Niheer Dasandi: Senior Lecturer in Politics and Development at the University of Birmingham in the International Development Department, School of Government and CATALYSE WP4 Lead.

Nihear’s research broadly looks at the politics of international development, focusing in particular on the relationship between development and human rights; the health dimensions of climate change; and the measurement and determinants of foreign policy.

How did you get involved in work related to climate change and health?

I became involved in this work, to a large extent, by chance. About 7-8 years ago, Slava Jankin (also involved in CATALYSE) and I had started a project in which we’d created a dataset of countries’ annual statements in the General Debate of the UN General Assembly, and we were using quantitative text analysis to measure states’ engagement and preferences on different issues. We were presenting this work, and someone involved in the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change was there, and asked us if we would be able to produce an indicator of government engagement with health and climate change, which we did, and this led to our involvement in the work of the Lancet Countdown. The combination of how important and interesting the issue of climate change and health is, and being able to work with some great people, has meant I’ve worked much more on the broader politics of climate change and health since then.

What is your main discipline or field and what unique perspective does it bring to the issue of climate change and health?

My main field is political science, and in particular I’ve focused a lot on the intersection of global politics and international development in my work. This focus on political processes at both international and national levels has meant looking into questions around how change happens or why it doesn’t happen, which actors and coalitions influence such change, what institutions provide constraints and opportunities to different actors, and what different strategies actors have used to influence or prevent change within these institutional structures, or how broader processes such as the spread of norms and ideas might lead to change. I think this is an important perspective, as I don’t think there’s been much research on political and policymaking processes around the issue of climate change and health, so hopefully this is an area where I can contribute.
The focus on international development is also important as it brings a focus on some of the specific challenges faced by low- and middle-income countries, and how the health dimensions of climate change fit into these challenges. It also leads to a focus on global inequalities between richer and poorer countries, and why these are important for climate change and health.

More generally, my background in the social sciences brings with it a different approach to research and a different set of methodological tools (both quantitative and qualitative) to those from other disciplines, which is useful. I should say, though, that I think it’s really in collaborating across different disciplinary backgrounds where I think the most interesting and important research will happen – and the great thing about being a part of this project is that I’m able to collaborate with great researchers from different disciplines.

Can you give an overview on what is being done in your work package or task, and why it is important?

My work package focuses on how key stakeholders – such as policymakers, the health community, and the general public – engage with evidence on the health dimensions of climate change, and the implications of this engagement for knowledge translation across the project. This involves producing case studies of policy processes related to health and climate change, examining the effects of framing of climate change and health messages to increase stakeholder engagement (using survey experiments and other methods), and more broadly speaking to different stakeholders to gain a better understanding of how different actors engage with evidence, and what this means for how the project translates and presents the evidence generated.
It’s important because there is growing recognition that generating new evidence on different aspects of the climate change-health relationship – and even producing great research on the impacts different policies might have – doesn’t automatically lead to change. It is increasingly clear that we need a better understanding of actual political and policy processes to understand how new evidence can inform actual decision-making and policies on mitigation and adaptation. So, I’m really excited to be doing this work, as I do think it’s an important area.

“Traditional scientific efforts have fallen short of providing knowledge and tools that have been broadly applied in decision making, and innovative approaches to knowledge translation are needed” – Why are traditional efforts not working and what might effective innovative approaches look like?

Well, this is in large part what my work package is trying to find out! I think there is often an implicit assumption with scientific research that producing new evidence will automatically lead to policy changes. However, we know that often that’s not the case – decision-makers often face competing demands; there may be political pressures, interests, and obstacles that prevent changes being made; or it might be that there are technical or financial barriers to implementing specific measures. All of this requires a greater understanding of the policy process and the types of evidence that may be useful at different stages of this process in driving change. As well as better understanding policy and political processes, this also requires an understanding of how to communicate scientific research and evidence in ways that build support among key actors, such as policymakers, the health community, and the wider public. Innovative approaches might include using different forms of media to present scientific research (such as video content on social media or podcasts); it could involve presenting data in ways that are more interactive and more adaptable to the needs of different groups; it might include presenting narratives or examples from people’s lives alongside scientific research findings to ensure that policymakers and public audiences are able to see how these processes are impacting people’s lives. I think there’s a whole range of possibilities in terms of new innovative approaches, and I’m really excited to be working on some of this as part of the CATALYSE project.

“Communicating and framing evidence on the health impacts of climate change affects engagement and behavioural change across different stakeholders” – What has been successful/unsuccessful up to this point? What do you see as potentially useful new approaches to create/encourage the behavioural change at the level of individuals, institutions, governments?

While there has been a lot of research on how communicating and framing messages about climate change can affect engagement and behavioural change across different stakeholders; there hasn’t been a huge amount of this research that focuses specifically on the health impacts of climate change. So, in general there needs to be a lot more work done in this area.

There is research (including work I’ve been involved with) that indicates that a health framing of climate change can foster greater public support for mitigation policies – including among people that may be quite skeptical about the impacts of climate change, which is really important. I think this is linked to wider research on the importance of framing in climate change communications to ensure that people can really connect with the issue in a personalised way, given that climate change for many might feel like a remote issue that doesn’t impact them in their daily lives, in the way that say that cost-of-living crisis does. So, I think what we’re seeing is that a health framing can and does help people more clearly see how climate change impacts their lives and the lives of their families. There’s also the wider research on public engagement/attitudes to climate change that has really highlighted the importance of considering audience segmentation – in other words, noting that the ‘public’ isn’t a homogenous group when it comes to climate change attitudes, and so messages need to be tailored to specific groups.

So, in terms of potential new approaches to encourage behavioural change that may be useful, I think it’s really a case of building on these findings, and looking at how more specific and targeted messages around different aspects of the health and climate change relationship (e.g., air pollution, heatwaves, etc) can influence different groups and actors – in terms of different sections of the public and different policymakers. Hopefully, I’ll be able to say more about these new approaches as we get further along with the research we’re doing in my work package.