Archive for the 'Climate Policy Overview' Category

How to Prevent Climate Change Summit from Failure

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

In December 2009, the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Copenhagen. Their aim will be to conclude an agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which terminates in 2012. Given the abysmal failure of Kyoto one may be permitted to ask, Will Copenhagen succeed any better? The answer depends on expectations of what can be achieved in this short amount of time; the answer depends on how “success” is defined.

It is easier to define failure. Most climate watchers would define failure to mean lack of an agreement by states to “commit” to limiting their emissions dramatically. I would define failure to mean repeating the mistakes made in Kyoto in 1997. The worst outcome would be for the United States to “commit” to meet quantitative targets and timetables of emission reduction without being sure that these obligations will be approved by Congress. (more…)

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…)

How Optimism and Pessimism Shape Our Views on Climate Policy—Part I

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist probably influences your views on how society should deal with climate change. Today I hope to open a running discussion that explores how our outlook affects our climate policy preferences.

I see two key areas where our views on climate policy may be influenced by whether we’re optimists or pessimists. (more…)

Science in the policy process: rational decision-making or Faustian bargain?

Monday, August 4th, 2008

As a scientist who works on policy, my mantra is, “public policy advances the interests of society most effectively when it is grounded in the best available knowledge.” It is, in my view, a logical philosophy for someone trained in science and committed to the advancement of science in society. Science provides us with an understanding of the universe and can thereby underpin rational and informed decision-making. Without a rational basis, our choices are left to rely on superstition, guesses, or narrow interests—key ingredients to outcomes that are sub-optimal.

Yet colleagues from both the science and policy communities often seem to challenge this view, at least implicitly, when confronted with the most contentious and challenging issues facing society. Most recently, several have questioned my efforts to develop a workshop series on Federal climate policy—and thereby contribute to a more fully informed policy discussion—because the series will include some contentious topics (e.g., carbon fees and geo-engineering) that, if implemented rashly, could pose dangers to society. (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…)

Cap-and-Trade vs. Emission Tax – Similarities

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Cap-and-trade programs and emission taxes share several important similarities, including incentives for cost-effective mitigation, increasing energy prices, and raising revenues (assuming an auction in the cap-and-trade program).

Cost-Effective Mitigation. Cap-and-trade programs and emission taxes promote cost-effective emission mitigation by ensuring that every source of emissions faces the same marginal cost of abatement. Under an emission tax, firms should abate emissions until the last ton of abatement is equal to the tax. If they abate less than this amount, then they would make tax payments on some tons of emissions in excess of what it would have cost to abate those tons. If they abate more than this amount, then it would have cost more to abate some of those tons than it would by paying taxes on them. In a similar fashion under cap-and-trade, covered firms would make abatement decisions based on the clearing price of allowances in the market. If they can abate more tons for less than the current market price, then they would do so and sell any excess allowances. If they cannot, then they would buy additional allowances from the market at a lower cost than the emissions abatement would have cost. (more…)

Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.

In the first blog of this series, I posed that addressing the climate change problem required a sustained diligence of management. In setting the foundation for that management, I maintained it was important to embrace a portfolio of approaches to the problems and the development of a portfolio of policies and practices that comprise the “solution” to the problem. There are both short-term and long-term considerations, and policies and practices that are part of the short-term may or may not be sustained in the long term.

The climate change problem does not reside in isolation. Concerns about climate change follow from easy consumption of fossil fuels. The climate change problem is tightly correlated with energy use and, therefore, economic success. Energy demand and energy policy are controversial issues independent of any concerns about climate change. Because the time scales of the energy problem are short and because the economic implications are large and tangible, it is natural for energy issues to take prominence over the climate issues. Alternatively, because many of our approaches to address the energy problem are also beneficial to the climate problem, it is easy to fall into the comfort that the climate problem will be solved as a residue of our addressing the energy problem. Energy policy and energy security sit along with climate change as major national and international issues, and solutions to the energy problem do not necessarily address the climate problem. (more…)

Climate Management 101 — 1. A portfolio of approaches and solutions.

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Climate Management 101 — 1. A portfolio of approaches and solutions.

When I worked at NASA most of the scientists had the following statement in their position description, “Solving complex problems with no known solutions.” I’m sure that most of us just looked at this as a set of words contrived in the distance past by human resources. Ultimately I ended up a manager, and by my nature, a student of management. This is first of a series of blogs that consider the “climate change problem” as the management of a complex problem with no known solution.

At the beginning of addressing such a problem, it is important to take an inventory of what you know, and to separate what you know from what you believe and what you think should happen. In the inventory of what you know it is necessary to identify the external factors or communities that are related to or have a vested interest in your problem. For climate change, these externalities would include, for example, energy, public health, and religion. It is also useful to place your problem into the set of similar scale problems, for example, control and treatment of AIDS. This leads to the identification of a system of strongly and weakly interrelated problems, which are each to their own, also complex systems. (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…)