Arguing for climate policy through the linguistic construction of narratives and voices: the case of the South-African green paper “National Climate Change Response” [118]

354 18 146KB

English Pages 417-430 [14] Year 2012

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Arguing for climate policy through the linguistic construction of narratives and voices: the case of the South-African green paper “National Climate Change Response” [118]

Table of contents :
Abstract......Page 1
Introduction......Page 2
The narrative of the green paper: telling the story of climate change......Page 3
Main theoretical framework......Page 7
The voices of the introduction: constructing science and government as CC agents......Page 8
The voices of section 6, roles and responsibilities: constructing consensus in the face of conflict......Page 10
Final remarks......Page 12
References......Page 13

Citation preview

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430 DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0654-7

Arguing for climate policy through the linguistic construction of narratives and voices: the case of the South-African green paper “National Climate Change Response” Kjersti Fløttum & Øyvind Gjerstad

Received: 16 December 2011 / Accepted: 25 November 2012 / Published online: 12 December 2012 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Abstract The purpose of the present paper is to examine a selection of macro- and microlinguistic features (at text and sentence/word level respectively) of the South-African Green Paper “National Climate Change Response” from 2010. Our overarching assumption is that the Green Paper needs to handle competing interests, beliefs and voices in a narrative structure favouring specific courses of action. How does the government portray the complex natural and societal phenomenon of climate change, and how does it take into account the many and often competing national and international views and interests which come into play? Our hypothesis is that the Green Paper constructs a narrative and that it relates to a number of voices other than that of the authors, through linguistic markers of polyphony, such as negation, sentence connectives, adverbs and reported speech. Thus we propose a narrative and polyphonic analysis of the Green Paper, at the level of the text as a whole (macro-level) but also with attention to linguistic constructions of polyphony or “multi-voicedness” (micro-level). We find that the narrative-polyphonic properties of the Green Paper contribute to a strategy for building consensus on climate change policy. The South African government assumes the role of main hero in its own climate change “story”, and there are subtle forms of interaction with different and typically non-identified voices, such as concessive constructions and presuppositions. These results support our overarching interpretation of the whole document as striving to impose a South African consensus on the issue of climate change. Abbreviations CC Climate change SA The Republic of South Africa

K. Fløttum (*) : Ø. Gjerstad University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway e-mail: [email protected] URL: Ø. Gjerstad e-mail: [email protected]


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

1 Introduction Issues related to the communication of climate change (CC) are hotly debated in numerous settings, where priorities may be very different according to interests and geographical, political, economic, social and cultural contexts.1 The topic has so far given rise to little linguistically oriented research, even though it is obvious that language use is at the heart of this debate,2 characterised by the mixing of scientific, political and all kinds of value-laden voices.3 To better understand this communication, we believe it is crucial to go beyond traditional content analysis and undertake a linguistically based investigation which can identify the different voices and actors that are intertwined in CC discourse. Furthermore CC is a scientifically complex and long-term phenomenon, global in nature, but experienced locally. Thus, to understand how local initiatives take into account scientific knowledge4 and how understandings are influenced by the overarching international debate,5 it is necessary to consider national responses to the global challenges. With this as a backdrop, the purpose of the present paper is to examine a selection of macro- and micro-linguistic features (at text level and sentence/word level respectively) of the South-African Green Paper “National Climate Change Response” from 2010, in order to explain how different linguistic and discursive strategies are used to advance the arguments of the government of South Africa (hereafter: SA). Our overarching assumption is that the Green Paper, as most political documents, needs to handle competing interests, beliefs and voices. In order to explain this “competition”, we claim that a combination of two approaches will be relevant: a narrative approach on the text level and a polyphonic (or multivoiced) approach on the word/sentence level. Our findings will show that SA – through the different voices that manifest themselves in the document – is attributed a triple narrative role of victim, villain and hero in an international context of emissions and negotiations. Furthermore the SA government attributes to itself the role of hero in leading the domestic efforts to combat CC, with an overarching purpose of imposing political consensus. The 41 page Green Paper outlines the country’s adaptation and mitigation policies for the coming decades. Regarding the challenges of CC, the geopolitical and economic situation of SA is particularly interesting. On the one hand, the country is heavily dependent on coal energy, and future restrictions on emissions are projected to put limitations on tourism and on trade with important economic partners. On the other hand, the government views the international stakes of CC adaptation and mitigation as a springboard for the enhancement of SA’s geopolitical role. The complexity of the issue is compounded by the imperative of both economic growth and “poverty eradication and promoting development” (p.4), which depend on sound and effective measures, but which may also stand to lose out as efforts and resources are allocated to CC adaptation and mitigation. These competing concerns are highly present in the Green Paper. In order to explore how these concerns are developed in the text, we find the following questions interesting: how does the government portray the complex natural and societal phenomenon of CC, and how does it take into account the many and often competing national and international interests which come into play? In a linguistic and discursive perspective, our hypothesis is that the Green Paper is constructed as a narrative and that it 1

