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TIAS Quarterly

No. 03/2019 (October)
The Newsletter of
The Integrated Assessment Society (TIAS)

 
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In this Issue


Photo: Jens Newig ©

The Society

The Integrated Assessment Society is a not-for-profit entity created to promote the community of inter-disciplinary and disciplinary scientists, analysts and practitioners who develop and use Integrated Assessment (IA). The goals of the society are to nurture this community, to promote the development of IA and to encourage its wise application.

Integrated Assessment can be defined as the interdisciplinary process of integrating knowledge from various disciplines and stakeholder groups in order to evaluate a problem situation from a variety of perspectives and provide support for its solution. IA supports learning and decision processes and helps to identify desirable and possible options for addressing the problem. It therefore builds on two major methodological pillars: approaches to integrating knowledge about a problem domain, and understanding policy and decision making processes. IA has been developed to address issues of acid rain, climate change, land degradation, water and air quality management, forest and fisheries management and public health.

 

Feature

  
     Photo: Julian Vinci, Unsplash


Populism, disinformation and the future of European climate and energy policy


By Stella Schaller, adelphi
 
This article was solicited by TIAS Board to inform the understanding that we in the assessment community have of the evolving climate and environment landscape, and, in particular the policy implications of the work we as professionals undertake. Climate change is one of a number of critical environmental and societal issues that provide the context for and focus of our assessment efforts, and one that is notable in its polarizing effects. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect an official position of TIAS.

 

Organised climate denial, as examined by a plethora of research, has been a reality in the US for decades. A number of market-liberal think tanks and wealthy industrialists have been (and are still) supporting disinformation networks in order to discredit established science, plant seeds of doubt and slow down climate change legislation - to the detriment of societies and ecosystems. With the surge of right-wing nationalist parties in Europe (or “right-wing populist parties” - definitions differ), disinformation has received new vehicles to circulate in Europe too - illustrated by AfD - Alternative for Germany’s leader, Alexander Gauland, claiming that it was "completely unclear" if humans influence the climate.

However, within the far-right populist spectrum in Europe, there are significant and important variations in terms of attitudes regarding climate change frames, arguments and voting behaviour. While Germany’s 2013-founded AfD thinks that global warming has nothing to do with CO2-emissions, and wants to exit the Paris Agreement and cancel renewable energy and carbon pricing plans, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) argues there is a “pause in global warming” which cannot be explained, and supports renewable energy. The far-right Finns Party does not doubt climate change but argues the country is already doing more than enough and warns that environmental measures will take the sausage from the plate of labourers. France’s Rassemblement National, completely avoids climate-related statements, but recently came up with a new ecological agenda. Their strategy is based on “localism”, a form of green patriotism with the goal of creating an “ecological civilization” by protecting French borders, keeping immigrants out and reversing free trade.

 

Cross-country analysis of right-wing populist climate agendas in Europe

In the research report, “Convenient Truths”, published earlier this year by adelphi, we intended to develop an understanding of which types of climate perceptions exist among the new European far-right parties, what motivation shapes their positions, how this may influence centre parties, and what this means for democratic decision making and climate policy in Europe in the years to come.

Our analysis of party programmes, official statements and public interviews finds that seven of 21 right-wing populist parties in Europe are skeptical of the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change or are overtly denying it. Another eleven parties are inconsistent in their communication or remain completely silent on the issue. Three parties explicitly support the consensus on human-caused climate change. But more striking than populist reflections on whether global warming is happening at all, are the anti-elitist contrarian narratives published to oppose climate and sustainable energy policy.
 

Narratives and frames utilized to oppose climate and energy policy

Narratives range from (potentially) legitimate concerns over unjust distributional effects of rising energy prices to conspiratorial arguments about climate policy being a “communist” project to “deindustrialise” Europe. A prominent storyline is based on the idea that selfish green politicians are limiting civil liberties by restricting access to cheap air travel or cheap meat. In general, political positioning happens mostly along ideological frames to justify non-action, e.g., anticipated economic decline, national independence/pride, or homeland protection/nativism. Most populist parties – from left to right – also master the tools of drama, personalization and emotionalization and create content which flourishes in social media networks*.

The perpetuation of populist “climate contrarianism” is problematic in as far as it has the potential to erode the societal consensus that the climate crisis requires urgent political action. The parties eat into the fundamental preconditions of democratic policy-making, i.e. social cohesion, constructive deliberation, recognition of scientific facts and institutions (such as IPCC) and the very trust in the political system. The success of international climate policy rests on multilateral cooperation, global responsibility, evidence-based decision-making and respect for civil and human rights – things that seem incompatible with populist nationalist policy-making.
 

