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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Mike Kang

Strategic Sensemaking of Organizations' Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

The past three decades have seen massive growth in concern about human influence on the global climate system. Despite such interest, growth in greenhouse gases emissions has shown no sign of slowing, let alone decreasing in aggregate. This research explores how the people at the leading edge of the "global effort" to solve the problem cognitively and emotionally engage with their apparent failure to do so. Using the organizational studies approach of "sense-making", the research seeks to understand how the key players in the effort construct their perceptions of the situation, the ways in which these perceptions are consistent or inconsistent, and what they might mean for the future.

Through interviews with 31 academics, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and businesses at the forefront of the "global effort", this research found that fundamental definitions of its success and failure are contested, as is the extent to which it is believed possible to accurately judge its performance. It also found that subjects experience an emotionally confusing situation that includes the high but imprecisely understood stakes of the problem, a global governance process that is necessary but insufficient, and many grassroots, multi-lateral, and sub-national efforts that are gaining traction. Faced with a confused smattering of cues for optimism and despair, subjects thus look to "higher powers" - other people with more power or universal "truths" about the way of the world - as the entities in control of whether or not the "global effort" will succeed.

The extreme diversity in sense-making suggests that the "global effort" may be one of high organizational entropy: it may contain too many different fiefdoms building towards too many different outcomes to have a good chance of achieving any one of them. To increase the chances of success, leaders should thus aim to decrease entropy through consolidating existing grassroots, multi-lateral, and sub-national efforts around common definitions of success, using the abated tonne of CO2-equivalent emissions as a goal-setting metric.