Interview with Dr Federica Genovese, about new Leverhulme-funded project on climate vulnerabilites

Dr Federica Genovese of Essex University (personal site here) kindly answered some questions about her work and the new Leverhulme-funded project on climate change and vulnerability.

1.  Who are you and how did you come to be launching this research?

I have studied climate politics for many years. I started with a major in environmental politics at University of Toronto, then specialised in energy and environmental policy at SAIS (Johns Hopkins), and wrote my PhD dissertation on the politics of the UNFCCC negotiations in Konstanz, Germany. As I learned more about the slowness and failures of the UNFCCC negotiations, I realised I really needed to learn more about the domestic politics of climate action and which groups and communities slow the process of more ambitious climate pledges and decarbonisation. So I started exploring more systematically the domestic politics of international climate policy, and realised that – while many of the problems stem from public-private interactions and the government capture by polluters – a lot of the commitment problems are related to the fact that governments have not really thought much/seriously about the communities of “losers” (e.g. those who will lose from the costs of mitigation and adaptation). So, together with various other colleagues and collaborators, I have started thinking harder about the vulnerable communities, which politics drive them, and what policies will satisfy them and bring them in the fight again climate change. 

2. What was the first thing you did when you’d heard you’d got the Leverhulme?  Punch the air? Shout “winning!!”?  Run around in circles screaming?  All of the above/something else?

I found out one evening, when I quickly checked my email after dinner time. I turned to my husband (also a political scientist) who was with me in the kitchen and said “there must be a mistake”. It took me two reads of the Leverhulme Trust email to realise I actually had won the grant. I  took me a few days to believe it!

3.  What are you studying, and how will you be doing it in ways that haven’t been done before?

The Leverhulme-funded project, which takes off in October 2023, is meant to unpack the dimensions of vulnerability in the climate crisis and understand how different ways of thinking and defining climate vulnerability affects the politics of citizens around their world, their communities and their representatives. The 4-year project is divided into sections – one will focus on individuals’ attitudes and behaviours, one on policy-makers, and one on their interaction. The project will bring a fresh perspective on the political and social study of climate vulnerability because it will include fieldwork and original surveys, and it will be done comparatively/cross-nationally. 

4.  Who are you looking for to come work with you?

The grant includes 3 postdoctoral positions and 2 PhD scholarships. I hope people with all kinds of background will apply for these positions, although I am especially hoping for a mix of people interested in the subject (climate politics and policy) and with various methodological skills (qualitative interviews, statistical methods, experimental approaches). Country expertise is also valued: the project will test some of the hypotheses specifically in two Global North and two Global South countries (I have some ideas on which countries are the best candidate, but I will also let the selection be driven by the types of postdocs I will hire!). 

5.  How will the research have impact during and after it is done (dissemination etc)

Generally, the findings related to the political preferences and policy design around climate vulnerability will be of interest to many stakeholders, and University of Essex will ensure that events that involve these stakeholders will be happening in the course of the project. The questions driving the project’s expectations and research design will be tailored to real-life developments in climate politics and policy-making, and will be fed to op-eds and news articles (in addition to academic journals). I am also hoping that this research will start conversations with other bodies and institutions of climate action in the UK and internationally.

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