Right-wing populist parties as actors in EU climate policy

We also analysed voting behaviour of right-wing populist parties in the European Parliament to see if the anti-climate rhetoric is reflected in political actions. In the last legislative term of the European Commission from 2014 to 2019, more than half of right-wing MEPs voted against climate and sustainable energy policy proposals. The three European parliament groups to which the 21 parties that were analysed belong - Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFDD) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) - are the most hostile toward climate policy.

In the next five years, the EU will make landmark, path-setting decisions about the future of climate protection: the new EU budget for 2021-2027 will be passed, the EU climate goals for 2030 and 2050 must be renewed, a kerosene tax could be introduced, and climate-damaging subsidies could be eliminated. It is also time for an EU-wide coal exit, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and the full implementation of EU climate directives at the national level.

These decisions aren’t just about climate protection; they are also about modernizing European industry, restructuring society in a socially just fashion, and forming all of this in  way that earns the support of the majority. Having right-wing populists not only in Parliament, but also the European Council and the European Commission is an increasing challenge to realising these goals.

 

Developing a European vision of a sustainable, liveable future

In times of massive global attention on the climate crisis and ever more actors embarking on the path of decarbonisation, the climate question is the new faultline across which conservative right-wing nationalist and progressive-cosmopolitan milieus are clashing. To overcome this divide, the continent needs a European vision of a sustainable, liveable future: a Europe of competitive economies, social security, and a healthy environment. To achieve this, reciprocal communication is essential and needs to be embedded in the specific context of regional politics while remaining cognizant of values and needs.

Many issues – be it promotion of electric cars, carbon pricing or promotion of wind energy – are deeply entrenched with identities and culture. Conflicts cannot be avoided in deep transformative processes. Structural change with the goal of overcoming unsustainable and inequitable practices, for example creating car-free cities or fully transitioning to clean energy, obviously creates winners and losers. We not only need an honest integrated assessment of synergies and trade-offs of different transformative policies, but we also need better non-violent communication. We need to be cognizant of different needs and core beliefs in order to identify shared values. Eventually, right-wing nationalism is not solely to blame for inaction on climate change, but it is an interesting object of investigation which brings to the surface latent fears of (transformative) change.

_____________________________________
* Media logic is also part of the reason why negative perceptions of various forms of climate policy gained more visibility over the past year. Established media tend to pick up sensationalist arguments disproportionally, which poses the risk of repeating false claims and provide a platform for divisive frames and narratives.

Stella Schaller works with adelphi, an independent think tank and public policy consultancy on climate, environment and development. She specializes in global climate policy, while working at the interface between global sustainable development, climate change and peace, with a focus on developing innovative public diplomacy instruments for foreign policy actors and diverse international audiences.
 
 

 

Special report from TIAS Annual General Meeting: Science for evidence-based policy-making in a post-truth society


A report on a TIAS special session of the 2019 Annual General Meeting by Anna-Lena Guske, Honorary Secretary
 
In August, TIAS held its Annual General Meeting and, while reviewing progress and discussing plans was the top order of the day, participants also had the opportunity to exchange on a topical theme that is influencing our work:  populism and the increasing division within society. As a kick-off for the discussion, Bas Arts, Chief Scientist to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and TIAS advisory board member, shared his insights on “The waning credibility of sustainability assessments in the post-truth society, and some initial ideas how to deal with it”. With these observations as a starting point, meeting participants then discussed possible means of and open research questions on addressing populism and its impacts on science and research.

 

The waning credibility of sustainability assessments: A recent experience

An example of interference with science in policy-making processes by populist political parties was the evaluation of the National Climate Accord in the Netherlands. The accord was the result of a high profile and lengthy negotiation effort. The government and associated parties had invested much political capital in the effort. This year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) was tasked with an ex-ante evaluation of the National Climate Accord. Because of the investigation, PBL reported that the accord would probably not be sufficient to deliver the national contribution to the Paris accord.

In an immediate response, the government opted for a carbon tax (in addition to the EU carbon tax) to extend its effort with regard to climate change policies. This move was a dramatic departure from previous political positions and pre-empted green/left opposition responses to the findings of the PBL report.

The response to the suggestion of introducing a new tax was fierce – not just from industry, but especially from right wing populist groups in the Netherlands. They questioned the results of PBL’s study at its core. The ‘enormous costs’ associated with such a tax and the resulting burden on the economy and on citizens were put in the forefront of the ensuing public debate. The populist parties managed to discredit the scientific findings of the PBL study resulting in a call for an investigation to obtain a second opinion on the issue.

