Archive for the 'Climate Policy Analysis' Category

How Optimism and Pessimism Shape Our Views on Climate Policy—Part II: Evidence

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

In my first post on this topic, I explored how optimism and pessimism can influence policy preferences for dealing with climate change. I mentioned two key issues relating to policy choices: 1) society’s sensitivity to earth system disturbance, and 2) our potential to mitigate. Each can be viewed with optimism or pessimism, which leads to four possible perspectives: the true optimists, true pessimists, earth system optimists (who are mitigation pessimists), and mitigation optimists (who are earth system pessimists).

Today I’ll focus on the evidence that can support or diminish the standing of each of the four perspectives. (more…)

Designing Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy

Friday, December 7th, 2007

The 2007 UN-sponsored climate change negotiations opened in Bali, Indonesia this week. By the end of the conference on December 14, the world community may agree to a two-year “roadmap,” as called for by the UN Secretary-General, for negotiating an agreement to guide climate change mitigation efforts after the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s 2008-2012 commitment period. A number of academics, analysts, nongovernmental organizations and related processes have proposed various ways of moving forward with international climate change policy, including the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Dialogue at Pocantico, the UN Foundation and the Club of Madrid’s Global Leadership for Climate Action, and the Centre for Global Studies’ L20 concept of engaging the most important developed and developing countries on this issue, which is similar to the Bush Administration’s Big Economies process. (more…)


Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Readers of may remember a four-volume assessment of the social science research relevant to global climate change that appeared about a decade ago, entitled Human choice and climate change, edited by Steve Rayner and Elizabeth L. Malone. If not, here’s a bit of background. This was a truly extraordinary effort, centered on a Vancouver meeting in 1997, and involving more than one hundred contributors. Especially intriguing was a small satellite document issued with the assessment entitled “Ten suggestions for policymakers.” To quote Rayner and Malone:

“What can public and private decisionmakers learn from a wide-ranging look at the social sciences and the issue of human choice and climate change that illuminates the evaluation of policy goals, implementation strategies, and choices about paths forward? At present, proposed policies are heavily focused on the development and implementation of intergovernmental agreements on immediate emissions reductions. In the spirit of cognitive and analytic pluralism that has guided the creation of Human choice and climate change, we look beyond the present policy priorities to see if there are adjustments, or even wholesale changes, to the present course that could be made on the basis of a social science perspective. To this end we offer ten suggestions to complement and challenge existing approaches to public and private sector decisionmaking: (more…)


Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

This post identifies real and perceived risks of climate policy and explores ways to minimize those risks. I’ll focus on four risks:

1) Damage to the economy as a whole
2) Damage to some sectors within the economy
3) Lost opportunities from the investment of limited resources on climate change
4) Potential political costs of supporting climate policy

Most risks, perceived & real, can be managed well but not all can be eliminated entirely. (more…)

Cap-and-Trade vs. Emission Tax – Design Issues

Monday, August 20th, 2007

The cost and environmental efficacy of either a cap-and-trade program or an emission tax will depend on several important design issues: the point of regulation; the coverage of emission sources; “complementary” programs; and possible hybrid policies that integrate elements of both approaches.

Point of regulation. It would be infeasible to regulate all greenhouse gas emissions at the very point where they enter the atmosphere – monitors will not be placed on every car and truck tailpipe, every home that heats with natural gas or heating oil, as well as every smokestack in the industrial and electricity sectors. One approach – often referred to as upstream regulation – would impose the emission tax or the requirement to hold permits on energy suppliers, such as at coal mines, natural gas wellheads, petroleum product refineries and importers. The carbon content of all fossil fuels that enter the U.S. energy system would be covered by this approach. This approach would be administratively simple and straightforward because it accounts for almost all U.S. CO2 emissions (more than 98 percent) by focusing on a relatively small number of firms; incorporates existing monitoring and measurement of fuel supplies; and takes advantage of the fundamental molecular properties of fossil fuels that allow for precise measurement of emissions based on the physical amounts of these fuels. (more…)

Cap-and-Trade vs. Emission Tax – Differences

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Building on my previous posts in this series providing an overview of cap-and-trade and emission taxes and a discussion of their similarities, this post illustrates some of the differences between cap-and-trade and an emission tax: the trade-off between cost certainty and emissions certainty, incentives for R&D, and revenue generation.

