Social Science Research on Climate Change
Anita Engels has been engaged in advancing theoretical and empirical approaches to the relation of social change and anthropogenic climate change since the mid 1990ies. Her work contributes to the growing body of social science research on climate change. Interactions between the Earth's climate system and social processes are filtered through complex constellations of power, inequality, and diverse sense-making. Suggestions on how to deal with the risk of anthropogenic climate change are inevitably - and legitimately - exposed to contestation and negotiation. Climate mitigation also competes with other goals, e.g., other Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN in 2015.
There is a striking discrepancy between the adoption of ever more ambitious climate mitigation targets and the slow implementation process, despite a remarkable proliferation of actors and levels of governance that claim responsibility. Even if some areas of activity show a new low-carbon trend, the net CO2 emissions rarely decrease due to the so-called rebound effects. Contemporary society is still far away from adopting a path departure towards deep decarbonization which would be required to achieve the Paris goals. Our work here can help understand why we continue to reproduce a society which is firmly locked in a fossil fuel dependency, and under which societal conditions a transformation towards a low-carbon society could take place.
Our concept here is to engage in problem-oriented basic sociological research. In numerous projects - ranging from B.A. and M.A. theses to doctoral dissertations, postdoc projects, third-party funded projects and large research consortia - these questions are addressed with several theoretical approaches and qualitative and quantitative methods. Examples of ongoing projects deal with the diffusion of renewable energies, with Emissions Trading Schemes and other climate policy instruments, with company behavior vis-a-vis a carbon-constrained business future, and with the combination of climate mitigation and urban development in Hamburg. Carbon emissions are typically a side-effect of societal activities. The development of net carbon emissions is thus shaped by complex social processes which undergo changes that are often not directly linked to or motivated by climate change. It is therefore important to understand generel processes of social change to conduct social science research on climate change.