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Vinaigrette or Oil and Vinegar? Comparing Public Rationales for Justice Trade-Offs in Mitigation and Adaptation Climate Policy Dilemmas

Presenter
Sonja Klinsky
Post Doctoral Researcher, Cambridge Dept. of Economics

Date
Thursday, March 24, 2011
12 - 1:00 p.m.

Location
7th Floor Conference Center
1616 P St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

The ideal relationship between climate change adaptation and mitigation policy has been long debated. Are they substitutes for each other, in which case the policy task is to find the optimal trade-off between the two, or can they be integrated to take advantage of win-win overlaps? Instead of proposing how these policies should relate to one another from an abstract policy perspective, this study examines public rationales about justice and burden-sharing trade-offs in each case. What arguments about justice resonate from a mitigation perspective, which ones are dominant from an adaptation perspective, and what might this suggest about the contours of politically acceptable climate policy? Using think-aloud protocols and a structured elicitation approach with members of the lay public, this study provides evidence that the two types of climate policy trigger different sets of arguments about justice. When asked about mitigation burden-sharing participants overwhelmingly depending on arguments about causality. In contrast, in discussions of adaptation participants emphasized ideas of need and ability, and used social and spatial distance to modify the allocation of responsibility. Two considerations emerge from these findings. First, the public is able to engage with the justice dilemmas of climate policy, suggesting that predictions of political palatability or public responses need to consider these concerns. Second, it is important to recognize that support for adaptation and mitigation policies stem from different arguments. This could make transition between mitigation and adaptation potentially much more difficult, especially if treated as complete substitutes.

Sonja Klinsky is a post-doctoral researcher working on climate change policy. She is currently based in Cambridge at the Department of Economics but also holds a Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions post-doctoral fellowship shared between Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. Her most recent work examines the Western Climate Initiative greenhouse gas cap and trade system, but previously she looked at justice issues in climate policy generally, including public perceptions of justice in climate policy contexts. Her broader academic and professional background stems from work on public communication for sustainability, and local sustainable development in Canada and internationally.

All seminars will be in the 7th Floor Conference Room at RFF, 1616 P Street NW.  Attendance is open, but involves pre-registration no later than two days prior to the event. For questions and to register to an event, please contact Harrison Fell at fell@rff.org (tel. 202-328-5005) or Daniel McDermott at McDermott@rff.org (tel. 202-328-5174). Updates to our academic seminars schedule will be posted at www.rff.org/academicseminarseries.

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