Research Needs

As scientific knowledge and public awareness about the potential consequences of climate change have grown, the nation and the world have moved from trying to decide whether or not to have climate policy to trying to decide what policies will most effectively limit the magnitude of future climate change and help populations and their infrastructure adapt to its impacts. Scientific analysis can inform this discussion by elucidating the factors that influence the adoption, implementation, and effectiveness of both domestic and international agreements. This research includes improving methods for quantifying and comparing benefits, costs, and risks associated with climate change and climate policies; developing methods for analyzing complex policies and combinations of policies; learning how to design policies that work at multiple levels of governance; and examining climate policies in a broad context, including overall sustainability goals, concerns with equity, and relationships with an array of nonclimate policies. The challenges are substantial but so are the opportunities for both advancing science and gaining scientific knowledge that contributes to effective policy making. Some specific research needs include the following.

Continue to improve understanding of what leads to the adoption and implementation of international agreements on climate and other environmental issues and on what forms of these agreements are most effective at achieving their goals. Given the current state of our understanding of international agreements on climate and sustainability, the International Human Dimensions Programme (Biermann et al., 2009a, 2010), previous NRC reports (NRC, 2005a), and others (Young et al., 2008) have considered research needs. Drawing on these, we identify five key research questions in this area:

• How do multiple international agreements interact with each other and with public and private policies at the national, regional, and local levels?

• How are international agreements and their implementation influenced by and how do they influence nongovernmental actors, such as private firms and nongovernmental organizations?

• How can international agreements utilize an adaptive risk-management approach to responding to climate change?

• How can accountability and legitimacy of international agreements and the mechanisms that implement them be ensured?

• How can international agreements best take account of fairness and equity concerns?

Develop protocols, institutions, and technologies for monitoring and verifying compliance with international agreements. In addition to research on international agreements, decisions about participating in such agreements need to be made with full awareness of the institutional and technological capabilities for monitoring and verifying that participants to the agreement are fulfilling their commitments, and for informing future policy changes or refinements in an adaptive risk-management framework. Observations of GHG emissions and concentrations are an especially pressing need and are the subject of a recent NRC study (see NRC, 2010k). A system of observations and measurements designed to support international agreements or financial transactions (for example, a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions) will likely have to meet a higher level of scrutiny than systems used purely for scientific research. In particular, systems to support treaty compliance need to pay special attention to data surety, authentication, reliability, accuracy, and transparency. For use in verification, GHG measurements must be accurate and have sufficient spatial and temporal coverage to distinguish human emissions from natural background variations. An additional and related concern relates to the need to monitor what different actors, including states and private organizations, are doing and how it interplays and affects overall policy goals. For example, a single country or even a private organization may attempt to implement large-scale solar radiation management (see Chapter 15). Observing systems designed to monitor and verify treaty compliance could also be used to monitor and support evaluations of the direct impacts and unintended consequences of such approaches. Better measurements will need to be integrated with a better understanding of how standards and certification can be used effectively to encourage compliance. Research is also needed on the links among measurements, effective enforcement strategies, and standards and certification.

Continue to improve methods for estimating costs, benefits, and cost effectiveness. Research on valuation is advancing in part through improved methodologies for eliciting stated preferences, especially through methods that draw on approaches from decision sciences (such as making valuation a problem for public deliberation) and in part by the accumulation of more valuation studies that make integration and cross-study comparisons (or meta-analyses) feasible. Finding appropriate discount rates and identifying appropriate ways to handle equity effects of climate policies are in part public choices, but a program of scientific analysis can both identify better ways to handle these issues in benefit-cost and cost-effectiveness analyses and develop tools for better assessing the appropriate values to use, including valid and reliable methods of eliciting preferences. Better characterization of uncertainty across all aspects of climate change science and better integration of uncertainty into analytical tools are also extremely important for improving policy design. Finally, better understanding and modeling of technological innovation could lead to more realistic estimation of costs.

Develop methods for analyzing complex, hybrid policies. Real policies include many complexities that address the needs and concerns of diverse sectors, regions, and interests. As a result, nearly all policies are hybrids that involve some elements of regulation and standards, some aspect of market incentives, and some degree of voluntary action on the part of individuals, firms, governments, and communities. Most existing policy analysis tools, such as benefit-cost analysis, were developed to examine simple policies that use a single modality to influence behavior, what might be termed an "ideal type" or "pure form" policy. However, in reality, many policies are complex. To provide useful analysis to decision makers shaping policy, scientists need to analyze the costs, benefits, and risks associated with complex hybrid forms of policy, which can sometimes be done with extensions of existing quantitative tools but may often require new, more advanced tools. Chapter 4 of the report discusses some of the tools currently available and under development that can be applied to this task.

Further understanding of how institutions interact in the context of multilevel governance and adaptive management. Recent research suggests that polycen-tric approaches to policy may be well suited to adaptive risk management. However, the interaction of multiple policies with multiple goals and approaches to affecting change, adopted and implemented in multiple contexts, can also lead to less-than-ideal results, and even situations where the outcome is wholly ineffective or even harmful. For example, policies that will change or affect water resource distributions across a multistate watershed (such as the Colorado River) will require enormous coordination among the affected states but will also have important implications for different water-dependent sectors (including agriculture, energy, flood management, industry and urban water users, and ecosystem managers) within any one state. Research is needed to characterize how policies interact across scales and intentions and to diagnose forms of policies that are most and least effective when implemented in the context of other policies. In addition, the problem of effectively linking scientific analysis to public deliberation becomes much more complex when there are multiple stakeholder groups involved, and especially when some of them reflect primarily local interests and perspectives while others are national or even global interests and perspectives (NRC, 2008h).

Develop analytical approaches that examine and evaluate climate policy taking into account its full range of effects including those on human well-being and ecosystems integrity, unintended consequences and equity effects. Policies rarely if ever do only one thing and rarely if ever affect everyone equally. Climate policy must be considered in the larger context of sustainable development (e.g., World Bank, 2009), and doing so will require assessment of the full range of effects of climate policy on human well-being and ecosystem health. Also needed are better metrics for comparing different outcomes, as noted above, and especially because regions, sectors, regions, local communities, and even different groups within communities will be differentially vulnerable to climate change and efforts to limit and adapt to it (see Chapter 16). It is also important to consider equity across social groups and time, so that current efforts to limit or adapt to climate change do not have major negative effects on human well-being and ecosystem health in several decades or centuries. Since equity effects are major elements in both the domestic and international debates about climate policy, a sounder understanding of these issues would aid in both the design of policy and in moving toward adoption and implementation.

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