Governments broadly recognize the risks posed by climate change. From the local to the international level, many governments have considered and adopted policies designed to limit the magnitude of climate change and adapt to its expected impacts. Consequently, better understanding of climate policies is paramount to inform public- and private-sector decisions regarding climate change. Policy options are many and complex. For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies six basic forms of policy instruments intended to directly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 53 different proposals for structuring international agreements to limit climate change (Gupta et al., 2007; see also Aldy and Stavins, 2007). Climate policies for adaptation are less well developed and mostly codified at the international level through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol (see also NRC, 2010a). Understanding how well implemented policies are working, or how proposed policies will work, requires scientific research on both current and possible future climate policies.
In general, how a policy actually works depends to some degree on all aspects of institutional design and on interaction with other policies and actors in the decision environment (Hill and Hupe, 2009; Mazmanian and Sabatier, 1981; Pressman and Wildavsky, 1984; Sabatier, 1986; Scheberle, 2004; Victor et al., 1998). Thus, questions that decision makers are asking, or will be asking, about climate policy include the following:
• What are the potential consequences of different GHG emissions-reduction targets—both in terms of climate change-related impacts and in terms of costs, feasibility, and other socioeconomic factors?
• What are the advantages and disadvantages of different policy instruments designed to pursue emissions targets, including their expected effectiveness, cost, robustness, adaptability, administrative burden, and distributional effects across different sectors, regions, and groups?
• What insights can scientific research and analysis provide about interactions (and especially the potential for conflict) among different climate-related policies? Are there policies that can contribute to both limiting climate change and adapting to its impacts? How can we avoid the potential for one type of policy to undermine another?
• How should different preferences across different sections of society be weighed? Who stands to gain and who stands to lose under different kinds of climate policies? How will climate policies interact with other policy objectives, such as moving toward sustainability?
• What does science tell us about building political support for policy implementation?
This chapter summarizes the scientific aspects of climate policy, including how science can contribute to policy design as well as its implementation and evaluation. Strengths and weaknesses of different policy approaches have been examined substantially in the scientific literature, and this chapter provides an overview of the general conclusions that have been reached by the IPCC and others as a prelude to identifying key areas for further research. For an actual assessment of current policies being considered in the United States to limit the magnitude of future climate change, see the companion report Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (NRC, 2010c); for a more detailed description of potential policy approaches related to adaptation to climate change, see the companion report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (NRC, 2010a). The companion report Informing Effective Decisions Related to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b) also contains a detailed treatment and analysis of various policy mechanisms, as well as other approaches for improving climate-related decision making. The last section of the chapter summarizes research that is needed to support understanding of the interaction of climate change with natural and social systems, as well as policy design and implementation.
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