CIES Geneva Dialogue
21 November 2023

Fires All Around: Why Do Climate Change Politics Grow More Contentious and Politicised, Despite Increased Scientific Certainty and Public Awareness?

The Geneva Dialogue with a keynote by Stacy VanDeveer (9 November 2023) discussed the politicisation of climate politics in everyday life.

CIES_Fires All Around [event poster]


Why are climate change policies more contested even when we have more scientific knowledge and more public awareness about negative impacts?

In her introductory remarks CIES Co-director Prof Andonova, pointed out the timeliness of the keynote considering the increasing politicization of climate science and corresponding policy institutions. Prof Stacy VanDeveer highlighted the importance of science for policy, and the relevance of knowledge co-production in science, politics and policy-making institutions. Science is characterised by the CSL principle: it has to be credible, salient and legitimate – that is, a significant portion of the relevant constituents has to agree with it. However, science does not automatically lead to policy action or political change: this sphere is dominated by people and institutions, which enact their agency through the instrumentalisation of scientific knowledge.

Prof VanDeveer’s question is based on the underlying assumption that, if certainty and confidence in science were to increase, one would expect a higher transformation rate in policy-making as a result. At the same time, political change is driven by an increase in the public’s and policy-maker’s awareness with regards to scientific knowledge. However, this path towards political and social action  does not seem to apply to discussions around climate change. In other words, despite there being plenty of awareness, as can be seen from the ever-growing body of scientific discourse around climate change, the political action deriving from it is mediocre and inadequate, and the resistance to it is increasing instead of decreasing. The CIES Geneva Dialogue focused on this timely issue.

Prof VanDeveer discussed the concept of institutionalisation of useful knowledge in climate change leadership. He argued that climate science is being used by a given leadership to compete for legitimacy and to realise their own goals, describing their policy actions as ‘the appropriate thing to do’. At the same time, this opens up the possibility for opponents to react. Opponents learn, lead and repoliticise climate science. Drawing from the leadership’s successes and failures in climate policy, they can emulate them, as well as delegitimise knowledge, knowledge-makers and authoritative institutions they rely on. This can lead to backlash or pushback politics against environmental action and can currently be observed in multiple countries. He presented some timely examples, such as the coal phase-out movement and the global mining and minerals governance. The keynote was followed by an engaging Q&A touching on many of the concrete issue areas at hand as well as possible accountability mechanisms.