was very strong support for the concept of a global assessment of social science and humanities research findings of relevance to global environmental change, in order to improve awareness of current research, strengthen collaboration, and develop policy-relevant material. From 88 to 92% of respondents supported such an assessment, whether they knew of IHDP or not, and whether their training was in the social sciences or environmental sciences, IT or engineering. Moreover, this support was backed up by a willingness to participate. From 49 to 59% of respondents—in all of the above-mentioned categories—said they were interested in participating, and an additional 32 to 34% in each categories said they would consider participating.
In brief, these results indicate that there is a large interdisciplinary group of scientists working on issues of global environmental change who feel that there is a strong need to integrate more social sciences perspectives, and who are willing to participate in the effort to do so. Their highest priority research areas were identified as equity and equality, and wealth and resource distribution; policy, political systems, governance, and political economy; economic systems, economic costs and incentives; and globalization and social and cultural transitions.
In response to this mandate, IHDP will convene a broad group of social scientists and humanities scholars to undertake a global assessment and synthesis of social sciences and humanities findings of relevance to global environmental change. Priority research areas will include the four identified by survey respondents (see above) as well as others developed by a Science Assessment Panel. The main questions to be addressed by the Assessment will include identifying the direct and indirect drivers of unsustainable behaviors, and figuring out how to leverage societal transformations towards social and environmental sustainability.

via Joern Fischer’s blog

Should climate change research be 90 percent social science?

Nature’s Climate Feedback reports that Hans Joachim Schellnhuber in his talk at the Open Meeting of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) urged social scientists to become more involved in climate change research:

“Speaking as a natural scientist,” he said, “I think 90% of research [on global change] will have to be done by the social scientists.”

…Physicists, he told me at the coffee break, can describe climate threats increasingly vividly and can tell decision-makers that technological solutions are out there. But it’s up to social science, he says, to figure out how we bring about massive economic and social transformation on a tight deadline.

Case in point: feeding solar power from the Sahara where it’s plentiful to Europe where it’s highly in demand, one of Schellnhuber’s favorite ideas. “All the technical problems have been solved,” he says, “but it cannot be done.” We don’t have the legal framework, the transboundary agreements, the international will for this mode of energy delivery.

This is where policy experts, economists, and even anthropologists come in. But, he says, “I don’t think the social science community has grasped the scope of the challenge.” Operating on the basic principle that all groups are different, 95% of social science papers are local case studies, not global-scale work, he says. And indeed, there are an awful lot of case studies among this week’s 800 talks. It remains to be seen whether the picture emerging from the conference will be piecemeal or planet-wide.

Why do some countries adopt the Kyoto protocal and IPCC recommendations earlier than others?

How is science empowered in different countries? What are the actors and conflicts in different countries? Why is it that more democratic countries seem to adopt the Kyoto protocol earlier than others? The social sciences have a real role to play in answering these questions which will be discussed in the upcoming IHDP Open Meeting in Bonn by researchers affiliated to the COMPON project.

The COMPON project, Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks, is a network of social scientists developing cross-national surveys to explain why some countries adopt IPCC recommendations quicker than others. COMPON, started by US sociologist Jeffrey Broadbent and now includes studies in Japan, China, the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, England, and Greece.

The aim is to trace the flow of cognitive models (“facts,” frames, ideas and normative evaluations) concerning climate change between the global and national levels, and within the national levels in the policy-formation process… [The] policy network method includes the full range of organizations involved in climate change politics (government agencies, political parties, business, union, NGO and movement associations).

One of the researchers involved is German sociologist Philip Leifeld who has an interesting piece on is homepage that more democratic countries are faster at ratifying the Kyoto protocol.

The rate of adopting the Kyoto protocol in different countries

[Red shows democratic countries; Black undemocratic - countries are classified using different indices - not HDI doesn't show a clear difference]

The trend is followed for other similar international agreements like the Montreal protocol and the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. Philip discusses why we see these patterns:

Why do we find this impressively consistent pattern? Why do democratic countries ratify the protocols faster than the others? We find four theories about this in the literature:

1. Corruption: In countries with high levels of corruption, industry lobbying can more easily assert national policies against climate protection or similar “threats”.
2. Accountability: Democratic countries have a better capacity to foresee upcoming long-term risks because science, policy-makers and the media engage in an open, public discourse.
3. Collective goods and public choice: Climate protection is a collective good, and countries have an incentive to be freeriders regarding international agreements. But only autocratic countries can afford to do so because they do not have to face punishment by the voters.
4. Capacity: Non-democratic countries usually have a lower level of development, less money and more other competing problems, so they assign a low priority to climate protection.

Which theory is now valid, and which one is wrong? The answer is: We don’t know. The problem is that democracy, corruption control, development, freedom of speech and assembly, wealth, etc. are highly collinear, so it is not possible to separate the effects. This is rather a theoretical than a methodological problem. The plots in figure 4 exhibit the problem: Corruption, development and democracy can all be predicted by gross domestic product per capita.

There are only some small clues that may provide preliminary answers: If we try to assess whether corruption or democracy are responsible for ratification pace, it may be a good idea to look at countries that are democratic but also corrupt or countries that are neither corrupt nor democratic. The only strong outlier in this sense is Singapore, which scores low on most democracy scores and also low on the corruption index. Singapore ratifies the Montreal protocol very early but is an extreme laggard in the cases of Kyoto and Cartagena, so it does not provide us with a satisfactory answer. The second clue may be the difference between the two climate protocols, Kyoto and Montreal, and the biosafety protocol, Cartagena. On the one hand, the difference in pace between democratic and non-democratic countries is much less extreme for the Cartagena protocol, and biosafety is indeed much less important for the industry than pollution control, so this may be a case for the corruption theory. On the other hand, the difference is still there, and it is consistent over all indices, so this suggests that a combination of several explanations is at work. Which one is the most important can unfortunately not be determined at the moment.