Thesis subject

Unpacking the effect of climate change mitigation policies

The Environmental Systems Analysis Group provides the possibility for students to do their thesis in collaboration with our group. This is one of many possible thesis subjects. Please feel free to contact prof. dr. Höhne or Mr. Nascimento MSc (right) for more information.

Under the Paris Agreement most countries have agreed to a common goal of holding the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels to limit climate change impacts 1. Meeting this ambitious goal requires that mitigation measures cover all GHG emission sources and are collectively stringent enough to reduce emissions to net zero in the second half of this century 2,3.

Climate policies are an important lever to shape emissions pathways. Climate strategies set the stage for the implementation of mitigation measures through sectoral policy instruments 4,5. These instruments provide support or impose constraints that shape technology mixes, for example in the form of fiscal incentives or emissions standards. Even policies that would not result in significant emissions reductions alone support the passage of more stringent policies over time 6.

However, evaluating climate policies is challenging, despite the wide range of available methods. Ex-post analyses are a reliable evaluation approach, but depend on rarely available counterfactual scenarios 5. Results are also hard to aggregated due to distinct methods used across jurisdictions.  Ex-ante approaches are important to assess future emissions pathways narratives and progress towards long-term targets 7–10. They focus on stylized pathways or on quantifiable policies, such as those containing clear targets. However, they offer limited insights about political and social reality or why policies are successful in some contexts but not in others 11.

To facilitate the assessment of the historical effect of climate policies, the Environmental Systems Analysis Group of Wageningen University and Research and NewClimate Institute compile a comprehensive database of climate-related policies and investigate factors that might explain the effect of these policies. 

As part of this research, master students conducting their thesis with the ESA Group would have the opportunity to i) review literature to identify factors that might explain climate policies effect, ii) undertake detailed assessments of climate measures and their potential impact, and/or iii) develop cross-country empirical analysis building on years of data about climate policy adoption. Interest to work with several datasets and develop tools to analyse and combine those is a desirable skill, but not a requirement.

1.           UNFCCC. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Proposal by the President. Draft decision -/CP.21. Conference of the Parties. Twenty-first session, Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015. FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1. vol. 21932 (2015).

2.           UNEP. Emissions gap report 2017. in (United Nations Environment Programme, 2017). doi:10.18356/ff6d1a84-en.

3.           Rogelj, J. et al. Mitigation Pathways Compatible With 1.5°C in the Context of Sustainable Development. in Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report [...] 82pp (IPCC, 2018).

4.           Iacobuta, G., Dubash, N. K., Upadhyaya, P., Deribe, M. & Höhne, N. National climate change mitigation legislation, strategy and targets: a global update. Clim. Policy 18, 1114–1132 (2018).

5.           Somanathan, E. et al. National and Sub-national Policies and Institutions. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014).

6.           Pahle, M. et al. Sequencing to ratchet up climate policy stringency. Nat. Clim. Chang. 8, 861–867 (2018).

7.           Riahi, K. et al. The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways and their energy, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions implications: An overview. Glob. Environ. Chang. 42, 153–168 (2017).

8.           Rogelj, J. et al. A new scenario logic for the Paris Agreement long-term temperature goal. Nature 573, 357–363 (2019).

9.           den Elzen, M. et al. Are the G20 economies making enough progress to meet their NDC targets? Energy Policy 126, 238–250 (2019).

10.        Roelfsema, M. et al. Taking stock of national climate policies to evaluate implementation of the Paris Agreement. Nat. Commun. 11, 2096 (2020).

11.        Anderson, K. & Jewell, J. Debating the bedrock of climate-change mitigation scenarios. Nature 573, 348–349 (2019).