Monday, July 14, 2014

Improving Climate Policy Decision-Making Through Analysis

The Obama administration increased fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles (requiring vehicles sold have higher miles per gallon) and encouraged production of alternative fueled vehicles like hybrid vehicles in 2012, but is it possible that the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards may actually increase air pollution emissions from the U.S. vehicle fleet?  

China built the world’s largest wind industry in a few short years by leveraging foreign investment, but has its innovation in this technology kept pace with its manufacturing productivity? 

The European Union (EU) recently backed off a plan to include foreign aviation in its greenhouse gas emissions trading law.  Is $2 per trans-Atlantic airplane ticket really too steep an offset for the flight’s carbon emissions?

These are just a few of the interesting issues discussed at this year’s Climate and Energy Decision Making Center (CEDM) annual meeting, held last month at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  Approximately 60 students, faculty, researchers, and advisors for the center from universities and organizations throughout North America gathered to share research and discuss a wide range of energy- and climate-related issues.

CEDM is an NSF-funded research consortium of a dozen institutions, led by the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU, with the goal of developing methods and conducting research to help leaders make better-informed decisions in the climate and energy space.  CEDM researchers work on a broad variety of topics within this domain, and the annual meeting provides an opportunity to summarize the year’s work and to assess the center’s overall direction.

The bulk of the meeting consisted of short research presentations organized by topic.  Most focused on greenhouse gas mitigation, with sessions on energy efficiency and energy behavior, transportation, renewables, and natural gas.  Another session covered methods, such as robust decision making, to aid policy-makers facing tough decisions in these areas.  A final session explored the effects of energy development and climate change on ecosystems, including concerns about habitat fragmentation in the Marcellus shale gas fields and how ocean warming can harm coral. 

Participants also heard about research methods, like coupled ethical-epistemic analysis, which seeks to make scientists aware of the value-laden choices inherent in their research decisions, and expert elicitation, which is used to gain insight into questions with high uncertainty, for instance, the economic viability of small modular nuclear reactors.

If there is a common thread to the diverse research presented at the meeting, it is that policy design, based on quantitative and qualitative analysis, is a crucial element in meeting climate and energy goals, and each CEDM project informs the policymaking process. Granger Morgan, the center’s co-director, likes to say that the business of CEDM is “tending the garden,” meaning that its researchers work to “pull weeds”—addressing specific, hard problems in climate and energy by creating practical results and actionable policy advice rather than limiting questions to the realm of the abstract, big picture.  You can watch videos and read more about some of this “weed-pulling” at

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