Understanding the linked problems of energy sustainability and climate change to develop effective energy policy will require an integrated science of coupled human and natural systems, according to a new paper.
Stylized assumptions about human behaviour that are common in policy analysis, will need to be replaced with ones based on data-driven science, state the authors of the paper that is published in Nature Climate Change today (9 May 2016). The paper introduces a number of articles which address the issue of energy sustainability within the context of climate change.
The authors, led by Paul Stern of the US National Research Council, warn against “attractive but empirically doubtful simplifying assumptions about energy choices”. These include the economic assumptions: that technologies that reduce human impact on the climate will be adopted when they become economic; that energy consumers’ choices can be adequately modelled solely as a function of maximising utility; and that decision makers have accurate information about the consequences of their choices and the ability to process that information unerringly.
The paper, entitled “Towards a science of climate and energy choices”, concludes: that analytical models based on simple assumptions (such as that of ‘rational’ economic choice) should be replaced with assumptions based on empirical analysis; that addressing the challenges of energy sustainability and climate change requires decisions based around the issues rather than by disciplines; context matters in decisions about energy and climate and not everyone will make the same choices; funding on research and development needs to change to meet the need for more a rigorous, interdisciplinary, context-sensitive science of energy and climate choices.
The linked problems of energy sustainability and climate change are among the most complex and daunting facing humanity at the start of the twenty- rst century. This joint Nature Energy and Nature Climate Change Collection illustrates how understand- ing and addressing these problems will require an integrated science of coupled human and natural systems; including tech- nological systems, but also extending well beyond the domain of engineering or even economics. It demonstrates the value of replacing the stylized assumptions about human behaviour that are common in policy analysis, with ones based on data-driven science. We draw from and engage articles in the Collection to identify key contributions to understanding non-technological factors connecting economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions, describe a multi-dimensional space of human action on climate and energy issues, and illustrate key themes, dimensions and contributions towards fundamental understanding and informed decision making.