 

Trends in science and society

According to Bas Arts, this example demonstrates some significant trends that science, especially science that provides information relevant to decision-making processes, has to take into account. The first is the increasing demand to bring “truth to power”. Although representing a rather old-fashioned view on the role of science in decision-making processes, this request is voiced by governments, seeking justification for difficult measures.

Science is increasingly considered the domain of the elite. This view is expressed mostly by people who do not feel represented by current dominant political players. For those with populist views, this means that science is always biased, and by undermining the relevance, credibility and legitimacy of research findings, they contribute to a politization of science and question its legitimacy as a basis for political decision making. At the same time, science is still one of the most trusted institutions in society in general.

This leaves us with the paradox that on the one hand, science is increasingly relied on to help legitimize political decisions, while at the same time its legitimacy is increasingly questioned by segments of society who are highly vocal in societal discourse.

 

The need for inclusive science

These developments lead to the question of how scientists should respond to these challenges. As a reflex, scientists would answer by delivering more data, more research and more information. But given the background of populist movements, this approach would most likely not be effective in countering the criticisms science faces from these groups. Instead, science needs to regain societal trust.

As a first step, scientists need to ask themselves if they are part of the problem and potentially even contributing to the division of society by applying us-versus-them perspectives and taking an alarmist stance in reports. We should also ask if using the term ‘populism’ itself is part a problem. By using the term one reinforces the set of problems, but it is an accepted scientific concept.

Moreover, scientists currently emphasize the independence and credibility of their research. However, it seems necessary to put more emphasis on the dimension of relevance and legitimacy of science in order to appeal also to the societal groups who distrust science. A solution may be to allow second opinions more openly, to engage in joint fact finding and develop a more inclusive research agenda, that puts emphasis on social inclusion and environmental justice. In addition, new communication strategies can help to engage more with the public and regain trust.

In sum, science needs to move from truth to trust, from credibility to relevance and legitimacy, which could be achieved by developing a more inclusive research agenda. This is also reinforced by, for example, the recent street marches for science. There are already efforts to move to more inclusive research designs, as demonstrated, for example, by research on water management.

 

Dealing with cultural detachment

In addition to placing more emphasis on the distributional questions and the growing inequalities of society, a cultural dimension is also becoming visible in populist movements. While the fear of some people of losing their social positions because of current modernisation processes can be tackled by science through research on distributional effects, it is much more difficult to address the cultural dimension. Here there appear to be new cleavages in society, which include, but are not limited to, the rural-urban divide. It seems as if two different languages or even cultures have emerged. The question is open as to how scientists can reflect on this in their research and develop solutions to overcome this cultural divide.

In addressing these new forms of societal shifts, it may be helpful to look at other disciplines like psychology. An interesting approach to investigate further is the application of the concept of grief not just at the individual level but also for society as a whole: starting from denial and then moving on to anger, conflict, tension, bargaining, and finally to solutions. Perhaps these patterns at the individual level may also help to explain some broader societal trends.

 

The Nexus between politics and policy

It becomes increasingly clear that it is necessary to develop a better understanding of the nexus between policymaking and the political institutions behind this process, including the decision-making processes within political parties and parliaments. Currently, there are two distinct research communities: researchers interested in policy analysis and researchers looking at politics. These communities are not yet linked. However, in order to understand better the decision-making processes within political parties it may help to first develop a better understanding of how to address the paradoxes we have identified earlier, especially that of credibility and legitimacy of science.

In conclusion, the topic of populism and its implications for science and research are highly relevant. However, there remain many open questions for further research in order to be able to tackle the challenges that populist movements pose to science. During TIAS AGM, we discussed a few possible starting points for this research. However, the topic needs to become a key item on the agenda of scientific communities, and remain a relevant topic for further research over the longer term.

 

TIAS News

 

TIAS Learning Community webinar on the potential for serious gaming to stimulate learning and support decision making in resource management

On July 4th 2019, the Learning Community of TIAS ran a webinar entitled: From games to action: When and how can serious games stimulate learning and support decision making for natural resource management? This interactive webinar featured presentations by early career and senior researchers as well as a practitioner, all of whom have been using serious games to develop solutions to diverse resource management challenges in various parts of the world.

The webinar summary, presentations, and a recording can be downloaded here.
 

Upcoming elections President and Vice-presidents

In the final week of October, an electronic poll will be held for the positions of President and the two Vice-Presidents. The candidates will be announced in advance and the poll will be open two to three days.
 

