Introducing the RIVET Project

What are we concerned with

It is well recognized that when it comes to the economics of climate change, values and normative assumptions cannot be neatly separated from the science. This point can, for instance, be illustrated by pervasive concerns with the ethics and epistemology of inter-temporal discounting. A discount rate specifies the extent to which we should discount the future. It is widely held that we need to assume some discount rate in so-called integrated assessment models that try to come up with optimal mitigation pathways. Otherwise, we cannot avoid putting unreasonable burdens to mitigate on those alive in the present. Moreover, as far as the welfare of a single individual is concerned, it seems reasonable to give greater weight to immediate benefits and costs than to benefits and costs that occur far in the future. However, introducing a discount rate into climate economic models implies allocating less weight to the welfare of future generations. Hence, we have to ask on what ethical grounds a discount rate can be justified (if at all) and how we should determine it. In choosing a specific discount rate, climate economists effectively take a stance on those issues and, thereby, introduce values and normative assumptions into their models. 

Based on the case of inter-temporal discounting and similar observations, there is widespread agreement that values, if they cannot be eviscerated from climate economics, have to be managed. The question that then emerges is how we should deal with those values. Several proposals have already been made in this regard. One common suggestion is that dealing with values requires more transparency on the part of the scientists and modellers. However, while transparency is clearly important and helpful, it is insufficient in the context of climate economics. One reason is that transparency is often not practically achievable as value assumptions tend to be embedded in disciplinary practices in inextricable ways. Another is that merely making values transparent cannot overcome the various and crucial disagreements in climate policy in a legitimate manner.

Holding that democratic legitimacy plays a crucial role in high-stakes settings such as climate change, RIVET starts from the idea that a constructive treatment of diverse values in climate economics requires the inclusion of a deliberative approach.

How are we approaching this issue?

Therefore, RIVET seeks to synthesize insights from the philosophy of science with contemporary theories of deliberative democracy. We, thereby, aim to ground value assumptions in a framework that is both democratically and scientifically legitimate. 

In particular, we focus on a systematic philosophical analysis and exposition of major normative assumptions in climate economic models. Here we are especially interested in how those assumptions bear on our assessment of (non-linear and large-scale) risks and how they affect the concrete policy alternatives discussed (or omitted) in public discourses.

Based on this analysis, we provide a detailed, practically-informative outline for a learning-oriented, deliberative, and democratic approach for grounding normative assumptions in climate economics. Our framework builds on integrating economic assessment, deliberation and work on values at the science-policy interface. It rests on the core assumption that values must be explicitly linked with concrete policy alternatives to facilitate deliberative learning processes.

On top of that, we also aim to facilitate an open exchange with economists and political decision-makers working in Sweden, Germany, and other European Union countries about how to respond to value diversity in climate economics. In this regard, Rivet is holding interdisciplinary conferences and will organize workshops that connects scientific experts with other stakeholders. Our aim with this is to already offer some demonstration of how our theoretical work can be put into praxis.What drives us to pursue this work is the belief that a well-designed deliberative and inclusive approaches that can engender learning processes about viable policy alternatives for economies are not only the most legitimate framework for dealing with values in climate economics but also perhaps the quickest way to address climate change in an effective and politically sustainable way.

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