Department of Comparative Politics
Research project

The Structure-Acceptance Nexus in Climate Politics (SANE-Clim)

Yellow vests movement
Charly Triballeau / AFP

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Project description

SANE-Clim analyses what can be done and how in order to facilitate the necessary climate and energy transition.

Advanced democracies are characterised by two key elements. First, the rule of law. That individuals and institutions abide to a set of formal rules which govern what they are allowed (and not allowed) to do. This implies a legal system which determines what is possible and how, as well as how one can regulate. Second, that the ‘people’ or citizens have a say. That they should matter in determining new laws and policies as well as terminating older ones. In other words, that citizens’ preferences should influence public policies and, in return, that public policies should be acceptable and legitimate to the eyes of citizens. This implies policies generating a certain degree of public acceptance and support. 

It follows that, in order to foster change, two key pillars are essential: a) a better understanding the structure and evolution of the existing legal system (i.e. the ‘structure’ of the rule of law), and b) a better understanding of the drivers and shapers of public and social acceptance (i.e. ‘acceptance’ by citizens). In sum, a better understanding of the ‘Structure-Acceptance Nexus’.

This project contributes to both pillars. It is precisely structured around the structure-acceptance diptych. 

Pillar#1: The Architecture of Climate and Energy Politics (CLIM-ARCH)

The first part of the project conceptualises, measures, and maps who is formally responsible for what when it comes to climate and energy (CLIM-ARCH pillar). To this end, it develops an unprecedented three-dimensional coding instrument where each dimension is composed of five elements. The end-result takes the form of a 5*5*5 matrix capturing variation in formal authority (i.e. who is legally responsible for what). On the first dimension, measurement takes place at the five territorial scales (from the local scale to the global scale). On the second dimension, measurement takes place at the five phases of the legislative cycle (from the initiation of new legislation to its implementation). On the third dimension, measurement takes place in the five policy domains identified as impacting climate and energy politics most directly (from agriculture to waste). Coding is applied to two countries which are relevant with regards to their experiences of renewable energy and climate policies: Norway and the United Kingdom. These are within the European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) at the continental level, as well as within the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (TWO) at the global level. These countries and international organisations are coded from 1950 to 2017. In this way, formal authority over climate-impacting issues is comparatively identified and measured over both time and space.

The objective of this first part of the project (Pillar#1, CLIM-ARCH) is to be able to map out and quantify who is legally responsible for what when it comes to climate-impacting issues. This in turn allows for a comparison of how the different legal systems are set up, with what consequences and what implications.

Pillar#2: Public Perceptions and Acceptance of the Energy and Climate Transition (PERCEPT-ACCEPT)

The second part of the project analyses the drivers and shapers of public perceptions and social acceptance (PERCEPT-ACCEPT pillar). Whilst public support for the transition to renewable energy and various climate measures is high in the abstract, there is much more friction surrounding concrete plans at the local level, especially at the implementation phase. This is the case not only for onshore, nearshore, or offshore wind farming, but also for solar farms and parks, or the selection of sites for carbon capture and storage facilities (CCS). Sources of resistance are multiple. They range from the aesthetic (e.g. the disfiguring of scenic landscape by turbines, flickers and glares of solar panels), to the environmental (e.g. biodiversity impact of installations, turbine noise levels, solar panel coverage), to the economic (e.g. impact on local property prices, competition for land/sea use with local fisheries, aquaculture, and agriculture), all the way to the political and ideological (values and beliefs towards the environment/climate change in terms of veracity and prioritising). If one is to foster greater public acceptance of the necessary transition to renewable energy and low carbon solutions, these different sources of resistance need to be addressed.

The objective of the second part of the project (Pillar#2, PERCEPT-ACCEPT) is to identify the biggest stumbling blocks to greater acceptance of the climate transition. What are the trade-offs leading to friction and how can they be addressed? What institutional, legal, procedural, financial, or informational factors can help foster greater public acceptance? Current resistance stems from a mix of misinformation and outdated beliefs about the efficiency and reliability of fast-developing green energies such as solar and wind energy, and range all the way to inclusion, fairness, and equity concerns, as well as more basic “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) syndromes.