CONTRA – “Contrarians” – their role in the debate on climate change (global warming) and their influence on the Austrian policy making progress

Duration: March 2011 – September 2013

The project “Contrarians” aims to investigate the influence of “climate sceptics” on the policymaking process in Austria. It is funded by the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund and conducted by FAS Research, the Institute of Meteorology of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU, Vienna), the Catholic Theological Private University (Linz), Denkstatt (Vienna), and the Institute of Political Science of the University of Vienna. The political science analysis consists of four steps:

  • First, contrarians and alliances of contrarians in Austria (and their international connections) will be identified and categorized with respect to institutional settings, positions, and the paradigmatic issues in Austrian climate politics contrarians address. The empirical focus is on the Renewable Energy Act (Ökostromgesetz) and the Emissions Trading Act (Emissionszertifikategesetz).
  • Second, the specific direct and indirect lobbying strategies used by contrarians in order to pursue their aims within the political system will be explored.
  • Third, since public discourses on climate change policies are important sources of political legitimation, the corridors of publicly and politically acknowledged politics will be examined. This is the first step in understanding not just how but also why contrarians are able to influence climate politics. We aim to analyse how the discourse on climate change in Austria and the positions of contrarians mutually influence each other. Drawing on selected newspapers and documents of the actors identified in Step 1, we will analyse the public discourse around paradigmatic issues and ask to what extent the public discourse strengthens or weakens the positions of contrarians and also, vice versa, to what extent contrarians shape the public discourse.
  • Fourth, answering the question concerning why contrarians exert influence also requires an institutional analysis aside from the discursive analysis to be conducted in Step 3. Thus, in Step 4 we will ask in what sense the Austrian national polity (i.e., the institutional structures of policymaking) is biased towards specific policies (i.e., laws, regulations, distribution of financial and knowledge resources, and recognition) which make the polity responsive to the influence of contrarians so that effective climate change policies are blocked. In other words, we will explore the specific “structural selectivities” (Claus Offe) or “strategic selectivities” (Bob Jessop) of the state. This will be done by analyzing government documents and conducting interviews with state representatives.

Transformation Research Review

Review, Scoping & Innovation: The State of the Art of Transformation Research, Key Researchers, and Research Gaps and Opportunities (Austrian contribution to the JPI CLIMATE – FTA on ‘Scoping and Reviewing SSH contributions to Climate Change Research’)

Duration: October 2012 – June 2013

Social scientific contributions to and debates about transformation (and transition) are actually increasing at a very fast pace. However, the concept is used in quite different ways. The assumptions about the problems and problematic societal dynamics which cause climate change and environmental degradation are diverse; this is also the case for the very understanding of the problems to be dealt with, processes of political and societal steering, the role of different actors, the role of (different forms of) knowledge, and other aspects. A systematization of the literature will identify the shared aspects and the diverging ones, if and how transformation is a concept or even a paradigm, and if and how it is part of scenarios and visions. The proposed project will first review the existing literature on transformation studies and scenarios (and related transition research) in social sciences and humanities (SSH) related to climate change as a basis for further research in these fields and with its links to sciences. Second, it will scope key players and research networks that are active in SSH research. And third, it will identify research gaps and respective priorities to be tackled by JPI CLIMATE as well as funding opportunities and possible Austrian contributions. The proposed study is a contribution to a common European report of JPI.

The proposed study is the Austrian contribution to the JPI CLIMATE Fast Track Activity (FTA) on ‘Scoping and Reviewing SSH contributions to climate change research’, adopted by the JPI CLIMATE Governing Board (GB) at its meeting an May 12th 2012. The project results in a common European report to JPI CLIMATE, integrating the FTA contributions of further JPI members.