22.1 A New Deal in the governance of climate change

Cerys Ponting , BRASS Research Centre, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
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  • Cerys Ponting

    Research Associate,

    Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability & Society

    Cardiff University, UK.

    A New Deal in the governance of climate change

    In spite of wide-spread consensus on anthropogenic climate change, confirmed by high profile publications such as Stern's Economics of Climate Change (2006) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (2007), some contend that such publications have stoked the fire of controversy as opposed to encouraging consensus[1]. These contenders suggest that the summarised information provided to decision makers seemingly presents a consensual view, masking uncertainties and nuances expressed qualitatively that exist amongst the ‘experts' that feed into this body of evidence.

    This is driven by the need for evidence based policy, for which there is an apparent preference for pure scientific evidence. This is typically focussed on a means-end outcome given the, hitherto, neoliberal emphasis in the governance of developed countries. However there is a growing concern that pure scientific evidence isn't sufficient in itself to provide solid foundations, given the varied and unpredictable nature of many environmental issues[2]. Furthermore, the current economic crisis raises questions about short termist approaches to governance. Thus policy consensus should go beyond scientific consensus[3]; taking into account wider considerations before legitimate decisions can be formulated – in particular if striving for a paradigm shift or a ‘new green deal'. Therefore, a new approach is required that will forge communication across key stakeholders in the attempt to build consensus.

    The Delphi technique is one vehicle by which this capturing of views and deliberation can take place[4]. This is a novel application of the technique; originally developed specifically to reduce the impact of powerful personalities on other participants in bringing disparate and remote experts to a consensual position. There has been much debate about the consensus generated by Delphi studies, in that it can appear to be forced or artificial, glossing over the finer nuances represented to create a one-size-fits-all consensus. Increasingly, literature surrounding Delphi has begun to recognise that it has value in providing a true reflection of the diversity in participant views.

    This has also been recognised in the burgeoning Deliberative Democracy literature, suggesting that a veritable democracy should reflect deliberation and communication between actors[5]. Whether this could suggest a role for Delphi in the advancement of opportunities in the governance of climate change was thus explored by interviewing a sample of experts who have had previously participated in a Delphi study, conducted by the researcher in 2007. Combined with this experience, and gaps identified in an in depth literature review; the research objective sought to understand participant reflections on the role and importance of consensus versus a plurality of views in the governance of climate change and whether the Delphi technique could thus be a contributory tool.

    The empirical findings emanate from five in-depth semi structured telephone interviews with former Delphi panel members. 17 people who had previously agreed to participate in follow-up research were invited to participate, with the five people that agreed yielding a 29.4% response rate. Grounded theory (GT) was the adopted strategy for data collection and analysis[6].

    This research demonstrated that consensus was not deemed necessary for the successful governance of climate change, although its uses are acknowledged in simplifying a message for a particular audience. Rather, the findings suggest that a legitimate outcome should not be stifled by forcing or aggregating views into a seemingly consensual position, but to draw on the diversity of views and opinions, actively engaging with participants so that the iterative rounds can focus the attention on agreed key areas. Thus, the research reinforced emerging literature that the Delphi technique is a useful tool in gathering a disparate range of views[7], refuting its original purpose of arriving at a consensus[8].  However, its advantage of removing the impacts of powerful personalities remains key; thus Delphi may be more successful than other face-to-face alternatives. In order to maximise the utility of the outcomes from a Delphi approach, there are issues associated with demonstrating legitimacy that may impair its outcomes if left unaddressed, though process transparency could help overcome these hurdles.

    In moving forward on climate change governance, it is essential that there are a number of tools adopted so that a true reflection of society can be created and incorporated into robust policies. The Delphi in itself is not, and will never be, a panacea to the threats of climate change. The results go someway in suggesting that it is one tool that can help reflect the wider picture for decision makers in gathering views and communicating with stakeholders, as opposed to solely relying on narrow means-end evidence, hitherto provided by natural scientists in a neoliberal framework of governance. In doing so systematically, and transparently; the legitimacy of any decisions taken will be bolstered, justifying a course of action which could otherwise come up against fierce resistance in the attempt to realise ambitious mitigation targets. This is particularly true in the governance of climate change, where to stimulate sufficient mitigation drastic changes in current engrained societal behaviours is likely. This ultimately may help in increasing trust in and knowledge of the reality of the pressing issues, and may result in a more successful approach in encouraging more pro-environmental behaviour across the board. The current economic crisis, whilst used by many to delay mitigation action, provides a clear opportunity for a departure from a ‘business as usual' scenario to achieve a ‘new green deal'.

    The limitations acknowledge the constraints of time, and that the research represents insights which are in no way generalisable. However, the implications of the research have relevance for policy and other decision makers who are charged with advancing climate change mitigation.

    [1] Oppenheimer et al. 2007; Yohe et al. 2007

    [2] Wallington and Moore 2005

    [3] Wilenius and Tirkkonen 1997

    [4] Wilenius and Tirkkonen 1997, Benn et al. 2008

    [5] Benn et al. 2008; Dryzek 2002; Heysse 2006; Kerkhof 2006; Pellizzoni 2001

    [6] Glaser and Strauss 1998, and Charmaz 2000

    [7] Rowe et al. 2005

    [8] Helmer 1968