Humphrey School News—February 15, 2017

Humphrey School's Gabe Chan: More Collaboration Needed to Address Climate Change


Professor Gabe Chan
Assistant Professor Gabe Chan works in the Humphrey School's science, technology, and environmental policy area. Photo: Bruce Silcox

Two leading U.S. science agencies have declared 2016 the hottest year ever recorded. That makes three years in a row that global temperatures have set new records.

Amidst the national debate on U.S. support of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Assistant Professor Gabe Chan of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and several of his students are researching various tactics that could help countries work together to implement tools to address global warming—whatever action the Trump administration takes on the Paris Agreement. 

That agreement, which went into force in November 2016, relies on individual countries to put forth their own goals for addressing climate change. The international community’s responsibility is to monitor and verify that countries are working toward their goals. But there are no direct, legal consequences if the goals aren’t met.

“To some it looks like there’s no oversight, no teeth,” said Chan. “But the important feature is that the role of international cooperation becomes creating the forum by which countries can pressure each other to do more. It’s not about creating rules and enforcement, but instead creating a forum to share the ambition in hopes of encouraging others to do more.”

How does Chan’s research address the objectives of the Paris Agreement?

One area of Chan’s research looks at the best ways for countries to work together on developing new knowledge and technologies to address climate issues.

Different countries have different strengths when it comes to innovation. Some countries have advantages with respect to basic science, Chan notes, while others have more expertise in engineering, manufacturing, or deployment. But all those pieces of the process are needed for ventures to be successful.

“Maybe the best way to accelerate innovation globally is to have countries combine their complementary strengths,” he said, but added there are several hurdles to overcome.

The most difficult one revolves around how countries would share the intellectual property that comes from their joint efforts. “Who gets to own the rights to the things we have not yet discovered?”

Chan’s research suggests a first step—with the United States and China working together on a major project to identify the main roadblocks and work out ways to address them.

“The big problem with the U.S. and China is trust between the two countries,” said Chan. “How do you design an organization that incorporates people from different cultures? How do you put these two countries together in a way that makes sense?”

The second area of Chan’s research examines ways to more equitably share the financial burden of addressing climate change across countries by looking at how an entire sector—such as wind power—can contribute to greenhouse gas reductions.

Chan and his students attended the UN’s International Climate Change Conference in Marrakech late last year, and he said they collected useful feedback from attendees regarding their work so far. Chan said they’ll use that information to continue their research during the spring semester.

Read Chan’s policy briefs on these key issues: 

PDF iconCooperative Climate Change Research and Development MechanismPDF iconSectoral Sustainable Development Mechanism

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