Cost certainty versus emissions certainty. In an uncertain world, it is impossible to design a policy that simultaneously guarantees an emissions outcome at a certain cost. An emission tax provides cost certainty – the incremental increase in energy prices is transparent and fixed under a tax – while cap-and-trade provides emissions certainty by capping aggregate emissions. Under a tax, emissions in aggregate can vary depending on the realized costs of abatement (that cannot be predicted ex ante with certainty), economic growth, relative changes in energy prices unrelated to a carbon policy, etc. These factors can likewise drive the variation in costs under a cap-and-trade program. (more…)


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Working Group III’s (WG-III) contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report, “Mitigation of Climate Change,” earlier this month with the Summary for Policymakers and the pre-copy edit chapters. The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing last week with four WG-III lead authors. Let me address some questions policymakers may have about climate change policy and how the IPCC WG-III report addresses them.

How should we choose a goal? (more…)


Monday, April 30th, 2007

One of the most paralyzing obstacles to adopting climate policies is the genuine need for (and difficulty getting) international cooperation on efforts to reduce emissions. As I discussed in my previous post, perceptions can differ over how strongly and when different countries need to act. Nevertheless, eventually all nations will have to constrain and reduce their emissions if we’re going to stop the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Nations that refuse to do their fair share will make climate policies less effective and harder to implement for everyone else.

Today I’ll briefly mention two strategies for encouraging international cooperation on emissions reductions: 1) national approaches that automatically respond to international efforts, and 2) trade penalties for countries that subsidize their industries’ greenhouse gas emissions. (more…)


Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Hello. This is my first blog for First, I want to thank the organizers and the AMS for asking me. Second, as introduction, what I will write about here follows from a class that I have been teaching the last two years at U of Michigan. This class throws all of the pieces out there, science, policy, business, ethics, public health, geo-engineering, energy, current law, beliefs, etc., and tries to look as these pieces as a system. We have projects where we try to develop solutions, or at least strategies to develop solutions. More thanks – I want to thank my excellent students, the guest lecturers in the course, and many seminar speakers who come through the university.

For my first entry I will write about the intersection between climate science and policy. If we look at the development of climate knowledge from scientific investigation, then there are two types of knowledge. The first type of knowledge is a quantitative representation of climate parameters and their correlated behavior. An example of this type of knowledge is a prediction of the temperature, and it is the prediction of rapidly warming temperature that motivates the possibility of climate policy. The other type of knowledge is an estimate of uncertainty. Good scientific method is always accompanied by an analysis of error sources and some measure of the uncertainty. Uncertainty can always be used to prevent the development of policy. Therefore, the idea of climate science as a constant march to reduce uncertainty in our statements of predicted climate change is not very well posed. There is always uncertainty, and in complex systems, we discover new sources of uncertainty. Hence, there is always a reservoir of uncertainty to keep policy from converging around the gravity of scientific evidence. (more…)

Uncertainty and Climate Risk Assessment

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007


Risk is often thought of as the product of consequences and likelihood—what can happen, and what are the odds of it happening. Both of these factors are important in determining whether and how we address specific risks. For example, even though the consequences of an asteroid colliding with the Earth would be catastrophic, the likelihood of it happening is extremely low in a time frame relevant to human society, and therefore, while we pay attention to the possibility, we generally focus on other concerns that may have fewer consequences, but have a much higher likelihood of occurring.

Projections of future climate change and climate impacts are inherently uncertain. To be clear, the question is not whether the climate will continue to warm, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that temperatures will continue to rise globally as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, the question is how much the climate will warm, how fast, and what the impacts will be. In very general terms, climate policy is about managing risk: assessing the potential impacts of climate change, judging how likely it is that various impacts will occur, and determining how our policy choices (discussed broadly here) will affect those risks. Uncertainty is a critical factor in assessing both climate risks and the effectiveness of different policy strategies. (more…)