Gasper et al. 2011; Giddens 2009; Hulme 2009; Malone 2009; Philander 2009; Zehr 2000. Bowman et al. 2009; Budescu et al. 2009; Nerlich et al. 2010; Patt and Schrag 2003. See also Climatic Change, issue 108, 2011. 3 Fløttum 2010; Fløttum and Dahl 2011; Fløttum and Dahl 2012. 4 Gross 1994. 5 For relevant media studies, see Boykoff 2011; Eide et al. 2010. 2

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


relates to a number of voices other than that of the authors. Thus, to provide an answer to these overarching questions, we propose the above mentioned combined narrative and a polyphonic analysis, at the text level (macro-level) but also with attention to linguistic constructions of polyphony or “multi-voicedness” (micro-level). These approaches allow us to go beyond a mere surface analysis by revealing implicit and covert rhetorical strategies.6 In the next section we will analyse the narrative properties of the text through the following questions: How does the plot lead to policy priorities? Who are the heroes, the villains and the victims (section 2)? After this macro analysis, we move on to the analysis of the polyphonic aspects of shorter passages, at the micro level (section 3). The main question we ask is the following: How are voices different from the authors’ voices constructed and used strategically to make the case for action? Our analysis will show that the narrativepolyphonic properties of the Green Paper can be seen as a strategy for building consensus on CC policy. We will round off the presentation, in section 4, by combining the narrative and the polyphonic perspective. We do not claim that this analysis will necessarily provide new information on the topic of CC policies to the already informed reader. Our aim is to explain possible text interpretations which are not easily accessible, thereby offering scientific justifications to potential critical readings. Before proceeding to the narrative analysis, we will give a few comments on the macrostructure of the document as a whole. It consists of nine sections, presenting the challenges of CC in terms of future adaptation and mitigation efforts in SA. Our main focus will be on sections 1 (Introduction) and 6 (Roles and responsibilities). The Introduction emphasises the severity of the problem, and states the SA government’s commitment to tackling CC, without compromising development and poverty eradication. It serves to characterise the interactional purpose of the text, which is that of a promise, made both to SA’s international partners and to its own population. Section 6, Roles and Responsibilities, is highly argumentative and imposes the obligation to undertake action. It discusses the institutional, moral and practical constraints which determine who needs to do what together with whom, in order to deal with the CC challenges. Such a topic is contentious and thus susceptible to give rise to a number of diverging and converging voices, corresponding to different actors’ utterances and beliefs. We will come back to both sections in more detail.7

2 The narrative of the green paper: telling the story of climate change There are many kinds of narratives, from the storytelling by grandmother to grandchild via novels and films to comprehensive reports and papers on different factual topics. Why apply this perspective to a Green Paper? In the present case the Green Paper is a government document that details the specific challenges of CC and points out possible courses of action 6 For similar approaches undertaken on other political documents, see Fløttum 2010; Fløttum and Dahl 2011, 2012; Gjerstad 2011. 7 The Green Paper also comprises the following sections: Section 2, “The South African Climate Change Response Objective”, briefly lays out the dual priority of mitigation and adaptation, while section 3 enumerates six principles which guide the SA effort. Section 4 presents the CC “response strategy” in twelve bullet points. Section 5, “Policy Approaches and Actions”, is by far the most extensive, and covers roughly half of the document’s 41 pages. Section 7 concerns the “Institutional Framework for Coordination”, at different levels, while section 8 discusses “Inputs and resources mobilisation”, i.e. financial, human, technological and information resources. Finally, section 9 examines how the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures will be monitored, evaluated and reviewed.


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

in terms of policy, meant to stimulate discussion which may be a first step towards changing the law. Thus, from a theoretical point of view, the narrative perspective is very suitable with its inherent complication and action components (see below).8 Second, most people can understand and relate to the notion of narrative in different contexts. However, this notion has often been used in a rather non-critical way. Here we want to return to the classical narrative structure (studied mostly in fiction contexts). The structure of the narrative sequence has been discussed since ancient times, but different approaches tend to agree that there are five components (see Adam 2008): 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Initial situation (or orientation) Complication (creating difficulties; release mechanism) (Re-)action(s) Resolution (“dénouement”) Final situation

There may also be a moral or evaluation added to the narrative. For illustrative purposes, here is a short example of the macro-structure of a possible narrative sequence: (1) [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

CO2 emissions increased dramatically between 1990 and 2007, and global warming has caused serious problems in numerous regions. The UN organised an international summit in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP 15) to discuss action on CC. But the negotiating countries did not reach any binding agreement of measures to undertake. CC constitutes a serious threat to the Planet, and those who have contributed least to CC are the ones most vulnerable to the consequences.