Reminder to members of TIAS Mailing List

TIAS members and others interested in Integrated Assessment are invited to subscribe to our email list. The list can be used to post announcements to all subscribers. It is intended to share news on Integrated Assessment including relevant initiatives, funding opportunities, projects and publications, events, job offers (including internships), etc. We encourage its use and hope it will contribute to the mission of TIAS in building a community of researchers and practitioners in the field of Integrated Assessment. To subscribe go to: https://lists.fu-berlin.de/listinfo/tias-network#subscribe. Registered users then receive the list address and can begin sharing news.
 


Adapted from photo by Aleksi Tappura on Unsplash

 

Publications of our members


SAPEA, Science Advice for Policy by European Academies. 2019. Making sense of science for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty. Berlin: SAPEA. The full report can be downloaded from https://doi.org/10.26356/MASOS

Wardekker, A., S. Lorenz. 2019. The visual framing of climate change impacts and adaptation in the IPCC assessment reports. Climatic Change. Vol. 156, Issue 1-2, Sep. 2019, Pp 273-292.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02522-6

Veisi, H. and Mafakheri, S. 2019. Introduction to Sustainability Impact Assessment. Published in Persian in collaboration with Shahid Beheshti University's Cultural and Social Affairs Management. The purpose of the book is to provide a comprehensive overview of the concepts, models, theories, guidelines and methods associated with Sustainability Impact Assessment for the development of a framework establishing Sustainability Impact Assessment in Iran. For more information please contact the author, Professor Hadi Veisi, Department of Agroecology, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran (hveisi[at]gmail.com)

Lumosi, C.K, Pahl-Wostl, C. and Scholz, G. 2019. Can ‘learning spaces’ shape transboundary management processes? Evaluating emergent social learning processes in the Zambezi basin. Environmental Science and Policy. Vol. 97, July 2019, Pp 67-77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2019.04.005

van Bers, C., A. Delaney, H. Eakin, L. Cramer, M. Purdon, C. Oberlack, T. Evans, C. Pahl-Wostl, S. Eriksen, L. Jones,  K. Korhonen-Kurki, I. Vasileiou. 2019. Advancing the research agenda on food systems governance and transformation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Vol. 39, Aug. 2019, pp 94-102. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S187734351930048X
The full version is available for free until Nov. 29th. To receive this article, contact cvanbers[at]uos.de
 
 

Events


26-27 Nov. 2019. Brussels. EU Conference on Modelling for Policy support: Experiences, challenges and the way ahead. Organised by the Competence Centre on Modelling of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. Conference registration will open on 6th September 2019.

1-6 December 2019, Canberra, 23rd International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM2019)

3-5 June 2020, Dresden Nexus Conference 2020 (DNC 2020), in Dresden, Germany. The conference is an international event series dedicated to advancing research and the implementation of a Nexus Approach to resource management. The theme of next year’s event is Circular Economy in a Sustainable Society.

15-18 June 2020, Food for the Future 30th World Conference. Rotterdam.

21-23 September 2020, PNS 5 Symposium: Knowledge, Science Practices and Integrity: Quality through Post-Normal Science Lenses. University of Florence (Florence, IT) Deadlines are 31 January 2020 for session proposals and 14 March 2020 for posters and oral presentations.
 
Employment and funding opportunities

Fellowships: Humboldt Foundation International Climate Protection Fellowship for young climate experts from developing countries Deadline for applications: 1 March 2020. More information

Junior researcher or post-doctoral researcher for the Food Nutrition Security (FNS) Cloud project, Maastricht University: The research position is part of the European FNS (Food Nutrition Security)-Cloud project. FNS-Cloud will overcome fragmentation problems by integrating existing FNS data, which is essential for high-end, pan-European FNS research, addressing FNS, diet, health, and consumer behaviors as well as on sustainable agriculture and the bio-economy.  Deadline for applications: 28 October 2019. More information
 

 

TIAS Quarterly

TIAS Quarterly is the newsletter of The Integrated Assessment Society.
ISSN: 2077-2130
Editor: Caroline van Bers
Associate editors: Caroline Lumosi, Anna-Lena Guske, Jan Sodoge
Photos: Ulli Meissner 
© (http://www.ullimeissner.com/) (unless otherwise indicated)
Layout: Worldshaper design - Fabian Heitmann, Caroline van Bers
TIAS President: Klaus Jacob
TIAS Vice-presidents: Jan Bakkes, Claudia Pahl-Wostl


TIAS Secretariat, Germany

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Web:   http://www.tias-web.info/

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