HSD: Collaborative Research: Social Networks as Agents of Change in Climate Change Policy Making


Dana Fisher
Professor, University of Maryland-College Park


Whereas all nations are exposed to the same dominant scientific consensus established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, their reactions to this knowledge are highly variable. National stances toward global climate change cannot be explained by levels of prosperity or immediate vulnerability to disaster. This interdisciplinary research project will examine the key sociopolitical variables that affect how national polities react to scientific knowledge. Multiple constituencies form networks of action that effect national policies. Countries vary in the extent to which leaders of government, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and other influential actors take the scientific claims seriously, assigning high levels of risk and urgency to the problem and developing countermeasures. Advocacy coalitions for and against remedial action vary in strength in each national context. Their beliefs, activities, and effectiveness reflect concepts of organizational and national interest and cultural receptiveness to scientific reasoning. Domestic scientific establishments vary in their capacity to certify climate science claims and diffuse this knowledge. Among these multiple groups, opportunities for cross-stakeholder participation and dialogue will strengthen national agreement, empower authorities, and lead to more effective national countermeasures. This project will compare the climate change policy-formation processes of developed (Japan, the United States, Germany, and Sweden), transitional (Russia), and developing countries (India, China, and Brazil) as well as at the international level. Policy network analysis will be used to study these relational processes. Comparable surveys in each country will collect data on networks of negotiation, communication, and support among pertinent domestic and international organizations as well as organizational beliefs, goals, resources and policy engagement. Data collection will take place in 2009-2010 at the height of international negotiations over the post-Kyoto global climate change regime.
This project will contribute significantly to knowledge about climate change politics and decision making while also strengthening climate change educational capacity in all the countries, especially in the developing and transition countries. Women lead four of the nine case research teams, which include multiple ethnic/racial groups and will strive for inclusion of national minorities. Each team will establish a national center for sociopolitical research, education, training, and public information on climate change. The teams and centers will form an enduring global network and scientific community, holding regular conferences and workshops and issuing reports and publications. The project plans repeated surveys at regular intervals. The resulting public data base will provide an invaluable record of changing national and international reactions to global climate change for future scholarly research. An award resulting from the FY 2008 NSF-wide competition on Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) supports this project. All NSF directorates and offices are involved in the coordinated management of the HSD competition and the portfolio of HSD awards.