UW-Madison researcher wins grant to explore policy options for climate change

Sept. 1, 2010

by Stacy Forster

A University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs professor has won a three-year, $183,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore options for public-policy mechanisms to address climate change.

In the project "Choosing a Portfolio of Technology Policies in an Uncertain World," assistant professor Greg Nemet will examine how different technology policies could affect climate and the economy. Nemet has a joint appointment with the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Economy (SAGE).

One of the challenges of determining how best to address climate change is the high degree of uncertainty involved with both the outcomes of technology policies and the effects of climate change, Nemet says.

"An important aspect of the project's approach is that it will provide a framework for evaluating policy options, even though we still do not know exactly how severe climate change will be or which new technologies will turn out to be most useful and efficient," Nemet says.

Addressing climate change without damaging the economy will require substantial investments in new knowledge to devise improvements to energy technologies, he says.

However, many combinations of policies and technologies create myriad options for policymakers to pursue. Nemet's project will estimate the consequences of combinations of technology policy instruments on the climate and on the economy. "The models we develop can help improve the allocation of public funds and thus could have an important fiscal impact," he says.

The grant will provide opportunities for La Follette School and SAGE students to aid the research, which will also inform the development of classes and train students in public-policy model building, Nemet adds.

He and a colleague from the University of Massachusetts seek to design a portfolio of technology policies to address climate change by modeling the effects of combinations of policy instruments. They plan to evaluate combinations of three policy instruments: government-funded research and development, subsidies for demand and carbon prices.