In order to be characterised as a narrative, all 5 components are not obligatory. The core is constituted by the three middle factors, and among them, the complication is mandatory (Adam 1992: 46–63; Adam 2008: 144–149). It is important to note that Adam’s notion of narrative is text structural. According to his theory the narrative is one of four prototypical text sequences, the others being descriptive, explicative and argumentative sequences (Adam 2008). Similarly Filliettaz (2001) considers narrative discourse as the representation of a chain of events. These events must form a plot. This defines narrative discourse in opposition to descriptive and deliberative discourses, the latter being negatively defined as discourse which is neither descriptive nor narrative (ibid.: 322). Political texts such as the Green Paper could be characterised as more deliberative than narrative, as speakers and writers construct arguments, reformulations and comments to serve their rhetorical aims, and only occasionally employ storytelling. However, our hypothesis is that discussions on political problems and solutions are conceptualised as narratives, even though they may be structured as e.g. argument and conclusion, formulation and reformulation. The reason is that any political project is motivated by a state of affairs which needs to be preserved or altered in the face of natural or human adversity. Complications, reactions and resolutions thus appear to be inherent in the understanding of political issues, and it is this understanding which we aim to analyse here. 8

For a profound study of the narrative in political contexts, see Jones 2010. For the use of the narrative perspective on political voices in media contexts, see Eide et al. 2010. For a new volume on the narrative in various genres, including climate change discourse, see Gotti (In press).

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


Our working hypothesis is that in what we call CC narratives, the complication factor is typically CC itself. However, the complication can give rise to new complications, new stories (e.g. on economic and technological development). How this complication is framed, presented and related to other “complications” is one of the research challenges for humanistic and social fields. We should explore not only how CC is presented but also how new “stories” are constructed linguistically and discursively around the complication factor. Regarding components 3 (re-actions) and 4 (resolution), they can be realised to different degrees according to the situations, institutions, actors and voices involved. Component 1 (initial situation) may be present as a more or less focused introduction. Component 5 (final situation) may be substantiated in descriptions of how our world will develop if we undertake such and such action – or how our world will develop if we do nothing. In addition, ethical aspects are often integrated in CC narratives. In the above example, the last part of (5), the final situation, could be interpreted as an evaluation. As explained above, CC narratives are not identical to classical narratives such as for example fairy tales. However, there are certain crucial points that may be regarded as common. One important point is the overarching characteristic of narratives as having a plot (Adam 1992, 2008), i.e. they recount some kind of problem or complication, followed by a sequence of events or actions which take place to achieve some particular effect(s) (see Jones and McBeth 2010). Another general trait is the temporal sequence of events. A third and important trait is the presence of actors: hero(es), villain(s) and victim(s). In media studies, the interpretation of different actors has been important (Eide et al. 2010). Our use of the terms “hero”, “villain” and “victim” needs to be clarified in order to avoid a literary understanding of the concepts. In our approach, the hero is an actor who contributes positively in the plot, the villain has a negative impact on the course of events, while the victim suffers from negative impacts of events and actions. According to our underlying hypothesis, we expect to find some of the following traits in the Green Paper: The narrative has a plot to the extent that it recounts some kind of problem or complication (related to CC), with different kinds of actors (humans, nature, society, countries, presented explicitly or implicitly as heroes, victims or villains); the complication may be followed by a sequence of events or re-actions, or more often (explicit or implicit) recommendations or imperatives of actions, which (should) take place to achieve some particular effect(s) or final situation; and, according to different interpretations of the complication factor, ethical perspectives may be advanced. Now, let us pass to the analysis. Through the macro structural overview (see above) we get a first introduction to the “story” which is told in the Green Paper: CC constitutes the complication, and the major part of the document is devoted to responses to this, through proposed actions at different levels in the society and in the governmental structure. When we take a closer look, we also see that there is an initial situation underlining some of SA’s specificities, i.e. the contrast, linguistically marked by however, between the “Rainbow Nation” and the “developing country” with its many challenges (our emphasis in examples): (2)

South Africa is a mega-diverse country of immense natural beauty that is blessed with an abundance of natural mineral, fossil and renewable resources. South Africa’s physical assets are matched only by its people - a truly Rainbow Nation. However, South Africa is also a water-stressed developing country - still dealing with the legacy of apartheid, the challenge of poverty, and unemployment as well as the gap between rich and poor, low levels of education and the endeavour to deliver basic services to all its people. (p. 4)


