Tag Archives: Jeffrey Broadbent

Sociologist studying climate change policy

The failure at COP15 in Copenhagen in December highlights that the greatest challenge to climate change lies in politics and policy processes. This calls for social scientific studies that can study such multi-level and cross-national policy processes.

I have reported before on this blog about a bunch of sociologist in the COMPON study, which is a good example of how social science can engage in bringing understanding on cross-scale linkages. The study was recently commented upon in Nature.

COMPON (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) is coordinated by the tireless Jeffrey Broadbent from University of Minnesota, that together with researchers in 15 countries is pulling of this big reserach effort. Among these we have centre reseracher Christofer Edling and Stockholm University sociologist Marcus Carson.

Manifestation at COP15

In an interview with Stockholm University Marcus Carson says that by pairing social network analysis with interviews and document analysis, the COMPON project aims to:

… gather data from organizations such as environmental NGOs, conservative think tanks, human-rights groups, political organizations and so on and get a better understanding of what shapes and motivates their actions.

[These actors, and humans in general] use conceptual models to make sense of the information, but these models include not only what is happening and how, but what kinds of actions should be taken and who to trust for information. Sociological research helps us clarify how these models are constructed and how they are promoted among different groups in society. A better understanding of these factors improves our chances of developing policies that support long-term sustainability.

On their homepage, COMPON writes (and see their blog):

The project […] studying the factors that account for cross-national variation in efforts to mitigate climate change. This variation arises from difference in the interaction process between ways of thinking (discourse) and ways of acting (coalitions) in national cases. The COMPON project currently has teams in over 15 societies (developed, developing, and transitional) and at the international level collecting equivalent empirical data on these processes using content analysis, interview, and inter-organizational network survey.

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.