Giving climate policy advice that makes a difference: targeting government agencies

The Climate Strategies and Climate Policy Blog is full to the brim with blog posts providing important scientific insights on how to fight climate change. Why does so
little of this vast knowledge about what to do ultimately make it into real policy? In our
recent outlook piece in Climate Policy, we argue that scientists too often address the public and politicians to raise awareness when they give advice. This form of science communication is important but it risks missing the experts in government agencies who already are aware of the problem of climate change. However, these experts are the people who draft policies. What these policy drafters need is policy advice that
includes considerations of implementability and acceptance. In order to help climate scientists provide such utilization-focused policy advice, we formulate the following six-point checklist:

1.  State the problem to be solved by the policy and corroborate it with reliable,
replicable, accurate, and precise observations. For example, there is reliable and robust evidence that there is a problem of environmental shifts caused by climate change.

2.  Define the part of the problem that can be addressed with policy and justify its priority.

3.  State the causes of the problem and identify the causal contributors to the problem as (a) policy target group(s). Provide empirical evidence for the causes of the problem. Researchers should state if there are areas where action needs to be taken but where causality is difficult or impossible to establish, or where contradictory evidence exists.

4.  Identify policy proposals that may change the target groups’ behaviour so that they will no longer cause the problem. If possible, provide evidence of the intervention’s effectiveness.

5.  Assess the feasibility of the policy proposal: How strong are the political opponents? Do they have access to decision making? Does the proposal break with established policy or does it fit with it? How can the political salience of the proposal be reduced in case of polarization? Can the policy proposal be framed as a win-win solution (in the short and/or long term) in order to increase its political acceptance? What are the potential stumbling blocks from a more structural perspective? How can policy proposals that require infrastructural or system changes be put into practice?

6. Assess the implementability of the policy proposal: How likely is the target groups’ compliance or resistance? How strong will the reaction be? How likely is the implementing bodies’ compliance or resistance? Implementing agencies sometimes resist interventions that are potentially effective because of ideology, perceived negative consequences, the personal preferences of leaders, tradition, lack of resources, or the lack of skills. How can resistances be addressed and mitigated? What resources and authoritative allies does the policy need to guarantee successful implementation?

We encourage natural scientists to team up with social and policy scientists to come up with utilization-focused policy advice.

The Swiss Federal Councillor (member of Government) Doris Leuthard meets with members of the IPCC at the University of Bern on November 3, 2014. From left to right: Qin Dahe, Rajendra Pachauri, Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, and Thomas Stocker, co-author of the paper presented in this blog post.

Prof Dr Fritz Sager University of Bern, is on the Board of Directors at the KPM Center for Public Management and is currently visiting scholar at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and Democracy Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Céline Mavrot is visiting scholar at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). She is also a postdoctoral researcher and project leader at the Center for Public Management, University of Bern.

Dr Markus Hinterleitner is a visiting scholar at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Dr David Kaufmann is Assistant Professor of Spatial Development and Urban Policy at ETH Zürich and the Deputy Director of the Institute for Spatial and Landscape Development.

Prof Dr Martin Grosjean is director of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern.

Prof Thomas Stocker is Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern.

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