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

This contrast, between the strong and the vulnerable SA, indicates already from the beginning a specific plot, which may take different orientations, emphasised in the following paragraph: (3)

South Africa is both a contributor to, and potential victim of, global climate change given that it has an energy-intensive, fossil-fuel powered economy and is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change. (p.4)

Being a contributor to global climate change, SA is in fact presented as a villain, but at the same time also as a victim. If we go deeper into the actor perspective, we see a third role in Section 5. Here the government (and not the nation of SA) takes on the role of hero, as the initiator of constructive policies. Interestingly, the approaches and actions for each socioeconomic sector are structured similarly, as explicated in the introduction of section 5: (i) firstly, a very brief description of the sector in a climate change context; (ii) bullet points on selected climate change impacts and/or implications for the sector; and (iii) numbered policy approaches and actions for each sector. This structuring of CC scenarios and policies constitutes a recurring narrative in which human actions lead to natural reactions, which in turn result in observed or anticipated human suffering, to be counteracted by government-initiated efforts. Thus, in this sense, the SA government attributes the role of hero to itself. But it is also noteworthy that – even though a self-assigned hero of the initiatives – the government allocates a major responsibility to the provincial and municipal government levels (see section 6, Roles and Responsibilities): (4)

[…], we must recognise that most of our climate adaptation and much of the mitigation efforts will take place at provincial and municipal levels […]. (p.31)

However, there is also, at least implicitly, a villain other than SA itself, indicated in the following interesting construction: (5)

Should multi-lateral international action not effectively limit the average global temperature increase to below at least 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, the potential impacts on South Africa in the medium- to long-term are significant and potentially catastrophic. (p.5)

This conditional expression introduced by “Should …” points to international action and agreement as a main factor for the situation in SA, to the extent that the real complication according to the government is the lack of a binding global agreement. The responsibility for this is put on “someone else” situated outside SA, while SA will make what is a “fair” contribution if the international society does what is expected at that level: (6)

[…], together with all the other countries responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and considering its developing country status, South Africa, as a responsible global citizen, is committed to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions in order to successfully facilitate the agreement and implementation of an effective and binding global agreement […]. The policy outlined in this Green Paper serves as the embodiment of the South African Government’s commitment to a fair contribution […]. (p.4)

It is interesting to note that the complication and reaction phases are very much developed in the Green Paper, while no specific final situation is outlined, except for what may happen

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


if different scenarios of temperature increases come true (p.5). But what will the undertaking of the proposed actions lead to? One would think a better SA – but for all?

3 The polyphony of the green paper 3.1 Main theoretical framework Having studied some narrative properties of the Green Paper at the textual macro-level, we now turn to the polyphonic (or multi-voiced) properties of the text at the micro-level. We argue that this polyphonic perspective has a value in itself by revealing implicit or hidden voices contributing to the argumentative strategy of the Green Paper. More importantly, when combined with the narrative analysis, as in the present paper, it constitutes an important support to the identification of different actors in the narrative plot. Our point of departure is ScaPoLine, the Scandinavian Theory of Linguistic Polyphony (Nølke et al. 2004).9 Inspired by the works of the French linguist Oswald Ducrot (1984) and the Russian philosopher Bakhtine (1984), the Scandinavian polyphonists start from the hypothesis that different linguistic markers signal the presence of points of view, or “voices”, other than that of the speaker at the time of the utterance. ScaPoLine is based on a conception of language as fundamentally dialogical in nature and thus presents itself as an alternative to the established idea of the uniqueness of the speaking subject. The speaking subject is not unique, in the sense that he/she/they can include other voices in one and the same utterance. Relevant research questions for the polyphonic perspective can be formulated as follows: Who says what and how, and how do different voices interact? One obvious marker of polyphony is reported speech (e.g. quotes). However, the advantage of the ScaPoLine approach is that it helps to reveal or unpack not only explicit voices, such as in reported speech, but also implicit voices, in a more or less hidden interaction through devices such as pronouns, sentence connectives, modal expressions, adverbs, negation, presupposition and information structure. When the polyphonic structure is identified, this opens up for possible interpretations, but also imposes interpretative constraints on the polyphonic configuration developed in a text. For illustrative purposes, we will show in a simplified way how the theory can be applied, by considering an example of polemic negation, with refutative meaning: (7)

Climate change impacts on human health will not be felt in isolation but will increase in magnitude and severity with corresponding impacts on biophysical, economic and social structures. (p.13) The negation serves to refute an implicit underlying point of view, from a non-identified voice: Non-identified voice: Climate change impacts on human health will be felt in isolation. Authors: This is unjustified.


