Policy Advice: Recent Projects and Activities

Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative

Convened by the UK Royal Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Academy of Sciences of the Developing World

(leader, “Mechanics” working group, 2010-2011)

The SRMGI seeks to develop guidelines to ensure that geoengineering research is conducted in a manner that is transparent, responsible and environmentally sound. SRMGI will engage with a variety of organizations concerned with natural and social science, governance and legal issues, as well as environmental and development NGOs, industry and civil society organizations, from across the globe.

SRMGI project page, with forthcoming report from Kavli Centre meeting, March 2011.

Background paper on Mechanics of SRM Research Governance, drafted for Kavli Centre meeting, March 31, 2011.

Instructions for scenario exercise on national positions on SRM research.

Plus addendum.

Forthcoming report from the Kavli Centre meeting, March 2011.

Workshop on Social Science and the Alternative Energy Future

Convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for the US National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, Washington DC, May 18-20, 2011

The Alternative Energy Future project brings together scientists, engineers, economists, political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, government officials, and business leaders to inform governmental policy development and the research initiatives of nongovernmental organizations, and to increase public awareness of the societal risks and benefits of alternative energy technologies. The Academy convened this workshop to assess the current interplay between social science and energy policy and to investigate issues that would benefit from further research.

Workshop proceedings

Presentation on Approaches to More Effective Regulation

Report on workshop in Science magazine

Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change, U.S. National Research Council

(Panel member, 2008-2010)

This panel was part of America's Climate Choices, a suite of coordinated activities undertaken by the National Academies in response to a request from Congress, to examine the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and provide advice on actions and strategies the nation can take to respond. This panel addressed the question: "What can be done to better understand climate change and its interactions with human and ecological systems?" Other panels examined options to limit climate change, adapt to climate change, and provide useful information to decision-makers.

This panel's report concluded that a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation's scientific enterprise can contribute both by continuing to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change, and by improving and expanding the options available to limit the magnitude of climate change and adapt to its impacts. To make this possible, the nation needs a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible climate change research enterprise that is closely linked with action-oriented programs at all levels.

The report recommends that a single federal entity or program be given the authority and resources to coordinate a national research effort integrated across many disciplines and aimed at improving both understanding and responses to climate change. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, established in 1990, could fulfill this role, but it would need to form partnerships with action-oriented programs and address weaknesses in its current program. A comprehensive climate observing system, improved climate models and other analytical tools, investment in human capital, and better linkages between research and decision making are also essential to a complete understanding of climate change.

The panel's report was published on May 19, 2010.

Press Coverage

Breaking Global Deadlocks (The L20 Initiative)

The project on Breaking Global Deadlocks was established in 2003 by the Centre for Global Studies of the University of Victoria and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to explore the concept of an informal forum for leaders to reach pragmatic solutions to critical global problems.

The history of leaders' summits (originally G-5, now G-8) has shown that informal, appropriately briefed meetings of political leaders can transcend the traditional silos of government ministries and international institutions to identify and craft cross-cutting package deals on urgent global issues. On current issues such as global climate change, such deliberations among leaders of fourteen to twenty nations can clarify enlightened self-interest to move beyond existing deadlocks, apply peer pressure, and build the inter-personal trust necessary to allow candid discussion of sensitive issues without political posturing.

Leaders also have the ability to mobilize their governments through top-down political direction, ensuring their global promises translate into national action.

A series of meetings from 2006 to 2008, held in China, Canada, Japan, USA, Mexico, and France, has developed a draft "Grand Bargain" on climate change, with the dual objectives of providing the outline of an agreement that would hold some promise of moving past the current deadlock, and of demonstrating the value of an expanded leaders' forum in facilitating such agreements on tough global problems.

The approach advocated by this initiative was vindicated by the 2009 decision that heads of government will meet biennially in G-20 summits, and that this body will replace the G-8 as the main economic and policy council for the world's major economies.

