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Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling



Assessments for Whom, on What, by Whom?

Who should be the audience for an integrated assessment, with how broad a policy authority? Except for studies that concentrate entirely on impacts, most current climate integrated assessment projects take a benefit-cost framing, implicitly addressing a unitary national (or global) decision-maker who must decide the extent and kind of measures to take in response to climate change.

For many decisions and audiences this is not the most useful framing for an assessment of climate change. Moreover, a recent empirical study of assessment activity in several nations for climate, ozone depletion, and acid rain suggests that the best assessments of response options are usually done at a smaller scale, by industries or other groups that would be responsible for implementing the proposed response (Clark 1994). Among the plausible reasons for this finding are the following: These groups command the relevant expertise and bear the consequences, so they have the incentive and ability to do a good, practical assessment. Also, they may be more homogeneous in interests and world-view than national or international bodies, so are better able to conduct assessment that is "technical," not "political."

But the highest-level decisions balancing risk and responses will be made, explicitly or implicitly, and it is clearly preferable that they be made with some understanding of benefits and costs of response. While prior delimitation of debate may be necessary to restrict the agenda and achieve a political consensus for action, it is still plausible that maintaining a broader set of options on the agenda could have resulted in a better one being available. Integrated assessment that addresses this decision level, as so many assessments seek to do, thus faces a dilemma: Although this is the only decision level with the authority to balance risk and response, it is also the level where participants are most disparate in expertise, heterogeneous in world-view and interests, and engaged in broader contentious political issues. Consequently, assessments in this process are most liable to be created, used, and regarded as partisan tools--or ignored or misunderstood. A few instances of highly effective assessments at the international level suggest that this view is too pessimistic, but further study is clearly required to determine what conditions enabled these assessments to be so effective.

Furthermore, "environmental problem" may not be the right way to bound the assessment at the international level. Proposed responses on one issue affect others. While a more appropriate boundary would be by "decision" (broadly construed and relative to all relevant alternatives), rather than by "issue" (e.g., how should the world meet its energy needs in the middle of the next century, and what current decisions are likely to promote movement toward the desirable endpoint), international negotiation bodies are not structured along these lines.


The next section is Tailored Assessments Versus Generic Assessment Tools.





Parson, E.A. and K. Fisher-Vanden, Searching for Integrated Assessment: A Preliminary Investigation of Methods, Models, and Projects in the Integrated Assessment of Global Climatic Change. Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). University Center, Mich. 1995.


Suggested Citation

Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). 1995. Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling of Climate Change [online]. Palisades, NY: CIESIN. Available at [accessed DATE].



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