This theory seeks to describe in detail the semantic complexity of linguistic polyphony. Its analytical apparatus therefore does not lend itself easily to the analysis of larger text segments. However, the ScaPoline also aims to build a bridge to the textual level and thus be complementary to the more discourse- or dialogically-oriented approaches (see Gjerstad 2011). Our analysis is situated within this framework, which leads us to choose a simplified approach, in terms of both the notions involved, and the level of linguistic details that we take into account.


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

The identity of the individual or collective behind the first voice is not given, but might be inferred with the help of co(n)textual knowledge. Thus, this construction allows for a subtle interaction where the speaker or writer does not have to spell out who is the source of the refuted point of view. We will now take a closer look at some of the polyphonic characteristics of the Introduction and the Roles and Responsibility sections of the Green Paper. 3.2 The voices of the introduction: constructing science and government as CC agents The introductory section comprises different polyphonic constructions, such as reported speech, concessions (through connectives however, notwithstanding, although), and presuppositions. In fact, right from the outset, the voice of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) is referred to explicitly: to set the situation, an external voice is integrated in what could be considered as a case of “argumentation by authority” (Ducrot 1984; Nølke et al. 2004): (8)

[…] Government accepts the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 4th Assessment Report that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that it is very likely that the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations is responsible for much of this warming trend since the mid twentieth century. (p.4)

Thus, the SA government includes an explicit external voice to corroborate their argumentation and thereby aligns with the authority of the IPCC. As such this international scientific body is assigned the role of producer of knowledge, which is in turn the starting point of government policy. In other words the IPCC is constructed as the hero who sounds the alarm. The voice of the IPCC, and that of climate science in general, continues to be implicitly present throughout the Introduction, as illustrated by the following example near the end: (9)

After 2050, warming is projected to reach around 3–4 °C along the coast, and 6–7 °C in the interior. (p.5)

The use of the passive (is projected) allows the authors to omit the agent, as in (9). It is not mentioned who projects the temperature increases, but the IPCC authority is clearly present, both in the surrounding text (co-text) and in the larger context, i.e. extra-linguistic knowledge mobilised for the interpretation. We have counted five other instances of passive clauses referring to scientific judgment or observations, in which the agent has been omitted (it has been predicted, are already being observed, it is also well established, has been observed, have been observed; p.5). As such, scientific observations and conclusions are constructed as credible in and of themselves. No supporting arguments are offered, and there is no mention of the source of the facts, except for one mention of the Global Atmosphere Watch station at Cape Point (p.5). Scientific voices are presented as impartial and “disinterested”. Let us now look at an example of concession: (10)

[…] although there will be costs associated with South Africa’s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, there will also be significant short and long term social and economic benefits, including improved international competitiveness that will result from a transition to a low carbon economy. Furthermore, that these costs will be far less than the costs of delay and inaction. (p.4)

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


The polyphony of a concession can be described as follows. The first argument (introduced by although) is conceded, meaning that it might correspond to a point of view that the authors agree with but do not see as the most important here and now. The second argument (starting with there will also be …) is the one that the authors identify with and which is emphasised as valid. More specifically, the second argument in (10) seems to be oriented towards the conclusion ‘action on CC is good for economic policy’ and serves to refute a possible conclusion which could be drawn from the first argument (the opposite: ‘action on CC is not good for economic policy’). Thus the concession lets the speaker admit to a point of view (introduced by although) without accepting its conclusion. This gives us the following polyphonic analysis: Non-identified voice: ‘there will be costs associated with South Africa’s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts’ Authors: ‘there will also be significant short and long term social and economic benefits, including […]’ The voice behind the first argument is not linguistically identifiable. However, it seems to correspond to a collective voice stemming from those who are preoccupied by the effects of emission reduction efforts. The second argument belongs to the authors, and refutes the conclusion which might be drawn from the first argument. Such a concessive structure (which can also be realised through frequently used connectives such as but and however) constitutes a useful strategic mechanism, as it lets the authors show that they take opposing arguments into consideration, while not having to accept opposing conclusions. In a narrative perspective, the authors admit to future problems (“there will be costs”) which could amount to a secondary complication caused by mitigation policies, were it not for the “long term social and economic benefits” of these efforts. The concessive structure could thus be considered as an implicit refutation of a competing narrative, belonging to an unidentified voice. Furthermore this voice could be interpreted as that of a villain, in light of the context in which strong economic interests are opposed to emissions restrictions. However the SA Government does not confront this villain directly, choosing instead to adopt their point of view while implicitly refuting their position on emissions. Which other voices and agents are manifested in the introduction of the Green Paper? Unsurprisingly, the SA Government is the primary voice and agent. Its agency is two-fold, centred on its international as well as domestic responsibilities (the latter being predominant, as the Green Paper concerns domestic policy). In this respect, there is also a construction of consensus, through the use of presuppositions, that the Government is a responsible and dedicated agent for positive change: (11) With this, Government will continue to engage actively and meaningfully in international climate change negotiations, specifically the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, in order to secure a binding, multi-lateral international agreement […].(p.4) Through the use of the verb continue, the authors presuppose that the government has already started to “engage actively and meaningfully in international climate change negotiations”. A presupposition is an underlying content which is taken for granted, exempted from discussion (see Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2002), thus belonging to a collective voice. The effect of such a presupposition is not only presenting it as given, but also to construct it as accepted by the recipient. In (11), there is an implicit collective voice, according to which ‘the South African Government already engages actively and meaningfully […]’. Integrating a positive self-representation by means of presupposition can be rhetorically effective, as


