Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Ten Suggestions for Policy Makers

Men and women talking at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima
Policymakers engage in discussion.

In 1998, Steve Rayner and Elizabeth Malone made ten suggestions for policymakers developing climate policy. Most of them are as relevant today as they were then.[1] It is worth reviewing these suggestions as we think about climate policy.

  1. View the issue of climate change holistically, not just as the problem of emissions reductions. As we learned earlier in this course, to establish lasting, long-term reductions in emissions, it is necessary to address not only the human activities (proximal causes) emitting GHGs, but also the underlying socioeconomic drivers causing people to engage in those activities.
  2. Recognize that, for climate policymaking, institutional limits to global sustainability are at least as important as environmental limits. The failures of the Framework Convention and Kyoto Protocol, as well as of national-level climate policy in the U.S., demonstrate that policy cannot become law when intractable political, legal, and other barriers stand in its way.
  3. Prepare for the likelihood that social, economic, and technological change will be more rapid and have greater direct impacts on human populations than climate change. Climate change is not the only factor influencing people, and, in most instances, climate change will have much less impact on people than human changes. Good examples are the rapid change in global security following 9/11 and the profound impact of the Internet on society since the mid-1990s.
  4. Recognize the limits of rational planning. Planners are not omniscient: they cannot plan for all contingencies and they make mistakes. No long-range plan goes “according to plan.”
  5. Employ the full range of analytical perspectives and decision aids from natural and social sciences and the humanities in climate change policymaking. Most policymakers rely too heavily on engineers and physical scientists, paying little attention to life scientists, social scientists, and humanists. However, this course has demonstrated that climate change is essentially a holistic, human problem that requires significant input from all branches of science, especially the social sciences.
  6. Design policy instruments for real world conditions rather than try to make the world conform to a particular policy model. The problem with Bush Era climate policy was that it tried to make climate policy, as well as most other policies, conform to a particular worldview. Many commentators said of that Administration that it did not let facts get in the way of its preconceived notions. Climate change is a real world problem requiring pragmatic policies.
  7. Incorporate climate change into other more immediate issues, such as employment, defense, economic development, and public health. This course has demonstrated that climate change affects people, their jobs, their security, and their health. It has also shown that climate change infuses many parts of life. Because it is difficult to get policymakers either to believe that climate change is a serious issue or to maintain focus on climate change when so many other issues demand their attention, a good strategy is to incorporate climate change policies into other policies that address employment, defense, development, and health, to name a few.
  8. Take a regional and local approach to climate policymaking and implementation. We have seen that regional and local climate policy is currently more effective than national and international policy. In 1998, this idea was quite radical because most people, including scientists and policymakers, thought of global warming as a global problem. Today, the regional and local dimensions of climate change are understood and appreciated by many individuals.
  9. Direct resources into identifying vulnerability and promoting resilience, especially where the impacts will be largest. At least among scientists, this idea is well understood today; it was much less well understood in 1998. This idea is slowly trickling down to policymakers.
  10. Use a pluralistic approach to decision-making. A failure of Bush Administration policy was its assumption that decision-making should come from the top down. Numerous research studies show that, at all levels of governance, people tend to accept and support a policy when they have a hand in developing that policy, even if they are initially skeptical. This finding is also true of climate policy.
[1] Rayner, S. and E.L. Malone, 1998: Ten suggestions for policymakers: guidelines from an international social science assessment of human choice and climate change. In: Human Choice and Climate Change, S. Rayner and E.L. Malone, eds. Batelle Press, Columbus, OH, USA, 4, 109-138.