Stronger short-term goals to reduce carbon emissions are needed to tackle climate change as long-term goals appear to have had no effect, a new study has said.
The study was done by Dr. Mort Webster, Assistant Professor for Engineering Systems at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
According to Webster, climate policy decisions are normally made as sequential decisions over time under uncertainty - given the magnitude of uncertainty in both economic and scientific processes, the decades-to-centuries time scale of the phenomenon, and the ability to reduce uncertainty and revise decisions along the way.
Although staging climate change policy decisions over time would seem to make sense, Webster points out that the tendency of US and international policy to change extremely slowly requires front-loading the painful decisions.
Applying decision analysis in the context of idealized government decision makers over a century raises the question of how to deal with the fact that political systems tend to exhibit "path dependency," a force that makes large policy shifts difficult and rare, and limits most decisions to small incremental changes.
In his research paper, Webster argues that consideration of path dependence in the context of climate policy justifies greater near-term emissions reductions in what amounts to a hedging strategy.
Webster said that this raises a central question for near-term climate policy that whether or not regulations of greenhouse gas emissions can be delayed, and whether some level of mitigating effort is required at once.
Countering those who say the dust should settle before committing to big decisions, he points out that when a decision will be irreversible, as is likely the case in climate policy, delaying the decision is probably not the best option, according to research in decision analysis.
Decision making in public policy, according to Webster, is complicated by the reluctance of leaders to reverse course after they have made important policy choices.
"A large-scale international policy issue such as climate change is especially vulnerable to path dependencies. If significant global emissions reductions are required in the long-run, this will be an extremely difficult problem to coordinate across nations," he said.