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

such linguistic content is backgrounded and thus not easily refutable. It is clearly a mechanism for imposing consensus, by burying controversial “truths” in the semantic structure of the utterance. Thus in (11) the government’s role of hero, a stable benign actor in both past and present, is taken for granted and constitutes a point of view which is attributed as much to the readers as to the authors of the document. On the other hand, the introduction contains no polemic negations implying any sort of controversies. In this respect, it appears to be constructing a consensus by employing concessions, presuppositions, and by refraining from the use of polemic negations (and thus overt polemics). Summing up The challenge of climate change is presented through a voice of authority, namely that of the IPCC. We have also seen that the government portrays itself as a committed actor. The existence of this agency role is presupposed (see (11)), which serves to impose a consensus regarding the quality of the government’s ongoing efforts. The construction of consensus is further compounded by concessions and the near absence of polemic negations and thus refutations. This consensus reflects a near absence of villains, save for the concession to the voice of the implicit anti-emissions villain (see example (11)). The government and the IPCC are thus the main heroes, playing different parts in the narrative of CC documentation, mitigation and adaptation. 3.3 The voices of section 6, roles and responsibilities: constructing consensus in the face of conflict Moving on to section 6, Roles and responsibilities, we can expect to find more specific representations of agency, which may be related to the narrative interpretation. In our polyphonic perspective, we ask the following question: Is there a continued emphasis on consensus, or do the authors make room for opposing views and conflicting interests, when discussing a potentially contentious topic? Which actors can the polyphonic analysis help to unveil? Contrary to the introduction, section 6 comprises several occurrences of the pronouns we and our (seven each), many of which can be interpreted as referring to the South African people. There is a discursive construction of a national collective, with common interests and responsibilities, as explicated in the following example: (12)

Given this, we must see climate change as all of our business. (p.31)

In terms of agency, the use of the pronoun we serves to construct a common responsibility related to climate change. However, as indicated in the title of section 6, there are several roles and responsibilities. The main actors are the public sector on the one hand, and industry and business, organised labour and civil society on the other Now, how does the text argue for roles and responsibilities? The section starts with a concessive structure concerning the question of agency, and which aims to correct a potential erroneous assumption on the part of the recipients: (13)

Although climate change and our response to climate change will directly alter the environment in which we live and work […] and will change how we live and work […], it does not change what work is done or needs to be done and neither does it change who should be doing it. For example, if a national department is responsible for the development of national energy policy, within a changing climate and our response to it, that department will remain responsible for the development of national energy policy. (p.31)

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


As explained in the interpretation of example (10), the concessive construction lets the speaker admit to a point of view (introduced by although) without accepting its implicit conclusion. For the authors, what counts here and now is the argument starting with it does not change […]. Let us now take a closer look at this second argument, containing a negation. This negation could be analysed not as polemical but corrective in that it helps reject (real or potential) misconceptions or beliefs which are erroneous. Our interpretation is supported by the subsequent utterance, which begins with for example, and which serves to explain in further detail what kind of work the authors have in mind. Thus there is a virtual dialogue between the authors and the recipients.10 The authors take on the role of technocratic experts, the hero leading the effort, while the recipients appear as in need of additional information. (13’) – Although (unidentified voice:) climate change and our response to climate change will directly alter the environment in which we live and work and will change how we live and work, (authors:) it does not change what work is done or needs to be done and neither does it change who should be doing it. (recipients:) – Could you be more specific? (authors:) – For example, if a national department is responsible for the development of national energy policy, within a changing climate and our response to it, that department will remain responsible for the development of national energy policy. After this introductory explanation, the authors proceed to lay out the role of government, at national, provincial and municipal levels, as well as that of government departments and state owned enterprises. This is done through the use of deontic modality, i.e. expressions which may signal permission, volition or obligation (Lyons 1977). In the following examples it is obligation which is expressed: (14)


