The RIVET Project

To plan for a sustainable future, we need to strike a balance between the needs of the present and those of future generations. But how do we do that?

The RIVET project is about how values and normative assumptions play a role in climate economics that guide public policy and decision making, and how these values are best managed in democratically legitimate ways. The project uses the philosophy of science, together with theories of deliberative democracy, to address value assumptions in ways that are both democratically and scientifically legitimate. 

The Costs of Climate Change  

In the face of climate change, we are confronted with pressing questions. What will be the consequences of climate change across different timeframes? What’s the price for mitigating these effects? Who should bear the costs – our current generation or future ones? Should we exhaust all resources now to cut emissions immediately and minimize future risks, or should we entrust the problem to the next generation, assuming they will have greater means to address it?  

Climate Economics addresses these questions head on, often with the explicit aim of trying to help policymakers. The answers it provides, and the methodologies used, are central in shaping the policies we adopt. The reason to examine climate economics stems from the urgency of climate change and how deep climate economics is integrated into the broader field of climate science.  

Climate economics is not a marginal discipline in the context. Their models and predictions have considerable influence both in the politics of climate change, and within climate science more broadly construed. Conventional climate models need so-called emission scenarios as inputs, and these scenarios are typically provided by integrated assessment models. 

Exploring Values and Assumptions  

In the RIVET Project, we examine the values and normative assumptions that underlie climate economics. We study what these mean for our understanding of climate economics and how we can enhance it in policy and decision-making.  

What do we mean by values and normative assumptions? According to a traditionalist conception of what is now called the ‘science-policy interface’ the appropriate division of labor and responsibilities between scientific institutions on the one hand and political institutions on the other can be achieved by paying close attention to the distinction between facts and values. In short, science provides the facts and politicians (or decision-makers) the values. Science can be informative in activities such as planning or decision making exactly because it is ‘value-free’. An abandonment of this ideal would on this conception involve an unacceptable concession on the part of the scientist and reduce scientific claims to mere opinion. 

Uncertainties in Climate Economics

There are uncertainties involved when addressing the questions of climate change mitigation. For example, the cost of climate change depends on many factors, including how the climate system responds to increasing greenhouse gas concentration. Our future actions, economic adaptations to rising temperatures, and shifts in our values are uncertain. Managing these uncertainties is not just a technical challenge; it involves evaluating risks. How concerned should we be about unforeseen tipping points and dynamic thresholds?  

Value assumptions not only impact the management of uncertainties but also raise ethical questions, such as intertemporal discounting. 

If value assumptions are indirectly involved in managing risks and uncertainties in scientific representations such as climate models, there are also ways in which value assumptions in more obvious ways take centre stage. 

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