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Climate change and risk: Exploring the corporate construction of climate change as risk in different industry settings

Periodic Report Summary 1 - CLIMATE RISKS (Climate change and risk: Exploring the corporate construction of climate change as risk in different industry settings)

Project objectives
Climate change has rapidly emerged as one of the most pressing risks facing humanity (IPCC, 2007; Stern, et al., 2006). Climate change is all around us, evident in a procession of worsening storms, floods and droughts, and mounting scientific data that yesterday’s worst-case scenario is now our best-case option. And yet, as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue their inexorable rise, meaningful policy action to reduce these emissions appears a forlorn hope. International climate negotiations have stalled, the media downplay climate change or promote climate change scepticism, and most green movements appear to have lost the initiative in the public policy debate over climate change responses. The overall aim of the program is to understand how businesses construct climate change as risks and the effect these constructions have on business and society.

In responding to the urgent problems of climate change, the project objectives are:
1. developing a new risk based model in explaining corporate engagements with climate change,
2. building research networks of academics and practitioners to enhance the research capacity of private and public organizations, and
3. informing evidence based public policies for the UK and E.U.

Project update
This project was terminated after 10 months due to the relocation of the lead investigator, Professor Daniel Nyberg. The project work over the 10months focused on 1) developing a theoretical risk model through reviewing and extended current theories of risk, and 2) collect empirical material to understand the processes of how businesses construct climate change as risk.
1. Theory development
In regards to the literature review, the work performed during the period engaged in the emerging literature that focuses on organizations as places where risks are constructed and processed. This literature argues that organizations by identifying, measuring and assessing risks, are taking part in constructing the phenomena they are responding to. This does not deny that dangers, such as climate change, are ‘horribly real... this argument is not about the reality of the dangers, but about how they are politicized...’ (Douglas, 1992: 29). Rather than trying to ‘capture’ or ‘map’ a risk. In furthering this perspective, a performativity theory of risk was developed. This model focuses on how risks are used as meaning-making constructs to frame and manage future dangers and uncertainties. Framing and acting upon a particular future is then performative in that it justifies acts in the present that shape the possibilities to act in the future. Moreover, the framing of societal events as risks is also a political act since the construction of risk closes down certain paths and opens up others in addressing the perceived threat.

2. Empirical data collection
To understand the processes of how businesses construct climate change as risks, we undertook an inductive qualitative research method to build ‘grounded theory’. Due to the termination of the grant, the project only included one industry: energy/utilities (the other two, not researched, were insurance and vehicle manufacturing). Despite the alarms of climate change, there is an on-going search for further fossil fuel energy generation sources. In the UK, the extraction of shale gas (fracking) is a controversial example, with recent policy announcements affirming the government’s intentions to support development. While industry proponents champion fracking and promote the practice as a ‘bridge’ to a lower-carbon future, critics emphasise fracking’s contribution to ever-escalating greenhouse gas emissions and local environmental destruction. How fracking is constructed, as risk or/and opportunity, informs the public debate over fracking in the UK.

In order to familiarise ourselves with the field and to identify the key voices in the debate an advanced search was conducted of all the major UK broadsheets using the Nexis database. Articles were extracted which held the key words ‘shale’ and/or ‘hydraulic fracturing’. Over 3000 results were returned. Due to the high volume of data, Nexis software was used to compress the results down to the top 1000 in terms of relevancy using a frequency identifier. We then adopted a snowball sampling method whereby reference lists in these reports were interrogated for further data sources. A similar approach was adopted in the identification and collection of data from key voices in the debate. Thus, where broadsheets had referred to an announcement, a group, a protest, a corporation, or an actor in the debate, these key voices were then targeted directly and their individual websites were visited and press releases were extracted for analysis. This resulted in 1,132 primary texts communicated directly from the fracking industry, NGOs, and government agencies and representatives in influencing the debate.

We supplemented our data set with a collection of interviews with some of the key voices identified in the first stage of documentary analysis. A total of 27 interviews were conducted, lasting on average 1 hour. In order not to impress any pre-conceived ideas onto the interviewees an open-ended, semi-structured interview style was employed. This allowed the interviewees to digress into areas they thought to be of interest in the field. General topics covered during the interviews included the role played by the interviewee and their organization in regard to the issue of fracking, strategies for communication with different groups and the public, motivations and/or concerns regarding fracking, their views regarding regulation of the industry, and their attitudes about the future role of fracking.

Following the literature review and data collection, we developed two papers that have been submitted to an international conference, submitted to 31ST EGOS Colloquium, July 2-4, Athens, Greece.

Expected results
Considering Professor Nyberg’s track record of publishing in highly ranked international journals, it is expected that the two papers submitted to EGOS will be published following the conference presentations.