11 June 2020, by CSS
How do ideas about climate change mediate between processes of public justification and contestation, the establishment of advocacy coalitions, and subsequent decision-making about policy? This is the main question of a new research project led by CSS member Frank Wendler, based on a 36-month individual grant by the DFG (find out more here) and hosted at the CSS.
The research program of the project is motivated by two main puzzles. First, numerous contributions to the research literature stress the ideational dimension of climate change. Frequently called a ‘wicked problem’, its perception and evaluation is inseparable from intellectual concepts to deal with cognitive complexity and uncertainty, and to solve contentious, even intractable ethical and moral questions and dilemmas. Climate change, in this sense, is fundamentally a contest of ideas: namely, those providing a foundation for defining individual and societal values, and those applied to set the temporal, geographical and political boundaries identified as relevant to address its multiple challenges. However, the contested advocacy and negotiation of these ideas through political discourse has so far been studied primarily from a normative or critical perspective, particularly in relation to concepts of justice, security and growth. This leaves open the explanatory question of how ideas matter politically, particularly in three respects: for framing approaches to address climate change in political discourse, for creating coalitions between political agents, and ultimately for shaping policy results. Addressing this gap, the project harnesses elements of three theoretical approaches – namely, concepts of Discursive Institutionalism, the Advocacy Coalition Framework and framing analysis – to scrutinize the link between the politics and policies to mitigate climate change.
Second, as a key example of globalized multi-level governance, climate change presents new challenges to established democratic institutions and procedures. In this context, multiple contributions have addressed the decentralized, or even polycentric structure of the global regime established by the Paris Agreement, including governance arrangements such as those found in the EU. But how do core democratic institutions deal with the dual challenge of adapting to global and supranational governance, and responding to increased societal mobilization and contestation of issues related to climate change? Against this background, particularly legislative institutions move to the foreground. They are unique by operating as interface institutions between two essential components of democratic politics: namely, between processes of public representation and communication towards general political publics on the one hand, and legislative negotiation and decision-making on specific acts of policy-making, on the other. Existing research has only started to address the involvement of parliaments in global governance, mostly focusing on questions of executive scrutiny and veto rights in fields such as trade or international environmental agreements. What is rarely addressed, however, is the dual role of legislative institutions as arenas of political contestation and agents of decision-making on policy in a context of globalized multi-level governance.
From this point of departure, the project puts its empirical focus on a comparison between selected cases of climate policy in the European Union and the United States since the Paris Agreement. While relatively few direct comparisons have been made between the climate policies of these two entities, including them in the case selection has considerable potential: Beyond the evident discrepancy of both climate discourse and policy-making in these two cases (characterized in shorthand as negotiated progression versus polarized fragmentation), they also show important similarities. These include their stage of economic development, broadly defined cultural and political values, the basic policy approaches discussed for mitigating climate change such as emissions trading, and institutional features such as a bicameral legislature with stringent consensus requirements, and multi-level politics within a (quasi-) federal system. Comparing these two cases with a focus on the EU Parliament and Council, and both chambers of US Congress promises insights beyond the specific field of climate change: It is also a relevant case study about the responses of key democratic institutions to the dual processes of global governance and the domestic politicization of a key challenge to current politics and society.
You can find more information on the project and Frank Wendler here on the Website of Universität Hamburg and here on the website of the German Research Foundation (DFG)