[…] we must recognise that most of our climate adaptation and much of the mitigation efforts will take place at provincial and municipal levels […]. It is imperative that we recognise the centrality of all three spheres of government in addressing climate change and that necessary support is provided for this. (p.31) […] all three spheres of government, all government departments and all state owned enterprises must – by 2012 conduct a review of all policies, strategies, legislation, regulations and plans […]to ensure full alignment with the National Climate Change Response Policy. (p.31)

When expressing an obligation, the authors presuppose the feasibility of the actions. In polyphonic terms, there is a collective voice according to which ‘the actors are capable of accomplishing the task in question’. There is thus not only an imposition of responsibility, but a construction of a common point of view regarding the competence of public actors and institutions. Interestingly, the commanding tone resulting from the use of deontic modality is counterbalanced by praise. The following example contains two presuppositions (marked in bold) of the important and constructive roles played by the different spheres of government:


Bres and Nowakowska (2008) show that such virtual question-answer interactions between author and reader can appear through phenomena such as exemplification (which is the case in (13)), reformulation and retroactive argumentation.



Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

It is imperative that we recognise the centrality of all three spheres of government in addressing climate change and that necessary support is provided for this. In particular we should recognise the valuable work that has already been done by many municipalities and provinces in relation to addressing climate change […] (p.31)

As mentioned above, presuppositions have the dual effect of imposing a collective point of view and not being easily refutable. The praise, which constructs government partners as heroes, is reinforced by the fact that the authors present the important and positive role of all three spheres of government as accepted by a collective voice, i.e. taken for granted and not subject to debate. When presenting the role of social partners (industry and business; organised labour and civil society), the text becomes less authoritative than in (14) and (15), which is reflected by a marked reduction in the use of deontic expressions. Government here emphasises that its CC strategy is to be “implemented in partnership with the South African people” (p.21) and further develops a representation of business as an active and positive agent: (17)

Business will also continue with initiatives to engage international counterparts in the climate change debate to ensure that the interests of business in the developing world are well understood and to encourage its members to increase participation in voluntary climate change response […]. (p.31)

As in example (11), the verb continue in (17) leads to the presupposition that the process has already begun, and thus to a positive portrayal of the role played by business. It is notable that the authors use the future tense (will continue), as opposed to explicit markers of deontic modality, such as should and must. Summing up the polyphonic analysis of section 6, Roles and responsibilities, we argue that the government constructs itself as a technocratic authority, by correcting erroneous points of view and answering potential questions which the intended recipients might ask themselves. We also see that institutional or national collective agency is constructed through the use of both concessions and the pronoun we, representing a collective voice. Furthermore, there are several presuppositions which serve to impose a collective agreement on the positive roles played by public and private sector agents and institutions. Such a strategy might reflect a need to flatter and encourage potential partners (thereby constructing new heroes), in order to secure their consent and future collaboration as well as to mitigate the commanding tone conveyed by the deontic expressions of obligation. There are thus no villains. The government, business and civil society are all heroes playing different parts in the narrative of CC mitigation and adaptation.

4 Final remarks In this paper we have shown that the narrative-polyphonic properties of the Green Paper can be seen as a strategy for building consensus on CC policy. The narrative analysis also indicates that the SA government assumes a triple role for South Africa – as victim, villain and hero. However, when combining the narrative with the polyphonic perspective, the SA government appears first and foremost as a particularly engaged actor, thus as the hero of its own narrative. More precisely, we see that in the introduction section the voice of the IPCC plays the role of “assisting storyteller”, constituting an authority in the complication component of the

Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430


narrative, which tells us about the causes and consequences of climate change. This motivates the government’s promise of action, which is developed as part of the narrative’s reaction and resolution components in the section on Roles and responsibilities. In this section the government constructs itself as the technocratic expert who leads the effort, and who acknowledges the efforts and contributions of other social actors and institutions. More particularly as regards the polyphony, we have shown that the Green Paper has introduced different voices, to a certain extent representing competing interests through the use of polemic negation. However, the dominant polyphonic constructions do not convey overt polemics. The authors use more subtle forms of interaction with different and typically non-identified voices, such as concessive constructions and presuppositions. This justifies our overarching interpretation of the whole document as striving to impose a South African consensus. This said, it should not come as a surprise that the Government avoids an overt and directly polemic style, as it needs to create a climate of collaboration. A Green Paper is usually seen as a first step in developing laws and budgetary priorities. Further studies should be undertaken to examine to what extent the public consultation, mostly organised through provincial workshops, led to changes in the South-African government policy related to climate change. These consultations resulted in the publication of a White Paper, published in late 2011. We have recently completed a study of this text, in which we conclude that the poor are given no active role and guaranteed very few legal rights in the face of present and future CC challenges (Fløttum and Gjerstad forthcoming). It would also be interesting to compare these two texts with similar documents produced in countries that are comparable to the Republic of South Africa. We hope to have shown that national governments have major challenges both in interpreting findings and projections of climate sciences and in transmitting this together with what is judged to be necessary actions to the heterogeneous audiences with their different world views, values, interests and needs. It is also our conviction that language use plays a crucial role in this, and that more research is needed in this domain, preferably in an interdisciplinary collaboration between humanistic, social and natural sciences.

