Climate Change Policy

I have had an ongoing interest in climate change policy since I first began to study atmospheric science. In many ways it was the political significance of this problem that initially sparked my interest. I followed the political dimensions of climate change during my scientific studies. Starting in 1990, I began to do some formal work at the intersection of the science and policy dimensions of climate change.

The Price of Waiting

After a few years working on ozone depletion with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and some independent work on the trends and impact of UV-B radiation in the Arctic, I returned to climate change research and climate change policy. I attended UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Public Policy and wrote a thesis exploring the dynamics of a simple coupled climate/macroeconomic model. The particular question I was interested in was: Is it true that waiting a decade or more is cheaper that taking immediate action on climate change? My thesis was the basis of a white paper for the World Resources Institute and incorporated into one of their recent reports.

I also wrote a briefing paper for the Union of Concerned Scientists outlining some of the basics of climate change economics and critiquing the few studies offered by the fossil-fuel industries to support their claim that action on climate change will be extremely costly.

International Negotiations

In conjunction with these interests, my work on carbon cycle modeling, and my continued work with various environmental NGO groups, I have attended many of the United Nations negotiating sessions on the climate change treaty. The most important of these, thus far, was Conference of Parties III which took place in Kyoto Japan December 1997. Click here for more on the Climate Change negotiations.

Carbon Sinks

Central to my role at the negotiations was assisting NGO’s, negotiators, and the media in understanding the scientific foundations of carbon “sinks”. The evolution of the sinks debate up to early 1999 (which covers much of the basics) can be found in this WorldWatch piece.

This issue came to a head at the 2000 negotiations in the Hague. Sinks were one of the main difficulties negotiators were having in constructing language agreeable to all countries. The Hague ended in a stalemate and shortly thereafter, the US made clear its intention to leave the Kyoto negotiations framework. This paved the way for compromise on the sinks issue at the resumed negotiations in Bonn. Since then, the sinks provisions were signed into the Marrakech Accords.

I am currently working on how the carbon sinks issue might be handled in a 2nd (post-2012) or further commitment period. I will be publishing a paper soon on this work. Here is a link to a presentation (and accompanying movie) given at the World Wildlife Foundation on this topic.

I coauthored a paper with Lisa Dilling and others exploring the relationship between carbon cycle science measurements and the evolution of carbon policy within the Kyoto negotiations.