The 3E (Economy, Energy, Environment) Initiative

The 3E (Economy, Energy, Environment) Initiative is a new project that seeks to catalyze the necessary actions to let Canada transition successfully to a high-efficiency, low-carbon economy. Following initial consultations and interviews with a diverse group of forty-two eminent Canadians, workshops were held in November 2007 in Merrickville Ontario and in May 2008 in Banff, Alberta.

The "Canada low-carbon Initiative" is a partner project supporting detailed technical and policy examinations of barriers to steep mitigation in Canada and ways to overcome them. Report of low-carbon planning meeting, Calgary, July 16 2007 (PDF).

The Sustainable Prosperity initiative is a partner project examining broader approaches to integrating environmental protection and economic prosperity.

Related "Policy Briefs"

These briefing papers lay out key issues, questions, and challenges in making effective climate-change policy for non-specialist readers. They aim to cover the issues accurately, draw on the most important recent research and analysis, yet be accessible for policy audiences and the general public. Please check for periodic updates.

Union of Concerned Scientists (member, National Advisory Board)

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices. UCS stands out among nonprofit organizations as the reliable source for independent scientific analysis.

Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments, U.S. National Research Council

(Committee member, 2005-2007)

Global change assessments inform decision makers about the scientific underpinnings of a range of environmental issues. With dozens of assessments conducted to date by various U.S. and international groups, there is an opportunity to draw on these experiences to improve future efforts. This report identifies 11 essential elements of effective assessments and provides recommendations on evolving the process to better support decision making.

Expert Group on Scenarios for Global-Change Assessment

Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.1b, US Climate Change Science Program

(Chairman, 2004-2007)

This report reviews and evaluates how the science and stakeholder communities have defined, developed, implemented, and communicated scenarios in the global climate change context, and how this process might be enhanced or improved. The report includes a review of past scenario development and application efforts. The intent of the review is to inform preparation and application of future scenarios by such entities as the CCSP, the IPCC, the CCTP, and other global change research and assessment organizations.

The report explores the following questions:

  • Applications: What do different users of scenarios expect or need from those who develop those scenarios? What choices or decisions have scenarios been constructed to illuminate? How well have existing scenarios (e.g., IPCC IS92 and IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios) explored the decisions or conditions they were designed to illuminate? What sorts of conditions should future scenarios be developed to explore?
  • Uncertainty and Scenario Drivers: What approaches are used in scenario development to characterize uncertainties? How can the development and application of scenarios be improved to better incorporate evolving process knowledge of socio-economic, climate, and environmental conditions, and to better communicate to users and the public about uncertainties? How might the distribution of existing scenarios be characterized probabilistically, and what are the implications of defining the thresholds of “plausibility”, which normally determine the outer bounds of scenarios considered, in different ways?
  • Process: What are the individual components of the integrated scenario process (e.g., macroeconomic models, climate models)? What approaches are available for each component and for integrating the components? What specific methodological issues are associated with each scenario component (e.g., macroeconomic frameworks underpinning integrated assessment models)? Which approaches are appropriate for what purposes?
  • Recommendations: What improvements can be made to the process of developing and using scenarios (e.g., should a broader range of experts and stakeholders be involved in developing scenario assumptions)? What are the most important next steps in scenario development and application? How can the flow of information and results from emissions scenarios, to climate scenarios, to effects research be improved?

Relevant documents

Industrial Transformation Project, International Human Dimensions Program on Global Change

(Member, International Scientific Steering Committee, 2004-2007).

Industrial Transformation (IT) is one of the four Science Projects coordinated by the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. IT seeks to promote and coordinate research that aims at understanding the societal mechanisms and human driving forces that could facilitate a transformation of the industrial system towards sustainability. IT seeks to integrate and stimulate co-operation among international and interdisciplinary scientists by establishing both a research framework and a network which can be useful for exchanging information and identifying priority research questions.

Contact Information

Hutchins Hall 432
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI, 48109
Phone: 734-763-6133
Fax: 734-763-9375
E-mail: parson(at)umich.edu

Assistant: Laura Harlow
Phone: 734-763-0957
E-mail: harlowl(at)umich.edu