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Climate policy – why is it so complex? Help!

Bruce Rowse

As I’ve researched the field of carbon policy over the last few months I’ve been daunted by the complexity of this area. Huge effort has gone into developing climate policy, but it can be so complex that its hard to make sense of.

Below I briefly outline the big picture I’m developing.

Firstly, whilst the terms carbon policy and climate change policy may be used interchangeably, climate policy generally has more of a government or international focus, whereas the term carbon policy may apply at the governmental area, it also can apply to the policies of large organisations. So the capabilities of organisation’s offering carbon policy services can differ quite a bit from those offering climate policy services. A carbon policy consultant may offer to help an organisation develop its own carbon abatement policies, a climate policy consultant will generally be more focussed on advice to governments.

The real interest of this blog is in government policy, and it would be better named as climatepolicy.org rather than carbonpolicy.org. Unfortunately the actual website climatepolicy.org is now going a little stale.

Secondly its clear that in terms of the big picture climate policy isn’t kicking too many goals yet, and there would be very few people who would disagree with this. By that I mean that climate policy isn’t having much impact on slowing emissions such that we don’t go beyond 2 degrees of warming. Whilst emissions intensities, in terms of tonnes of carbon per unit of GDP may be falling now in many countries, absolute global carbon emissions aren’t.

Third, tremendous intellectual effort has gone into reports and papers on various aspects of carbon policy. Enormous numbers of highly educated people are very strongly committed to emissions reduction and making a contribution to policy. Surely this effort and passion will result in more goals being kicked in the future! But if not, what are the barriers?

Invariably any climate policy discussion seems to end up discussing barriers. And perhaps one of the major barriers is the very complexity of the topic, discussion and solutions put forward. And its not ordered complexity, like the ordered complexity of the computer this is being written on and the world wide web that is serving this web page. Rather its chaotic, seemingly all over the place, and often compromised, and even counter-intuitive. At least that’s my impression to date.

What I would like is:

  • A guide to unravelling the complexity; and
  • Real data, real information, that can see through the complexity and identify what works and how effective and efficient different policies are.

Help!