Climate change and public policy

Professor Robert Lee | 10 years ago

A new report, ‘Climate change and public policy futures’, was issued by the British Academy on 25 July 2011 as part of their series on New Paradigms in Public Policy. Essentially the Report calls for major re-thinking of government policy in order to achieve a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

The Report begins by re-iterating the strong scientific consensus on global warming resulting from the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of current economic activity. Crucially it points out that a decline in UK industrial production has led to a decrease in production based emissions of GHG, but that actually the UK has seen a rise of 19 per cent in GHG emissions resulting from patterns of consumption. This means, of course, that consumption of goods produced outside of the UK allows GHG emission levels to rise and there is currently no international mechanism to deal with this.

Climate change mitigation has made slow progress, falling far short of targets espoused by politicians, and it is becoming clear that there is no ‘silver bullet’.  Whatever the action, the costs are likely to be large but costs will increase the longer effective action is delayed. The policies pursued to date are largely market based and are said to be regressive in their impact, though they do reflect predominant neo-liberal ideology.

The impacts of climate change, according to the Report, are likely to be most severe on the most vulnerable sectors of society. In one example of policy change it is said that more is spent on winter fuel payments, which are very poorly targeted, than on all programmes to improve insulation for households. Yet the latter would be far more beneficial for those in fuel poverty. This is given as an example of the need to reverse previous policy decisions in favour of more integrated environmental and economic policy solutions.

This is part of a call for ‘green growth’ and a decoupling of economic activity from carbon emissions via investment in green technology. Alongside this, there are calls for a restructuring of carbon pricing and carefully devised policies to shift consumer behaviour. The Report points to the need for substantial policy integration.

The Report considers this thinking in the light of dynamic growth in parts of the developing world and suggests that such economies cannot follow a western growth model in view of finite environmental resources. For this reason alone, radical thinking and action will be required, and the west should lead the way in new approaches to public policy.

The Report is written by Ian Gough, who is Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics. A copy of the Report is available to download at
http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/Climate-change-and-public-policy-futures.cfm

About the author

Professor Robert Lee

ERIC Director and Head of Birmingham Law School, Professor Robert Lee was co-director of the publicly funded Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society at Cardiff University (BRASS). He is an expert on regulation, including environmental regulation and regulation of biotechnology and biomedicine. He previously worked for two top 10 UK law firms, and remains a professional-development consultant to one of the largest law firms in Europe, working on pan-European delivery of legal services.