References Adam J-M (1992) Les textes: types et prototypes. Nathan, Paris Adam J-M (2008) La linguistique textuelle. Introduction à l’analyse textuelles des discourse, 2nd edn. Armand Colin, Paris Bakhtine M (1984 [1952]) Les genres du discours. Esthétique de la création verbale. Gallimard, Paris, pp 265–308 Bowman TE et al (2009) Creating a common climate language. Science 3:36–37 Boykoff MT (2011) Who speaks for the climate? making sense of media reporting on climate change. CUP, Cambridge Bres J, Nowakowska A (2008) J’exagère ?… Du dialogisme interlocutif. In: Birkelund M, Hansen M-B, Norén C (eds) L’énonciation dans tous ses états. Peter Lang, Bern, pp 1–27 Budescu DV, Broomell S, Por H-H (2009) Improving communication of uncertainty in the reports of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Psychol Sci 20(3):299–308 Climatic Change (2011) vol 108 Ducrot O (1984) Le dire et le Dit. Minuit, Paris Eide E, Kunelius R, Kumpu V (eds) (2010) Global climate, local journalisms. A transnational study of how media make sense of climate summits. Projekt Verlag, Bochum Filliettaz L (2001) L’organisation séquentielle et l’organisation compositionnelle. In: Roulet E, Filliettaz L, Grobet A (eds) Un modèle et un instrument d’analyse de l’organisation du discours, 307–350 Fløttum K (2010) A linguistic and discursive view on climate change discourse. La revue du GERAS. ASp 58:19–37


Climatic Change (2013) 118:417–430

Fløttum K, Dahl T (2011) Climate change discourse: scientific claims in a policy setting. Fachsprache 3– 4:205–219 Fløttum K, Dahl T (2012) Different contexts, different “stories”? A linguistic comparison of two development reports on climate change. Language and Communication 32(1):14–21 Fløttum K, Gjerstad Ø (Forthcoming) The role of poverty and social justice in South Africa’s “National Climate Change Response White paper” Gasper D, PortoCarrero AV, St. Clair AL (2011) Climate Change and Development Framings: A comparative analysis of the Human Development Report 2007/8 and the World Development Report 2010. Institute of Social Studies, Working paper No 528, The Hague Giddens A (2009) The politics of climate change. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA, US Gjerstad Ø (2011) La polyphonie discursive. Pour un dialogisme ancré dans la langue et dans l’interaction. Doctoral dissertation. University of Bergen, Bergen Gotti M (Ed) (In press) Narratives in Academic and Professional Genres, P. Lang, Bern (2012) Gross AG (1994) The roles of rhetoric in the public understanding of science. Public Underst Sci 3:3–23 Hulme M (2009) Why we disagree about climate change. CUP, Cambridge Jones MD (2010) Heroes and Villains: Cultural Narratives, Mass Opinions and Climate Change, Doctoral dissertaion available at Jones MD, McBeth MK (2010) A narrative policy framework: clear enough to be wrong? Policy Stud J 38 (2):329–353 Kerbrat-Orecchioni C (2002) Présupposé, présupposition. In: Charaudeau P, Maingueneau D (eds) Dictionnaire d’analyse du discourse. Seuil, Paris, pp 467–469 Lyons J (1977) Semantics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Malone EL (2009) Debating climate change. EarthScan, London Nerlich B, Koteyko N, Brown B (2010) Theory and language of climate change communication. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 1(1):97–110 Nølke H, Fløttum K, Norén C (2004) ScaPoLine. La théorie scandinave de la polyphonie linguistique. Kimé, Paris Patt A, Schrag DP (2003) Using specific language to describe risk and probability. Clim Chang 61:17–30 Philander SG (2009) Where are you from? Why are you here? An African perspective on global warming. Ann Rev Earth Planet Sci 37:1–18 Zehr SC (2000) Public representations of scientific uncertainty about global climate change. Public Underst Sci 9:85–103