Policy and Industry Elite Perceptions of Risk and Uncertainty in Climate Policy: A Cross-National Study

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Catherine Mei Ling WONG, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Stewart LOCKIE, James Cook University, Australia
Uncertainties associated with the pace, timing and non-linearity of anthropogenic climate change constitute a significant challenge for climate policy and the management of subsequent risks. This paper is thus concerned with how those involved in the design and implementation of climate policy: 1) think about the temporal dimensions of climate risks; 2) understand uncertainty; and 3) rationalize specific policy preferences and recommendations. Based on semi-structured interviews with policy and industry elites in Australia, China and the UK, this paper found that participants had significant difficulty conceptualizing long-term as opposed to short-term climate risks. On the latter, both public and private sector participants across all three countries were far more concerned over the management of political risk than with uncertainty over the magnitude or timing of environmental change. For a majority of participants, market-base policy options and technological fixes were the overwhelming preferred policy option with little critical reflection on: (a) their ability to deliver results within the IPCC’s SRES scenario timeframes; and (b) the kinds of risks they may generate and how best to prioritize or mitigate them. Adaptation was also a conspicuously minor theme indicating that it may not be a policy priority despite a number of participants expressing the belief that the world has run out of time to avert a tipping point in climate change. These empirical observations reflect the enduring difficulties in bridging science and policy, particularly in dealing with disconnected and uncertain temporalities of climate risks; as well as the continued lack of appreciation for more deliberative forms of decision-making. The paper concludes by reflecting on what this means for risk governance as a normative frame and its translation into a mode of (policy) practice. Finally, some tools and institutional arrangements are suggested as instruments for facilitating such developments.